The wisdom in answering a question with a question

Many of us were taught it wasn’t proper to answer a question with another question. However, Jesus does this throughout the gospel accounts, so it can be assumed that there isn’t anything improper about it. Also, in the Old Testament, a particular standout is in chapters 38-41 of Job, when God answers, He heaps on question upon question. Looking at how our Lord frames His questions as responses to the countless askers in the Scriptures gives us insight as to how this method of dialogue can be productive and actually quite profitable for those engaged.

To be sure, Jesus does address the Pharisees, Sadducees, and others who ask of Him with intentions of tricking Him with sharp replies, even insulting them directly without shame (i.e. Matthew 21:23-24; Mark 10:2-3; Mark 12:14-16). Additionally, God’s questions to Job and his friends can be read with dripping sarcasm, whether intended or not. But to the other askers, His disciples and seekers, of whom God knows that their motives are fueled by genuine curiosity and ignorance, Jesus perpetually asks questions in response to their questions (Luke 2:48-49; Luke 10:25-26; John 3:9-10; John 6:5-6; John 11:8-9). When He does this, it seems as if He does so to incite His askers to engage their minds deeper into the heart, or root, of the question being asked. In God’s lengthy response in the book of Job, we can glean the same, which is fitting as their character is one. When we, mere humans, question our God with a heart filled with doubt, impure motives, or prideful quandary, He will answer us, but we can count ourselves blessed if we are answered with His leading questions.

It is in these questions that His abundant grace, supernatural patience, and the ultimate holiness of His character are shown. If we were to thoughtfully read the words He chooses to use in the questions He responds with, we could see that His goal is to challenge us in our thinking. In much the same way, if we were to really flesh out the intentions behind our questions, we could see why He responds these ways. At times, His questions may be to test or discipline us, His children, when our minds lead us off track (Proverbs 17:3; John 6:6). However, many instances seem to be intended to cause us to pause, and really think through what and why we ask such questions of Him. It is clear throughout Scripture that God never intends to reveal His entire will for each and every detail in our lives, but that He will open our eyes and soften our hearts to His will at His pleasure. So, perhaps, His replies to our questions are guiding us, enlightening our minds to His will as He allows.

In our horizontal relationships, this method of dialogue can be profitable as well. Ever been in discussion with someone who asks intentional, thought provoking questions? A person who is listening to you, and decides to respond not with an answer to your issues, but with a question? This is not something I’m adept at, but I’ve witnessed it and it’s possibly the most beneficial art of conversation I’ve heard. Due to the fact that we all want to be heard, we desperately need to know our desires described in words are important, so to enter into conversation with someone who listens by utilizing engaging questions can be rare (unless you’re dialoguing with a counselor), but a treasure nonetheless. It takes skills that we don’t come by easily: patience, wisdom, and understanding. We can grow in these virtues by persisting to see their value, developing our interpersonal relationships by deepening conversation beyond the superficiality that can permeate them, and by remembering that answering a question with a question can bring you, and those you’re conversing with, closer to the answers you’re seeking.

More importantly, in our vertical relationship with our Lord, when we come to Him in prayer, asking questions of Him, seeking answers from Him, for whatever ails or perplexes us in a given time, may we do so with humility and wholehearted acceptance of whatever the Holy Spirit beckons us with. Whether it is an inflexible answer requiring obedience, or if it is met with yet more questions, we can approach them both with the knowledge that sometimes the most fruitful and beneficial answer may just be in the question.

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One thought on “The wisdom in answering a question with a question

  1. Pingback: Perspective matters – bibliolater blog

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