The Power of a question

What is my prognosis? Do you swear to tell the whole truth? Will you marry me? Will you step out of the car please? Are you ready to sign on the bottom line? Are you sure you won’t change your mind?

In those moments, answers really matter. Our answers can have a long lasting effect. Things change after those questions are asked, no matter what our response is. Some questions are inconsequential, but others make all the difference.

There are all kinds of questions, but the kind that lead to learning and change are personal. You don’t question a crowd to get their answer….you question a crowd to get them to agree with you. “Who’s number one?” “Who’s with me?” Rhetorical questions don’t require an answer at all. Some questions have a yes or no answer; some require explanation. Sometimes we hide a yes or no answer behind an explanation designed to defend bad behavior. Leading questions can force us to give an answer we don’t like. Good teachers know that the right question can set learning in motion or lead to a conclusion.

We can dodge questions, avoid questions, ignore questions, or attempt to change the subject. But all of us come to a point in our lives when we have to determine answers for ourselves. Sometimes we have to answer by taking responsibility for our past actions or take a stand that is often unpopular. Sometimes our answers force us to choose to change. We may be at a “fork in the road”, we may find ourselves somewhere we didn’t intend to go, but we will eventually be forced to question ourselves and determine our priorities.

The kinds of questions we ask vary with the depth of relationship. We don’t ask deep, personal questions of strangers or even new acquaintances. The questions that probe our vulnerable places are only safe and appropriate with those we know well. I may ask a stranger for information like the time or directions, but I only ask opinions of those I know well enough to respect.

God knows us better than we know ourselves, and when he asks us a question, he waits for our answer. God may be a stranger to us, but we are never a stranger to God. God doesn’t ask these questions because he needs information. He already knows the answers. His questions are designed to help us sort through the rationalization and façade that we create and see the actual truth about our past choices and future options. God asked Adam, “What have you done?” God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?” God asked Moses, “What is in your hand?” God asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?” God asked Solomon, “What do you want?” Jesus asked the disciples, “Why are you so afraid?” Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” and “Do you love me?”

God recorded those questions in the Bible so that we could learn from the wisdom and mistakes of those who have struggled with the same questions he still asks us. All of his questions were asked of weak or disobedient people. Some of those questions were answered in fear; some in awe, some in an earnest desire for a deeper obedience and awareness of God’s presence. These questions may not have originally been posed to us, but I believe our spiritual maturity eventually requires that we answer them. God loves us unconditionally, but he holds us accountable for our answers and our choices. What will you do about your sin? How can you better care for those around you? What will you do with the blessings and talents God has given you? What difference are you making where you are right now? What do you actually want from God? How will you respond to the fact that he is God and you are not? Why are you so afraid? Do you love God, or do you just want to avoid being punished?

When we study these questions in the Bible, we see that the answers to these questions became defining moments and turning points. God’s goal is for that turn to be in the right direction. Adam’s answer earned him a new wardrobe and address. Cain’s refusal to answer did not fool God. Moses’ response gave him a new job. Elijah never actually answered his question, but it caused him to remember that the God who had protected him in the past would continue to do the same, and he gained the courage to return to his calling. Solomon’s answer showed that he recognized his dependence on God’s guidance to rule the people of Israel. The moment God posed the question to them, their lives changed. Their answers forced them to acknowledge God for who he was, or led them to a place where they saw that God will not be trifled with or lied to.

Going deeper in any relationship is often predicated on facing the tough questions. I encourage you to allow God, who already knows the truth and who loves you unconditionally, to ask you the hard questions that will help you understand yourself and him.