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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

30 June 2007

Where Do I Get These Questions?

Q: What do you do if you don’t have a question to answer? Do you answer all the questions you get? How long do people wait? What kind of people write in to or read your column?

Questions GaloreA: To answer the first question, at my present pace, I’ll never run out of questions, so I won’t worry about not having a question to answer. If, in my retirement, I can respond to more than a couple people each week, the new question well might run dry. Then, I guess I could summarize my sermons, comment on something I recently learned in Bible study, or just stop writing a column and work on a book.

Secondly, I don’t answer all the questions I get. For a few, I cannot find an answer, no matter how I search. Some I cannot understand, even when I ask for clarification. Some fall into the category of asking, “Can God make a rock so big that He cannot move it?” Others appear to be attempts to deliberately stump me or to mock my faith. If I have time and energy, I’ll occasionally respond to one of these — but a steady diet of debating unbelievers gives me a headache.

Sometimes I’ll answer the questioner directly and my response is never seen in public. This happens when anything I say might violate a confidence or if the question doesn’t have broad enough appeal for the general reading public. I also try to tread lightly on certain questions involving human sexuality. I don’t ignore my beliefs or refuse to respond to questions about Lutheranism — I just try to avoid extremely narrow, technical questions in such broad forum. Also, some people have questions so similar to ones I’ve already answered that I show them what I previously wrote and ask them to reply only if they still have more questions.

Holy CommunionHow long do people wait? Being a parish pastor, a husband, and a father, I hold other priorities higher than or equal to this weekly Q&A (see what the Lord says through St. Paul in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-11). Try as I might, I never get to the bottom of the pile of unanswered questions. I try to stay up with newer queries and keep a lookout for “emergency” questions, especially when someone faces death, a crisis of faith, extreme mental health issues, or other such situations. When students write in with teacher-imposed deadlines, I try to hurry my responses — although I also try to avoid doing their homework for them.

Finally, all kinds of people write (or phone, or ask me in person). Lutherans, other Christians, believers in different gods, and atheists have all gotten in touch. Questions have come from countries around the globe and from every continent except Antarctica. I’ve answered young children, teens, adults, and senior citizens. While most questions come from lay people, Christian pastors and other church workers sometimes ask me, also. If I don’t know an answer, I try to put folks in touch with someone who can help.

I’ve met some people who’ve been moved to the brink of faith by the work of the Holy Spirit and who just want one last intellectual or emotional objection answered. I’ve encouraged (and been encouraged by) life-long, devout believers who just want help filling in a few details about parts of Scripture or articles of faith. Little makes me happier than having previously confused questioners tells me that they clearly understand my responses.

Pastoral InstallationWhen pastors tell me that I’m helpful in their ministry, I’m glad I can share a gift God gave me with others in the Church. Above all else, I celebrate when hearing that God used something I’ve said to help move a person to belief in Christ or that God has allowed me to have a powerful positive impact on someone’s life.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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