Believe it or not, I read a civil conversation between two people who disagreed the other day. A young man defending the Christian faith on his Twitter page asked, “Atheists, what would convince you that God exists?” Another man replied, “Do you ask to learn or debate?” The tweeter wrote, “To learn.”
What followed was a cordial exchange. No rancorous arguments. No snide remarks. Not one ad hominem attack. I tend to believe that both men, as well as those who read their conversation, came away with a deeper understanding of where each stood and maybe left with some food for thought.
Contrast this with Christians who simplistically use scripture as a sledgehammer to try to beat people into submission, or non-believers who launch hateful generalizations against the church. These folks pose no questions with whom they disagree, because they are sure they have all the answers. The Bible calls this “pride” — and it comes before the fall.
I think about the way Jesus engaged so many people. He asked questions, like the young man I described at the beginning of this post. Consider these:
When Jesus spied an invalid by a pool, he asked the man, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). The man had been disabled for 38 years. Why would Jesus ask such a question? Perhaps he wanted to know if the man had gotten so used to his situation that he didn’t care anymore, or maybe he enjoyed the pity he was getting from others. Jesus was forcing the man to admit whether he was truly ready for healing and a new way of life.
Once, an expert in religious law tested Jesus. He asked him, “Teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered the question with a question, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26).When the man quoted the Greatest Commandment — to love God and neighbor as yourself — Jesus replied, “Do this and you will live.”
In Jesus’ day, it was quite common for masters to query their students instead of giving pat answers. As Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has put it, “Judaism is the rarest of phenomena: a faith based on asking questions, sometimes deep and difficult ones that seem to shake the very foundations of faith itself.“
Do you remember when Jesus asked his disciples, ““Who do people say I am?” (Mark 8:27). They easily answered that some thought he was a prophet, perhaps even Elijah or John the Baptist come back from the dead. Then Jesus lowered the boom: “Who do you say that I am?” He was pinning down his own disciples to make a public profession. “Am I a mere religious teacher – or am I more?”
Questions are a good thing — not only in religion, but the whole of life itself. We should embrace them, for they make us drill deeper. The great teachers and philosophers of history certainly didn’t spoon-feed their followers. They queried them, and in so doing, helped them to reflect on why they believed what they believed.