Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Becoming Patient with Questions



As I was browsing the Classical Conversations website (for more info about what this CC is click here) recently, I discovered an excellent article regarding questions from children. The article is written by Jonathan Bartlett, director of the Blythe Institute. You can read in it's entirety below or click here. I think the author makes some great points that are applicable not only when teaching our children but also when defending our Christian Worldview.


Modern life has a lot of benefits; I have easy access to just about anything I want. However, this benefit comes with a drawback: it is easy to forget where things came from. It is easy to forget that asparagus comes not from a factory, but from a farmer. It is easy to forget that there was once a time without cars or even bicycles. It is easy to forget that for every modern thing we take for granted, there were earlier versions which were much clumsier and did not work nearly as well. The problem we face is that if we forget how we got the things we have today, we also forget what it takes to make new things.

I write computer software for a living. Many of my clients have never been involved with software development; they just have an idea and need someone to implement it. The problem is that all of the software they have ever been exposed to has been out for five, ten, or twenty years and they expect that a two-man team can produce the same results in six months. They do not understand that the first iteration of software is always more of an exploration than a finished product. They expect that building something new is just like taking a package from a shelf. Because they do not realize that all of the software they use today has gone through many stages of development, they also do not realize that the software they create will likewise have to go through those same stages to become a mature offering.

This is true of ideas, too. Our conception of the world was not created overnight. Things which we think are obvious actually have long histories of discussion and debate. What we might be able to spout off as a simple and obvious answer may have vexed philosophers, theologians, and scientists for generations. It is dangerous to forget how much work went into developing the ideas we have today, because it means that we will not understand how much work will be required to develop new ideas going forward.

This approach takes on a practical importance when we deal with questions from our children. When children ask questions it is very easy to spout off simple answers. When they ask about God, it is easy to speak in simple platitudes. Even when the platitudes are totally correct, they can sometimes cause harm, because they can mask the long road that was taken to arrive at them. If our children think of all questions as having neat and simple answers, then the big questions can sometimes cause a crisis of faith. It may turn out that what they believed in was not Christ, but simple and easy answers from parents.

Instead, our children should know that the reason we have good answers to many questions is because so many people in our past took those questions seriously, thought about them deeply, and discussed them vigorously before the answers took the form in which we now see them. Some questions took entire lifetimes to answer. Therefore, children should know that an unanswerable question is not a problem, but rather a challenge. It is an opportunity to learn something new about the world. Learning the answer may take time, but so did every question for which we have solid answers today.

Whether it is an invention or an idea, we should take time to reflect on the time, energy, and effort it takes to build something new and to answer new questions. Both will reap rewards across generations, but both mean we must work in the faith that we do not labor in vain.

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