How often do you ask questions? What kind of questions do you ask? And what’s the ratio between your queries and your assertions?
I ask with an agenda: questions are the lifeblood of learning. Even more than that, questions are crucial to our spiritual growth. And too many of us aren’t growing very quickly – I even challenged some Christians recently to avoid spiritual arteriosclerosis by asking more questions! It was a challenge I felt myself.
Let me stir the point with some more questions and invite you to come up with some answers.
First off, what makes a good question? Some are more penetrating than others. A question about basic facts can be helpful in an applied setting—useful but not necessarily crucial. On the other hand an open-ended question about profound realities—such as the nature of God—can be life changing if it’s pursued in earnest. A good question is like finding the light switch in a dark room. Even the act of looking for light holds potential. So taking time to consider how to ask a life-changing question or two might be a good quest!
Are there bad questions? Yes, of course. In the common cliché, an honest question that isn’t asked can be a bad moment. Or a question with an embedded premise: “Have you quit beating your wife yet?” A biblical example of this is the wealthy ruler who asked Jesus, “What good things should I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus rejected the premise: “No one is good but God alone.”
There are skeptical questions, too. These can be bad or good: useful in some settings and poison in others. In the history of faith, for instance, the archenemy of our souls has always been ready with his “Did God really say?” His goal in the garden was to question God’s single prohibition—“Don’t eat of the tree in the middle of the garden lest you die!”—to lead Eve to focus on God’s one boundary rather than on the vast freedom of God’s goodness. It was really a matter of God’s word versus the serpent’s word, and the tool of doubt turned Eve’s heart away from her initial faith in God’s words.
Skepticism can be good, of course, when I receive a letter that promises me a share of someone’s fortune in Nigeria—all I needed to do was pass along my bank account data.
Skepticism, we realize, is an instrument to destroy confidence; but never to build it. So while there is a place for some informed doubt, we need to recall that skeptics have always paved the road to spiritual cynicism. Should we, perhaps, at least begin to be more skeptical about the benefits of skepticism?
In our quest for exceptionally good questions, then, where should we begin? Let me suggest that the nature of God—something mentioned already—is a good place to start. A. W. Tozer properly made the point that the most important thing about any person is what he or she believes God to be like. It shapes everything: whether it leads to a profound faith, an empty atheism, or something in between.
Is God personal and caring? Or aloof and indifferent?
Is God one who loves his power? Or does his love empower all he does?
Is God most fully revealed to us as a set of profound attributes that we get to dissect? Or is he a Triune lover whose initiatives swamp any attributions we start to list?
These, of course, may be faulty questions—loaded with a certain bias that reveals my own sort of faith—but they may also be useful in stirring you to ask your own questions.
Go for it! And then be sure to read the Bible to see how God might answer you there. It’s truly an ultimate quest.
Questions are funny, in that while unanswered, seem to loom so large and be so life altering. Your mind can be so consumed by them and the answers seem so illusive. But after they are answered, you look around and wonder, “what was the big deal?” or “what in the world was that big, significant question now anyway?” I remember before I was committed to Christ, I felt so full of questions, that completely disappeared after I surrendered to Him, and not even one of them could be recalled.
I think Satan does an admirable job of filling you with the confusion of questions, and prefers you never put them into words, so that they might be analyzed and answered. You’re right, we should articulate a few questions, better yet, actually put them in writing, then wait to see how God will send the answer. A few months ago, I bought little notebooks for everyone in our small church for exactly that purpose, to keep a record of it, or any other way God had spoken into their life. Because we forget too easily how God has worked.
Thanks for the response, Colleen. You’ve effectively captured one side of the two trajectories of questions I wanted to explore here: they can be dangerous if they represent the enemy’s skepticism and have a trajectory away from faith.
Yet I’m not sure I traced out the other side as well as I hoped: that we only grow by asking good questions. If, for instance, I think I know all I need to know about any given subject I quit looking to learn more. If, for instance, I want to know more about the “love of Christ” (given the prominence of Bible references on the topic) I have lots of room to learn more because Paul describes it as a love that “surpasses knowledge”. It might take an eternity to explore!
So a faith-based question might be, “Lord, where can I learn more about your love today?” Then I keep my eyes open to see if any insights come afterwards, whether through some time in the Bible or even in the circumstances in life that may remind me of what I’ve read earlier.
All that to say that I treat questions as gifts to be treasured and not as problems: as the salt in life that makes me thirsty to drink more of the living water.
And I did a poor job of expressing my actual perspective: that it’s the confusion and doubt of questioning that is Satan’s work; but the actual asking of the questions allows God to give life-enriching answers. We do need to ask questions and learn the answers so that we can grow and walk with surer footing in this world.
Amen, Colleen. Thanks.