“The quality of your life is the quality of your questions.” (Anthony Robbins)
The courage to ask questions is the pathway to deep insight and growth. Children instinctively understand this. One of the first signs of intellectual development in a toddler is when she begins to question her surroundings. “What is that, daddy?” is the easy question for a parent, but the more difficult “Why?” is never far behind.
A series of maxims greeted visitors to the ancient Delphic oracle in Greece. The most famous reads, “Know yourself.” This is an exhortation to shift from the external to the internal. To grow we must move beyond the expectations and explanations of others. We must engage in a search for truth driven by a thirst from within rather than from a desire for conformity to externals or approval from others.
The harder questions begin when we ponder our feelings and thoughts. What am I feeling? What am I thinking about right now? How can I quiet my racing mind? Will the dull ache that I feel inside ever go away? When we ask such questions, we become observers of our lives. We are no longer mere participants along for the ride.
Most of us gain a certain level of mastery of our external world as we grow. We learn to drive. We earn diplomas and degrees. We start careers. We marry and begin to raise families. We’re able to navigate career and culture easily. We’re comfortable in our spiritual lives. We become competent at the givens and what’s of life.
But at some point, we hit a wall and realize that we’ve lost the plot. For many of us it takes a crisis moment: poor health, the death of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, a financial crisis, or disillusionment with our faith. These are times when we long for meaning and fulfillment over easy answers and the typical road maps for life and faith. At such times, we may turn to Scripture afresh.
People often describe the Bible as an answer book. This is certainly true, but we must take care not to reduce it to an answer key such as one we’d find in the back of a high school math text. As we live, we discover that life is messier and blurrier than a straightforward math equation. Rarely is the answer we seek simply the solution, 2 + 2 = 4. When we face complexity, questions tend to be more helpful than simple answers.
In fact, Scripture is full of questions. Often these questions take us further down the rabbit hole than any answer would. Here are some examples:
The serpent asks Eve and Adam, “Did God really say…? (Gen 3:1).
God asks the first humans, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9).
Cain asks God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9).
Moses asks God, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and bring out the Israelites?” (Exod 3:11) and “What is your name?” (3:13).
The psalmist asks, “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me? (Ps 22:1).
God asks Jonah, “Is your anger a good thing?” (Jonah 4:4).
A lawyer asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).
The Philippians jailer asks Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).
In each case, the careful reader gains insight and wisdom by reflecting on the question and then reading to see if and how answers emerge through textual conversation. These scriptural examples suggest that questions are part of an authentic relationship with God. God does not demand that seekers become unthinking “yes men” or “yes women.” There is a give and take to faith. God desires to ask us penetrating questions to aid us in transformation, but we also are free to challenge God and ask questions of our own.
In the end, reading Scripture is about asking questions. Our questions serve to open our hearts and minds to the questions that the Bible desires to ask each of us. Any question may be brought to the text, but ultimately the Bible desires to confront us with the reality of God’s claims on our lives. It intends to raise questions for us to ponder. Here are some that I’ve sensed when I’ve spent time in the Scriptures:
Do I trust that God has my best interests at heart?
How does the Bible invite me to live differently than I currently am?
What kind of person do I need to become to live out the truth I am reading?
As you open the Scriptures with new questions, try using this prayer from the early church leader Origen (c. 185–c. 254):
Lord, inspire us to read your Scriptures and meditate upon them day and night. We beg you to give us real understanding of what we need, that we in turn may put its precepts into practice. Yet we know that understanding and good intentions are worthless, unless rooted in your graceful love. So we ask that the words of Scripture may also be not just signs on a page, but channels of grace into our hearts. Amen.
[See here for part one of this series on Conversations with Scripture.]