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The art of questions

The darndest, holiest things.

Art Linkletter asked children questions. He concluded “kids say the darndest things.”

Do we ask enough questions? Questions play different roles. Questions investigate, inquire, interrogate. Questions expose need, attitudes, understanding, misunderstanding, interpretation and inconsistencies. Questions can challenge, express frustration or curiosity, create agreement, or show disagreement. Questions create interaction, discussion, relationships. Good questions invite. Do you like getting questions?

Conversation

When meeting a new person, I enjoy a balance in the questions and answers, so that I do not feel like an interviewer, nor do I feel interrogated. Some people have more output than input. Sometimes reporters question to trap more than report.

A problem in teaching is putting the answer before the question. Students often look only for answers, and teachers like to provide answers. When I taught Catechism, I reminded myself to teach the question before introducing the answer. The church is often seen as giving answers with no room for questions. Good teachers coax questions from their students.

Jesus’ Questions

Jesus was a master questioner. It started very early in his life. The first thing we hear Jesus say in the Gospel of Luke, at the age of 12, is “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (2:49). Luke tells us that Jesus’ parents found him “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (2:46). Luke ends his Gospel with the wonderful questions on the road to Emmaus.

In the Gospel of John Jesus’ first words are the seemingly innocent, but profound, question of two of the Baptist’s disciples, “What do you want?” (1:37) Jesus asks Nicodemus, the teacher, why he does not understand (3:10). He opens a conversation with the Samaritan woman by asking for a drink (4:7). Jesus asks the cripple whether he wants to get well (5:6), the disciples whether they want to leave (6:67), Martha whether she believes in resurrection and life in the presence of her brother’s death (11:26), the disciples whether they understand the foot-washing (13:12), and three times whether Peter loves him (21:15-17). Jesus asked questions to expose misunderstanding and to create belief.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus asks tough questions that are often left unanswered. In the storm he asks, “Why are you so afraid?” (8:26). Again, he asks Peter, “Why did you doubt?” (14:31). He often challenges the Jewish leaders whether they knew their own Scriptures, “Haven’t you read?” (12:3, 5; 19:4, 21:16, 21:42, 22:31-32).

In both Matthew and Mark Jesus ends asking the most haunting question of God, not of us, but for us. It is a question so profound and striking that it was kept in the original Aramaic, “’Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ (Which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)” (Matthew 27:46, Mark15:34).

Questioning

It is good to question. We question to learn. We question to question. We can honestly seek information or challenge falsehood. We can question God like the Psalmist, whom Jesus quotes in his last words from the cross (Psalm 22), which expresses the pain of the many laments. We can question God like Job when disasters happen that we do not understand, but then we must also let God respond with his questions (Job 38-41).

Listen to Jesus’ questions. What do you want? (John 1:18). Why are you so afraid? (Matt. 8:26). Why did you doubt? (Matt. 14:31). Have you understood all these things? (Matt. 13:51). Who do you say that I am? (Matt. 16:15). Have you not read? (Matt. 22:31). Do you love me? (John 21:15-17).

Listening

When asking, follow the advice of wisdom. Listen. “Let the wise listen and add to their learning” (Prov. 1:5). As James counsels, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (1:19). The art of listening comes from the art of questions. Ask questions and you may conclude that God and his image bearers say the darndest holiest things. Any questions?

Author

  • Dr. Thomas Wolthuis is a CRC pastor serving as the English pastor of the Chinese Church of Iowa City. He has been a campus minister, institute president, professor, pastor, and church planter. His Biblical Studies podcasts are at www.geneva-ui.org.

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