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Wrong Question

Back in the summer between my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college I was one of two lifeguards at a Christian summer camp on the Columbia River out in Oregon. It was a fun job and I got to meet a lot of great people. One night my fellow lifeguard and I snuck down to the kitchen for a late night snack of ice cream and found the camp speaker for the week had the same idea. I can't say how long we 3 were all in that kitchen trying to devour that 5 gallon tub of rocky road ice cream, but I do remember it was a night of theological questions and discussion that impacts me to this day 30 years later. The thing that I remember most is when we would ask the camp speaker one of those questions about God that seemed to have no right answer (like can God make a rock so big he can't lift it) he would say "wrong question" and then proceed to re-frame the question.

Now, I believe that there is nothing better than good biblical scholarship. When presented with a theological insight, or confronted with a truth statement, I wholly believe that we should dig into God's word and investigate it. Still, I came to find questions like "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" to be frankly dumb and have no practical significance except to frustrate me and draw me away from more important things in life. So the next school year, as I started to go through bible college, and later in seminary, I quickly got tired of the questions that seemed to have no right answer. The statement that camp speaker introduced me to, "wrong question", seemed to have more appeal. What I learned is that sometimes, when questions about God or my life in the world around me didn't make sense, it was ok to say "wrong question."

A lot of times people who have gone through a major tragedy in life have come to the point where they realize that they have been asking the wrong questions. The questions they have been asking all their lives have shaped their perspective and what they have now experienced no longer fits neatly into their world view. Now they are left with a major disconnect between the new reality/beliefs vs. world views that have shaped them. During this time they are most vulnerable to outside influences and in the worst cases self-destructive behavior. And as a crisis chaplain I have grown to understand that it is my role to walk with these people as they come to the realization of the "wrong question".

While we as chaplains are not as wise as Solomon, and don't have answers to all of life's mysterious questions, there are things we can, and must do as people we are ministering to come to this life changing realization. In light of the crisis event, realizing that those we are ministering to have been asking the wrong questions in life, there are simple, yet profound ways to care.

  • Give the cold cup of water or blanket. We can, and should, provide for basic needs while providing safety for them to be vulnerable. When ones world view has been rocked the chaplain is the champion and defender of those who are hurting and confused. We can also be the ones who protect them from unnecessary outside influences that demand their attention.

  • A chaplain acknowledges the event and can affirm that God still cares. Be it by our presence, by our words or through a prayer, the chaplain is there to remind the person that God is there and still cares. This may just be the one thing that a person needs, and can hold on to, when their life now seems to have no correct answers.

  • The chaplain walks and listens to them in their most vulnerable state. He/She supports them as they try to understand the gravity of the particular event and can give them gentle guidance where appropriate.

  • And since, as a crisis chaplain, we are only there with them for a short time, we help them with their immediate need to cope and help them get long term help where applicable. Sometimes the journey for the correct answer is more like a marathon than a sprint.

  • And finally, and I would say what is at the heart of the chaplain, in some cases we can help people find meaning in the context of tragedy as they realize that they may have been asking and trying to answer the wrong questions in life.

Chaplain Chris Wade

Vice President

South Carolina Public Safety Chaplains Association

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