The Eastern Mind #2 — The Power of a Good Question

In the western world, we love resolution. “If you got a problem, yo, I’ll solve it!” That is the mantra of our time. Sickness? Disease? Poverty? Racism? Rebellious teens? We can find a solution — probably in five steps. Read blogs, Pinterest, recipe websites, or science journals. We can solve every riddle. We can answer any question. We can eliminate variables so we can predict and control the universe. In the western world, this gives us a sense of security, and therefore peace.

Don’t get me wrong: This isn’t all bad. I hope for a cure for cancer or dementia or Alzheimer’s. There is value in seeing the world the way we do. Taking big problems in the world and wrestling them to the ground in order to gain resolution is a great posture with which to approach the world. It just isn’t eastern. And the Bible is eastern.

In our world, the one who asks the question is the one who does not know. And the one who gives the answer is the educated, insightful, powerful thinker. So ignorance asks a question of knowledge. We revere knowledge and shun ignorance. This is the western world.

The eastern world is different. We see this through the life of Jesus in Luke 2:

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

Did you notice what Jesus was doing? “Listening to them and asking them questions.” On the surface we would say, “Of course. He is a kid.” However, what we notice is that the next statement blows up our worldview about how these things work: “And all who heard him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” What! Wait a minute. He was asking them questions, not giving them answers. In our world, this means Jesus is the ignorant one, not the one with great insight.

This one point about the eastern mind opens up the Bible in a whole new way. The goal of the eastern mind is not to get to the right answer, but to get to the right question. This dramatically affects how we read the Bible.

First, the art of questioning is central to the first century Jewish culture. We see Jesus doing this often, answering a question with a question that takes the conversation deeper and wider than the original person understood at the time. Pay attention as you read the Bible to this reality. It is very eye opening.

Consider the book of Job, for example. When Job has hit his limit, God “answers” Job out of a storm. God’s answer comes in the form of a series of questions, and God never answers Job’s original question. He just leads Job to a better set of questions.

And this brings me to my second thought about the power of a great question. If the goal is to force better and deeper questions, then the way things are written should leave room for lots of questions. As westerners, we want everything resolved and tied up in a nice package. As preachers, we often find ourselves doing just that — trying to package the mysteries of the Bible cleanly.

The problem is you can’t package them all, and the Bible is not written to answer many of the questions we ask of it. It is written to create tension, because tension begets questions. Resolution begets apathy.

So the Bible is written to force tough questions about God: Why this? Why them? Why me? Why now? Why then? What about this or that? And this is the open doorway to new and profound awareness of the nature of God.

May you always be challenged by the tension of Scripture. May you ask difficult but powerful questions. May you never lose your curiosity about the Bible. And may you be safe for people as they wrestle with the most profound truths the world has ever known.