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Starting with a question seems like a good idea to most people: it helps to bring a sharper focus; it’s conversational; it reveals gaps in knowledge and it’s quite natural – kids seem to use questions instinctively to find out about the world. Of course, there are lazy questions and there are thoughtful questions. The difference is hard to explain, but anyone who has ever heard, or asked a great question, asked at the right time, will immediately know why good, careful, thoughtful questions are always worth asking.

Christians have often pointed to the example of God asking Adam and Eve, ‘Where are you?’ (Genesis 3:9), and the way in which Jesus interacts with people in the New Testament. Here are some of Jesus’ questions:

  • What are you looking for?
  • Why are you looking for me?
  • What do you want me to do for you?
  • Who do people say that I am?
  • But who do you say that I am?
  • Why do you ask me about what is good?
  • Why do you call me good?
  • Who is my mother? Who are my brothers and sisters?
  • Who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?
  • How long will I endure you?
  • Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me?
  • What are you thinking in your hearts?
  • Why do you harbour evil thoughts?
  • If you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you?
  • If you do good only to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?
  • Do you want to be well?
  • Who touched me?
  • What is your name?
  • How long has this been happening to him?
  • Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’ ?
  • Do you see anything?
  • You see all these things do you not?
  • Can a blind person guide a blind person?
  • Do you see this woman?
  • Why do you make trouble for her?
  • Where are they, has none condemned you?
  • What good is it to gain the whole world but forfeit your soul?
  • What could one give in exchange for his life?
  • Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life?
  • Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
  • Are you not more important than the birds of the sky?
  • Who is greater, the one seated at the table, or the one who serves?
  • What is the reign of God like? To what can I compare it?
  • Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
  • Which of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish?
  • Where is your faith?
  • Do you believe that I can do this?
  • Why are you terrified?
  • Do you not yet have faith?
  • Why this commotion and weeping?
  • Why does this generation seek a sign?
  • To what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like?
  • How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?
  • Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?
  • Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
  • Do you believe now?
  • I am telling you the truth, why do you not believe me?
  • Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath or not?
  • Show me a denarius. Whose image and name does it bear?
  • Why do you not understand what I am saying?
  • Do you not yet understand or comprehend?
  • Are your hearts hardened?
  • Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?
  • Do you still not understand this?
  • If I tell you about early things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
  • Do you understand these things?
  • Why do you not interpret the present time?
  • Does this shock you?
  • Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ but do not do what I command?
  • Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
  • What were you arguing about on the way?
  • Why are you testing me?
  • Is it not written: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’?
  • Will you lay down your life for me?
  • Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?
  • Do you also want to leave?
  • Do you realise what I have done for you?
  • Why ask me?
  • Why are you trying to kill me?
  • For which of these good works are you trying to stone me?
  • Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?
  • Would you like some breakfast?
  • Have you anything here to eat?
  • Why are you troubled? Why do questions arise in your hearts?
  • Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
  • I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?
  • What are you discussing together as you walk along?
  • Do you love me?

So, perhaps starting with questions isn’t such a bad idea after all, is it? Even so, some Christians are suspicious of starting with questions. Many Christians are worried about being unfaithful to God if they use, and engage properly with questions. But, as you can see, Jesus used questions, which, for me, is the strongest reason to use them. And when Jesus asked a question it suddenly brought everything into focus, not just for him, but for everyone listening as well. Have you ever noticed how Jesus’ often subversive questions summarise and then lift up the prevailing authority structures, symbols and assumptions? His questions lift them high up into the air for inspection, so that everyone can see more clearly the motives, traditions, assumptions, and all the wildness that often rage under the surface.

Questions help us to concentrate, pay attention and think together. A good question can transform a meandering discussion into a life-changing moment, when reality breaks through illusion. In these moments, when we gently ask the right questions, we can sometimes get under a question, and meet the person behind the question, in order to open the door and speak right into their heart. And we have a message that has power, reality and the compassion to answer the deeper questions that come bursting out when the door is opened.

Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.
From Choruses from the Rock, T. S. Eliot