I did a lil’ research this week and read through every interaction Jesus had in the Bible. I was looking for how many times he asked a question versus gave an answer. What I found was Jesus offered questions nearly twice as often. I counted 78 answers to 131 questions.
“What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51)
“Do you love me?” (John 21:16)
The times he would answer an accusation with a question,
“You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? (Matt. 22:18)
The bunch of times he answered a question with another question,
“His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”
“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.” (Matt. 15:33-34)
You think of anyone in the history of the planet who would have the right to go around handing out answers to everyone, it’d be the Son of God.
But he didn’t.
And this haunts me as one of his followers.
See, I’ve spent most of my career as a pastor trying to come up with the answers. I assumed that’s what others needed. I thought that was the point. I guessed that’s what people were looking for.
I’m so embarrassed it took me this long to figure out I missed something. I missed the virtue of curiosity. Like an awkward toddler learning to walk, here’s what I’ve learned in my first few steps.
1. Why Vs. What.
Being the answer guy inevitably turns me into Mr. Fix It. Therefore, I’d keep to the facts and like an expert pharmacist, handout prescriptions in the form of books, illustrations, memory verses and prayer. What it took me years to figure out was as I handed out solutions, I also kept people at arms length. After all, if I’m the one with the answers, I’m also the one in control. I’m learning now when I choose to ask questions rather than hand out answers it’s actually a form of trusting God. I’m allowing him to have his way in the conversation rather than trying to control it myself.
“Why?” is quite possibly the greatest question of them all. It’s in the “Why” that things get real. I was just too scared to go there for fear of losing control in the conversation. It’s the “why” that opens the door to our fears and dreams. It moves beyond prescriptions, problem solving, and pretend intimacy and gets scary close. “Why?” is the key that unlocks the door to a beautiful mess that is in you and me. A good “Why?” can create the possibility for five more questions which opens up to even more, and out of all these questions intimacy grows. “What?” is just behavior modification. Asking “Why?” gives the chance for actual healing and freedom.
“But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? (Luke 6:46)
2. Hospitality From A Homeless Man.
I used to think of hospitality as Pintrest and doileys. I now think I get my best picture of hospitality from Jesus. He was homeless after all, and so making sure the house is picked up before company comes over couldn’t have been exactly what he thought of when it came to hospitality. As Shauna Niequist puts it, “I think so much of hospitality is giving people a place to be seen and heard and as a culture we are aching for it.” If that’s true, then Jesus was a master at hospitality. People would leave his presence with a higher sense of dignity and value. They would leave feeling interesting, because he took interest in them. I’ve spent most of my life trying to get others to think well of me. I completely missed the mystery of helping others think well of themselves. In our loneliness and isolation, the gospel is the announcement to the world there is room at the table. We make room at this table as we concentrate on questions rather than answers.
“Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil. 2:3,4)
C.S. Lewis writes, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” I think he was challenging me to a divine curiosity. My buddy Seth once told me about the fancy word for this is “Sonder”. The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. I think if I really knew the idiosyncrasies of another human being I would be at least interested. If I could fathom all the hopes, dreams, fears, and stories of another person I would be captivated. If I could comprehend the intricacies of their unique fingerprint, retina, or heartbeat, I would become divinely curious. Instead, I just cut people off in traffic as I turn another one of God’s unique creations into something in my way.
But how often do people become just that? Merely obstacles, or inconveniences, or distractions, or annoyances? Relationships can become merely a return on an investment. Spouses can turn into task managers. Friends can become merely an occasionally Facebook like.
Jesus does not look at me this way and he dares me to look at others differently as well. He challenges me to regain what can so easily be lost in my commute, or as I walk by a homeless person, or email a co-worker, or listen to my son explain Ninjago. He’s never once asked me to be a Christian, but instead invites me to be human and to reinstitute the humanity of others. I’m always taken by the fact people would leave a moment with Jesus not feeling condemned as a sinner but celebrated as a human being.(1) Questions help restore this humanity in the other.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:14)
The other day, my co-worker, Melissa mentioned how she prays for God to give her a good question to ask someone during the day. It struck as I realized I had never done that before. I’ve prayed for plenty of answers, or asked God to give me the right words lots of times, but never asked for the right question. Her passing comment was like news from another land far better than the one I’ve settled for.
I’ve noticed those who really understand the details and pain of any given situation always have the best questions. You can discover a lot about someone by the kind of questions they ask. If they’re trivial questions than odds are the person doesn’t really care and you may be boring them. A good question is like an invitation into this divine curiosity I
want need in my life so badly. It reveals wisdom, compassion, and humility that nothing else can. Curiosity takes courage to travel uncharted places. It takes wonder to see things for what they really are rather than the mundane we’ve made it. You ever notice how kids ask all sorts of questions and then Jesus had to go and say this,
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 182-4)
What’s that even mean?
I’m left with more questions than answers.
Sounds like a good place to start.(2)
- The American Christian church is not dwindling for incorrect theology but incorrect anthropology. Many have remembered their scripture memorization but forgotten the inherent value and respect of all people. But that’s a blog for another day. 😉
- Often Jesus would leave others with more questions than answers as well. It was like he wasn’t interested in providing a text book full of answers but rather told stories that left listeners struggling, pondering, and questioning.