If you are like me one of the great parts of being a chaplain is responding to students’ questions. Getting questions from students means that no RE lesson ever runs the same way twice, and you often find yourself going off on unexpected tangents prompted by a student question.
I am blessed to work with Preps all the way through to Year 12s. I love the innocent questions from our youngest students that would flummox the most sophisticated theological thinker such as – ‘what colour is God?’ I enjoy the good-natured questioning of some of our Year 8 boys who think they have got this whole issue of religion figured out and are a bit surprised to discover that I still believe in God in this day and age. I enjoy hearing the thoughtful questions of our Year 12 students as they deeply reflect on the world they are going into and their place in it.
Questions are such a part of the rhythm of my daily school life that I often forget that I am part of a society that is typically not interested in asking them. In our contemporary society genuine searching questions are rarely asked, so these types of questions from students can often feel like a sacred gift.
As a chaplain I get asked a range of questions. Sometimes the questions are prompted by what I am wearing – ‘is your shirt with the odd collar some sort of religious thing?’ Sometimes they are an attempt to discern how serious I am about my Christian beliefs – ‘are you 100% positive on God?’ And sometimes it is a question prompted by what is going on in the world – ‘why does climate change exist if God loves us?’ In recent years a question that seems to come up a lot in class is – ‘what does God think of atheists?’
Long hair for boys has recently come back into fashion and one of our Year 7 students who had long hair in primary school had to get it cut when he joined our school. While he loves being part of our school community he laments the loss of his long hair. This boy asked a great question one day in class – ‘if Jesus had long hair why can’t I?’ It was asked with a bit of feeling behind it and I wasn’t sure how best to respond other than to note that as a bald man, hair certainly wasn’t my area of expertise.
The recent Covid-19 experience has prompted a lot of questions from all corners of society. I knew a return to face-to-face teaching would mean being asked a lot of questions by students about what we have been through. I thought it was important when classes resumed to allow the space for students to share about their experiences and to ask the questions it had prompted.
I have been asked a lot of ‘Why did God cause coronavirus?’ type questions. In response to my claim that God is in control, one student bluntly responded by asking ‘So what just happened then?’ I have also been asked some really thoughtful questions such as ‘Was this a signal from God to value our world and our life?’
One question ‘If I get corona does this mean that God doesn’t like me?’ was challenging to answer not so much intellectually but in terms of the insights the question gave into the emotional wellbeing of the student who had asked it. It hasn’t been the time to try to offer easy answers and I shared with students how this time has caused me to ask lots of questions also.
Mathematician and Christian apologist John Lennox in his little book about our recent experiences notes ‘We each need to make sense of coronavirus in three different ways: intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.’ As we start to process the intellectual and spiritual questions that this time has raised for us, it has been important to try to pick up on where our students are at emotionally, and I have found the opportunity to ask questions has been a good way to do this.
One question from an inquisitive Year 2 student ‘Will this cause God to ask Jesus to build another ark?’ made me realise that I still need to do a bit of work on my RE teaching.
 P 17 ‘Where is God in a Coronavirus World? by John Lennox (The Good Book Company) 2020