Wednesday, October 18, 2006

questions and answers

I've been studying various portions of the Gospel of John with my new friend Jonathan Steele these days through a study guide called "Follow Me". It has been an interesting exploration, because, the curriculum guides you to interact with the text in a simple, yet very open-ended kind of way. After you read the Scipture passage you simply "pray with your mind", then "pray with your heart" and then "pray with your will."

As I've done this, different sorts of things have struck me about texts that have, in the past, seemed very familiar to me.

This morning, in John 3, I read the account of Jesus and Nicodemus. As I did so, I noticed a strange sort of pattern in their conversation. It appears to me that Nicodemus initiates a particular line of inquiry, but Jesus gives a different kind of answer, taking the conversation in a surprising direction. It would be like my daughter asking me, "What's 2 + 2?" and I answer her by saying, "Aardvark."

And it struck me: the answers Jesus gives often deal with different sorts of things, when compared to the questions I ask. (I guess this shouldn't surprise me. He, after all, is God; and I, after all, am human). It's almost as if Jesus is reminding me: "That question you just asked is interesting, but, I have to tell you, it's the wrong sort of question. Now: let me tell you the answer, and see if you can figure out the right sort of question."

It's sort of like a game of Jeopardy. The answer is found in asking the right question.

I thought: "Perhaps I'm constantly asking the wrong sorts of questions all the time. I'm concerned about things like X, Y and Z and Jesus says that life is really more about 1, 2 and 3."

And then I put that observation together with other stories about Jesus, and I'm thinking now that this accords with other narratives.

For example, towards the end of Jesus' ministry, all kinds of people approached him, challenging him with various sorts of questions. And Jesus responds to them in such a way that they realize the triviality of their questions. And then, Jesus poses a line of inquiry that really matters concerning a piece of Jewish Scripture that serves to highlight the true nature of Messiah. The interesting thing about this is: I get the feeling that that question was not on anyone else's radar screen, but Jesus poses it anyway, demonstrating the kinds of questions they should be asking.

And, so, I shudder to think, but have an inkling this might actually be true: Maybe even the questions we ask are wrong.

Earlier in Jesus' life, He is interacting with someone about the greatest commandment, which includes the phrase "love your neighbor as yourself." The person asks, "Yes, but who is my neighbor?" Jesus does answer the man's question, but you get the feeling the question itself is ludicrous. If Jesus chooses to address the question, it is only because God is patient and gracious with us and stoops to answer the questions we ask, even if they are irrelevant or imbecilic or self-defensive or etc.

And, again, I shudder to think, but have an inkling this might also be true: If Jesus chooses to answer a question I've asked, that is not necessarily because I have asked a good question; it is more likely due to the simple and sole fact that He is infinitely gracious and patient with me. (And in the meantime, I become enamored with myself, patting myself on the back, while thinking: "Gosh, I'm clever. I really know how to ask a good question, don't I?" All the while, living life, oblivious to just how far Jesus' grace really extends--even to the very questions I ask.)

On another occasion, the disciples are arguing amongst themselves about who will be the greatest in the kingdom. They ask Jesus about this and between the lines you can hear Jesus saying, "You've got it all wrong. The kingdom isn't about who will be the greatest. It is about who will be the least. Why are you even asking that question? It's the wrong sort of question, people."

This pattern got me to thinking even further, then...

"So...if I tend to ask the wrong sorts of questions, and if Jesus gives me the clues as to which questions I should be asking by the answer He provides, what should I do, then?"

And, I've decided (and hopefully I can actually follow up on this now): rather than starting with questions (in particular the kinds of questions I tend to ask--which tend to be me-centered), I'll do something else. Rather than starting with questions, perhaps I should start with answers--the answers Jesus gives me. And then, from that, figure out the really important questions.

Perhaps, in approaching Jesus that way, He will more fully become my Teacher. After all, the best teachers have a way of showing their students the kinds of questions that need to be posed, of wiping away our preconceived notions of what really matters. And that's what Jesus wants to do in me.

I only pray now that I can be silent and listen and learn. Jesus, wipe away my thoughts, and replace them with your thoughts. Help me to listen to Your answers, so that I can be filled with Your questions.

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