Asking the Right Questions (Patrick Eby)

Introduction

Sometimes the difficulties we face are centered in the kind of questions we ask. I am not talking about the questions we ask to make trouble, but I am talking about questions we ask that lead us to the wrong goal. In the classroom, there is no such thing as a “stupid” question, but in life the questions we ask can get us into real trouble.  I want to think about three of those questions.

A cacophony of voices

We live in a world where everyone has an opinion and everyone thinks they are right. Anyone who engages in the debates at some level knows the angst one feels as you see some of your friends yell at each other on Facebook. You know the friends who can find something wrong in almost anything someone posts. The goal is not communication or problem solving, it is total domination. The goal is to have our voices heard. The goal is to win the argument. The goal is to convert the world through the tip of our pen. The question we ask out loud or in our inner being is “How can I be heard?” What do I need to do to help them see the truth? Don’t get me wrong, this is a laudable goal, but the results are just adding another voice to the cacophony.  Or, in the words of Steve Deneff, “You scream so loud they cannot hear you.”

So, what question should we ask? I think it should be centered on the ministry of reconciliation to which we are called. The focus should not be on winning, but on healing. Maybe we should ask, “How can I be a peacemaker?” How can I bring a voice of healing and restoration to a world torn by violence? This, of course, is not an easy question to live out. Some people love the fight. You will have to choose your places and times of engagement much more carefully. You may need to withdraw when you realize the path is not to peace, but to a louder conversation. In our conversation we should seek to show the love of a Father who loved the whole world and yearned for reconciliation.

A world of danger

Danger, death, and disease have been the constant companions of our world. No generation has escaped the grip of grief, but we now live in a world (especially in the West) where we think we can cheat these three forces. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to live in a world where medicine is healing many of our diseases and extending our lives. I yearn for a world where justice flows down like a river. I not only yearn for it, I am trying to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. But, we should never get to the place where we think a safe world is the main goal. What happens when we make this our main question, “How can I be safe?” One of the main things that seems to have happened is the rise of anxiety. It seems like the desire to protect ourselves from every evil has led to a collective anxiety. Maybe part of the problem is the 24 hour news cycle that lets us see every tragedy in real time and the fear that follows when we think, “What if that happens to me? How can I be safe?” If safety is our main concern we will never find peace.

So, what question should we ask? I think it should be centered on the sure knowledge that God loves us, and that a perfect love drives out all fear. The focus should be on facing fear with courage, instead of withdrawing to a safe place. Our question should be, “How can I overcome fear to fulfill God’s call on my life?” Whenever I think about this I think of Martin Luther King Jr., who like his namesake, chose a more difficult path, a path filled with threats, in order to bring justice to others. The safe path for Martin Luther King Jr. would have been to move to England and enjoy the blessings his fame had brought. Instead, he marched into the battle with a message of love and non-violence believing that his message would cost him his life. Do I want to be safe? Yes.  Do I want it to be the main question that keeps me from going where God calls me? I hope that our answer is no.

A world of entertainment

In 1985 Neil Postman wrote the book Amusing Ourselves to Death which is “a prophetic look at what happens when politics, journalism, education, and even religion become subject to the demands of entertainment.” I don’t know that we need Neil Postman to tell us that we live in a culture consumed with happiness, but maybe he helps us to see how our desire to be happy does not lead to happiness. Maybe we don’t need him for that either.  How many times have we decided to be happy and the result was boredom? How many times have we decided to go to the latest movie only to be disappointed? For me, there is an inverse relationship between the expectation of happiness and the actual experience of happiness.  What this means in real life is that although I expect the new Star Wars movie will be great, I will probably leave the theater disappointed. Our question is, “How can I be happy?” How can I find those moments of joy in a life that is filled with the mundane? Unfortunately the question opens us up to all of the marketing in our society.  If you drive our car, eat our food, play our game, you WILL be happy.  All you need in your life is our product. And most of the time (if not all), we have bought into the lie that happiness can be found by pursuing happiness (or entertainment). Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for leisure and entertainment, but when we live for the weekend, for entertainment, we often are left less than satisfied.

So, what question should we ask? I think it should center on our purpose, not our pleasure. The focus should be on why I am here and how can I help others. Our question should be, “How can I be holy?” Holy? What does it mean to be holy? That word is so difficult to define. For me, holiness is learning to live out the two greatest commandments: love God and love neighbor.  When the questions, “How can I love God?” and “How can I love me neighbor?” replace our desire to be happy, an interesting thing happens. We discover happiness or maybe a deeper form of happiness that we call joy. When I invest my life in others I find the peace and contentment I never find in the things that promised me happiness. When I go to church for ME, to have MY needs met, I often leave with complaints of being let down, but when I go to express my love for God and my friends, I often leave feeling I have experienced a little taste of heaven.

Conclusion

The questions we ask matter. They often lead us down a path away from true discipleship. I would challenge you to examine your questions. Can you think of other questions that we ask that lead us down the wrong path? If you have any please post them to give us something to work on together. Maybe together we can begin to ask the right questions.