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Questioning Faith | Theology Matters

  • April 2015 Issue
Practical Theology

The first question recorded in the Bible was asked by Satan. Speaking through the serpent in Genesis 3:1, Satan asked Eve: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The aim of this question was not to learn what God had actually said but to sow doubt in Eve’s mind.

This was accomplished in two ways. First, the way the question was worded implied surprise and scorn. By misquoting the actual prohibition, Satan drew Eve’s attention to the forbidden tree and caused her to doubt the truth of God’s warning. Second, instead of asking the question directly, Satan used the serpent as his emissary placing Eve in the uncomfortable position of defending God’s reputation to a mere creature. Since Adam and Eve were created to “rule over … all the creatures that move along the ground,” this exchange reflected a shocking role reversal (Gen. 1:26).

The serpent seems to have been chosen by Satan because of its shrewdness. Elsewhere in Scripture the Hebrew word that is translated “crafty” in Genesis 3:1 has positive as well as negative implications. In Proverbs it often refers to wisdom or prudence (Prov. 12:16, 23; 13:16; 14:8, 15, 18). Satan twisted the serpent’s natural shrewdness to his own evil purpose. The fact that the serpent was cleverer than any of the other wild animals added a note of insult to Satan’s query.

Since Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, the serpent’s challenge to God’s wisdom also implied criticism of humanity’s status. Satan’s affront put Eve on the defensive and prompted her to overstate God’s original prohibition (Gen. 3:3). This provided the opening that Satan desired. He repudiated the warning Eve had been given and challenged God’s motive for setting the forbidden tree off limits (Gen. 3:4–5). Satan’s seed of doubt bore bitter fruit and poisoned all of creation.

Questions are not always wrong. Job is an example of a righteous person who questioned God. When Mary heard the angel’s announcement in Luke 1:34 that she would give birth to the Savior she asked, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” The psalms frequently combine poignant questions addressed to God with bold affirmations of faith (cf. Ps. 13; 35:17–18).

Questions can also be an expression of doubt and outright rebellion (Matt. 22:23; Mark 8:11; Luke 20:21). Such questions are not really questions at all but accusations. Satan’s example is proof that the motive is as important as the question. Even though God does not always provide an answer, He will consider any question asked in genuine faith.


To learn more about faith and doubt, read Know Doubt by John Ortberg (Zondervan).

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good (Moody Publishers), The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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