26 Jul The Power of Penetrating Questions
Questions. Really good questions. Teachers, therapists, leaders, and parents all know the power of a good question. I am not talking about fact-finding questions, though they certainly have their place. And I am certainly not talking about nosy questions. I am thinking of penetrating questions, the kind that don’t have a right or wrong answer, the kind that get us to probe our own feelings, values, and motivations.
Nobody asks a question better than Jesus. This month I started a new sermon series on the fourth gospel. It is titled, Encountering Jesus in the Gospel of John. I am loving this series. (Okay, confession time. I think I say that about all the sermon series I preach. But sometimes I am more surprised by them than other times, and this is one of those.) The Jesus in John’s gospel asks a lot of good questions, and there are other good questions asked by those he encounters. For example, what are you looking for? Do you want to be made well? What are you hungry (or thirsty) for? How can these things be? Do you believe?
These questions are intended to jolt us, to get us to think and reflect, to get us below the surface to the deeper, often hidden, meanings of both the question and the answer. This deeper place is where we see the truth about ourselves, where we “get real” about the anger or resentment we feel—and work so hard to cover up; the grudges we harbor from hurts and wounds of long ago; the worry that keeps us awake at night; the pain we so deftly hide; the insecurities that hold us hostage.
It seems to me that there are a lot of misconceptions about Jesus, but perhaps none is more damaging than the one that assumes Jesus is all about “do’s and don’ts”. On the contrary, time and time again Jesus pushes us to look beyond externals of both pedigree and behavior to examine our interior lives. Embedded in the question “what are you looking for?”, Jesus is asking us, “what is the void in your life you’re trying to fill? What is the root of that sense of emptiness or loneliness? What is your fear of being unlovable all about?” As we are able to name the underlying feelings and causes of our insatiable cravings, we are then able to see that no amount of money, recognition, praise or possessions will satisfy what we are looking for. We’re only going to find that in Jesus himself.
Jesus could say to us, “I’m what you’re looking for,” but he knows that telling us is not as powerful as allowing us to discover the truth for ourselves. We struggle mightily with this reality in our dealings with one another. Far too often we want to tell people how to live, to set them straight on what to do or not do. Contrast that with Jesus’ approach that affirms our autonomy and respects the process by which we learn, grow, and mature. Jesus asks questions to help us uncover truths that already reside in our hearts—some of them beautiful and some dreadfully ugly—so that we can reckon with them and make choices about how we will respond. That’s why the question, “do you want to be made well?”, which we’ll be looking at this Sunday, is such a daunting question. Jesus is recognizing that we each have responsibility for how healthy we want to be, regardless of our circumstances.
What are you looking for? Do you want to be made well? What are you hungry for? How can these things be? Do you believe? Good questions. Brilliant questions. Hard questions. Questions that make us squirm—but that also hold the key to the abundant, eternal life Jesus longs to share with us.
Now isn’t that just like Jesus?
Yours for the Kingdom,
Last week’s blog: Shakespeare, Decluttering, & Transitions
More on the worship series: Encountering Jesus in the Gospel of John