Wrong Questions Don't Exist, But Bad Ones Do
Growing up, I was taught that there are no bad questions, and I was encouraged to ask as many as possible. However, as a teen, asking questions indicated my lack of knowledge, and I didn't want my peers to think any less of me. School also seemed to be such an information dump that I didn't entertain exploratory questions for the most part anyway. In school, I was taught to answer the questions, never to question them.
I wonder how significant the impact of never questioning the question has been on the last few generations. When we don't question the question, we spend time answering questions that are not worth our time--precious time we could use to make the world around us a better place. But it's not just time this affects; it's also knowledge, insight, and wisdom. I think the greatest impact this failure has had on our civilization is the misguided search for ultimate and absolute reality. In this article, I want to explore the impact this can have on Christians and how we might fix it.
The Use of Questions for Christian Life and Godliness
You might be surprised if I say that Christians have the greatest need to ask questions. After all, don't they have the source of absolute truth straight from the mouth of the Creator of the universe? Of course, they do, but that does not mean they know it entirely or rightly.
Questions are for learning about things you didn't know about before, but more than that, they are meant to clarify the things you already know. Questions give depth to knowledge. Thus, because Christians have access to the source of absolute truth, they have the greatest need for clarification and depth in their understanding.
In a more direct sense, Christians need to ask questions because of how the Bible is written. God did not give explicit step-by-step instructions for life and godliness in the 21st Century. Instead, He gave us a story of His redemption for humanity, and intertwined in that story are examples of how we should live, doctrines for what we should believe, direct teachings on specific practical issues, and rules for life. This story was written over thousands of years through many authors to different audiences in different languages. It is not always cut and dried, either. Thus, questions are necessary for understanding.
As we study the Bible, we ask questions whether we realize it or not. Perhaps the one we ask most is what a word, verse or passage means, and such a line of questioning encapsulates our need. But our need extends beyond that to ask questions intended to expand our depth of biblical wisdom and support the cohesiveness of our biblical understanding. Asking good questions begins with knowing our intentions for them.
How To Ask The Good Questions
Questions are right to ask, but that is not enough. This brings us back to the point I previously stated: we can never ask wrong questions, but we can ask bad ones. Bad questions can be morally bad, such as misleading questions, questions with ill intent, etc., or intellectually bad, such as questions without consideration of clear facts or questions without critical thinking. Most likely, bad questions have answers, but they won't deepen our knowledge, nor will they bring us a better understanding of the Bible.
We ask questions from our point of view, and we ask questions based on what we want. Questions don't arise from nothing. That means we cannot ask the right questions without first understanding our standpoint. If we fail to recognize our perspective or prejudices, we are doomed to ask bad questions. Either we give in to our sinful inclinations and ask questions to subvert God's truth, or we ask questions ignorant of clear evidence. Pride blinds us from our prejudices, and prejudice blinds us from the truth. Therefore, we require more than just a list of good questions to ask and bad questions to avoid; we need our desires rightly ordered.
Rightly ordered desires in asking biblical questions are more than a box to check. It is a lifestyle and an overarching theme for the Christian life. Perhaps our questions show us what we are like more often than revealing our lack of understanding. They tell us what we want more often than telling us what we need. If loving God does not drive us in our study and search for understanding, love of Self willingly steps in to ask the Bible for things that satiate our pride, greed, and lust. Proper growth in holiness happens when we ask good questions of the Bible from our rightly ordered desires.
What happens when we ask bad questions? The most obvious answer is that we receive bad answers, or at least answers that lead us in the wrong direction. But worse still is the time we waste on things that lead us further from God, the truth, the gospel, and our relationship with Christ.
As I observe the controversies of history, I conclude that each generation and society has its own set of bad questions. In our post-modern culture, the questions increasingly favour the individual and stand against divine truth. Other generations may aim to subvert divine truth with human reason, while others attempt to overthrow God with their gods and goddesses. Our generation's god is Self. The modern individual is its captain. It bows to no one and certainly recoils at the thought of submitting to God. As a result, the soul spirals downward into misery and restlessness.
Therefore, to ask good questions of the Bible, we need humility, love for God, and love for neighbor. Our inward bent to please Self must not influence our study.
Here are some examples of good questions to ask as you study the Bible, and they are not specific to any genre or book of the Bible.
Why and how is this or that word used?
How is this passage written, and what is the point of it?
Where does this verse/passage/chapter/book fit in the narrative of Scripture?
Where does this verse/passage/chapter fit in the point/theme of the book?
How would the first Christians who heard this understand it?
What is this passage teaching me to believe/do
How does this passage apply to me in light of the rest of Scripture?
Good questions cause deep thought about the Bible and lead us to understand God and His gospel better.