The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But… the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” Martin Luther King, Jr.
In my introductory Sunday school class I always begin with this premise: God welcomes our sincere questions.
I find that many people are surprised by the notion that faith and uncertainty can coexist. I think we sometimes imply that people of true faith don’t have questions. This false message squelches the expression of honest questions and creates significant guilt.
Many people avoid church because, at a crisis moment, their questions were dismissed. Death, illness, divorce, and other struggles raise questions about God’s character and presence. We cannot bring people closer to Him by marginalizing these very real doubts.
New believers especially feel that their faith is inferior because they experience doubt. I think it’s essential to clearly express our acceptance of questions if we want people to expand and deepen their personal relationship with Jesus.
However, the nature of the question determines the kind of response we receive. There are not necessarily any “wrong” questions, but some questions certainly provide much more useful answers.
JESUS AND QUESTIONS
Jesus was intolerant of insincere questions, especially from religious leaders.
- One day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”
He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me, John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or from men?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”
So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”
Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Luke 20: 1-8)
He recognized that they weren’t trying to understand, but that their question was designed to trap Him. To expose their evil motives, He responded with a question that they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, answer because they were afraid of the truth.
Contrast this with Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well. She asks two different questions, and both times Jesus answers directly.
- The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:9-14)
When she questions His identity, He’s not offended because He sees that she’s legitimately confused. So He offers her an answer that expands her understanding.
For Jesus, the key wasn’t the words, but the motivation behind them. At the end of the encounter with the teachers in Luke 20, Jesus says, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.” (Luke 20: 46-47)
- “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
I’m convinced that God wants to talk to us about our questions and doubts. When we go to Him with open hearts, He always finds a way to provide the understanding we seek.
If you don’t ask the right questions, you don’t get the right answers. I think of the “right” questions as empowering questions because they direct toward growth, wisdom, and insight. Here are a couple of examples:
- “When will this ever matter to me?” leads to reasons why it doesn’t matter. “What’s interesting about this?” causes deeper investigation and understanding.
- “What’s the use?” elicits a list of reasons to quit. “How can I do better?” prompts you to ponder ways to improve the situation.
- “Why is the bible so inconsistent?” blocks further investigation because the conclusion’s already been established. “What’s the over-arching story?” or “What’s God’s eternal nature?” open the door to new and deeper interpretation.
QUESTIONS AS STATEMENTS
The elders asked Jesus, “Who gave you this authority?” He knew that they already had their own answer, that they were really saying, “You don’t have authority.”
As a math teacher I heard this question hundreds of times: “When will I ever use this stuff?”
Sometimes it’s a legitimate inquiry, an attempt to connect new material to the real world. But most of the time questions like this are statements: “I don’t think I’ll ever use this.”
I learned through experience that any attempt to respond to a statement-as-question is pointless. “Why would a rational person believe in God?” is really a statement, and it can’t lead to new insight. A more empowering approach might be, “How can I believe in God without denouncing rational thought?”
When relationships collapse, finances are in shambles, or past errors make every step a nightmare, doubts hide in every shadow. Everyone occasionally wonders WHY when God’s ways don’t make human sense. Questions are a normal, real part of our walk with Jesus.
Faith and uncertainty walk hand in hand.
Ask your questions with an open heart. He’ll listen, and he’ll answer.
- It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers. ~James Thurber
What’s a question you have for God?