Starting with a question seems like a good idea to most people: it helps to bring a sharper focus, it’s conversational, it reveals gaps in knowledge, and it’s quite natural.(1) Kids seem to use questions instinctively to find out about the world. Of course, there are lazy questions and there are thoughtful questions. The difference is hard to explain, but anyone who has ever heard or asked a great question, asked at the right time, will immediately know why good, careful, thoughtful questions are always worth asking.
When it comes to questions about faith, Christians have often pointed to the example of God asking Adam and Eve, ‘Where are you?’ (Genesis 3:9), and the way in which Jesus interacts with people in the New Testament. Here are just a few of the questions of Jesus:
What are you looking for? What do you want me to do for you? Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me? If you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you? Do you want to be well? Do you see this woman? What good is it to gain the whole world but forfeit your soul? Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Who is greater, the one seated at the table, or the one who serves? Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? Which of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God? Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God? Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ but do not do what I command? Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For which of these good works are you trying to stone me? Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? Would you like some breakfast? Have you come to believe because you have seen me? I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? Do you love me?
Perhaps starting with questions isn’t such a bad idea after all, is it? Even so, some may be suspicious of starting with questions. Some may find them leading or loaded. Others may be worried about being unfaithful to God if they use and engage properly with questions. But, as you can see, Jesus used questions, which, for me, is the strongest reason to use them. And when Jesus asked a question it suddenly brought everything into focus, not just for the one he was asking, but for everyone listening as well. Jesus’s often subversive questions summarize and lift up the prevailing authority structures, symbols, and assumptions. His questions lift them high up into the air for inspection, so that everyone can see more clearly the motives, traditions, assumptions, and all the wildness that often rages under the surface.
Questions can help us to concentrate, pay attention, and think together. A good question can transform a meandering discussion into a life-changing moment, when reality breaks through illusion. In these moments, when we gently ask the right questions of ourselves or others, we can sometimes get under a question, and meet the one behind it. In the words of T.S. Eliot, “Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger. Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.” The message of Christ comes in power, reality, and compassion and is able to answer the deeper questions that come bursting out when the door is opened.
Tom Price is Academic Tutor at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Europe.
(1) Article adapted from Tom Price’s, “Starting With Questions” Pulse, Issue 8 (Summer 2011), pp. 12-13.