The understanding that
arises from the search
for an answer outweighs the
value of the answer itself.
I learned a long time ago that God relishes our questions. When we come to Him with an authentic desire to know more, trust more, glorify more, He welcomes even the toughest of questions and points us down a path of discovery. Sometimes God doesn’t give us a straightforward answer—oftentimes actually—but the depth and breadth of understanding that arise from the search for an answer outweighs the value of the answer itself, had we received it.
When Jesus walked the roads of Galilee and Judea, people asked him lots of questions. I read somewhere that he directly answered only three questions. Usually, he pressed into the question somehow, and often he replied to that question with a question of his own. Remember these?
Whose image is this? And whose inscription? -Matthew 22:20
What is written in the Law? How do you read it? -Luke 10:26
It wasn’t the status or appearance of the person that affected how Jesus answered. It was the person’s heart. John said, He knew what was in each person (John 2:25). Jesus deliberately led the questioner to the Truth behind the question, which, like our own inquiries today, was actually more important than the specific answer.
As we read through the Gospels, we find at least three types of people who asked Jesus questions. In our examples, let’s limit ourselves to Pharisees, just to make it interesting, and we can find all three types of askers among this group.
Demonstrators declare, “Look what I know.”
I’ve seen this type of person in classrooms and lecture halls. He asks a question to impress the professor and students, not because he wants to learn. In front of Jesus, this type is most clear when the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus about the resurrection (Matthew 22:23-33). They asked in order to trick Him, to show how clever they were. They weren’t sincerely interested in Jesus’ answer.
Debaters challenge, “Prove it.”
This is the one who says, “I’m not going to take your word for it. Show me the evidence.” Sometimes the Pharisees were indignant about Jesus’ claims and/or actions. How could Jesus be so bold? Then they asked things like this:
The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this? -John 2:18
To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.’ Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side. -Mark 8:11-13
Jesus wasn’t interested in giving signs (a.k.a. miracles) to people who weren’t interested in trusting Him. He just walked away. He left them standing there in His dust, looking slightly foolish.
Discoverers plead, “I just don’t know, but I want to believe.”
I almost called this section “Doubters plead.” I am convinced that it’s okay to doubt…when you take your doubts straight to God. Doubting is really about what you discover in the process. So keep reading.
Immediately after the Pharisees challenge Jesus at the temple (John 2:18), John gives us the contrasting story of Nicodemus, an individual Pharisee (John 3). Did you ever wonder why Nicodemus came to Jesus at night? According to the notes in my Bible, either he was afraid of being judged by his peers or he just wanted to avoid the interruptions of a day-time crowd. Doesn’t matter, really, because Jesus saw his heart. Jesus saw that he honestly wanted some answers. Nicodemus thought Jesus might actually be the Messiah, but things weren’t happening the way he had always been told they would happen. Nicodemus was sincerely trying to wrap his mind around all this new, tradition-busting information.
Jesus didn’t condemn
Nicodemus for asking
So this time, Jesus was patient. He answered Nicodemus’ questions in the best way he could, according to Nicodemus’ understanding. The answers aren’t as straightforward as he—or we—might wish (“Born again?” What?), but there’s no sense of impatience on Jesus’ part…maybe frustration because Nicodemus should have understood, but Jesus didn’t rush off, and He didn’t condemn Nicodemus for asking.
This is where we find ourselves, so may years later. Before we go to God with our questions, we must ask ourselves why we are asking. What do you hope to gain from questioning God? To demonstrate, to debate, or to discover Truth? Because it’s not the questions themselves that are the problem.
Suppose three people come to Jesus with exactly the same question, but the motivation behind each is different. Jesus’ reply will be different for each one. How are you asking questions? First, don’t be afraid to ask. Second, know that the answers you get (or lack thereof) probably tell you more about yourself than about your God.