How do you respond to motivation? Are you more inclined to do something if someone else wants you to? If the rules say you should? Or, like some of us, not at all no matter what?
Gretchen Rubin, in her book The Four Tendencies, divides people into categories depending on how they respond to motivation. Those who, like me, respond to inner motivation far more than anything from the outside, are called questioners. (You can even take the quiz here if you want.)
We ask “why” a lot. That’s the gist of the personality. If you can give us a good reason for doing something, we’re in. If not, we’re not terribly motivated. A good reason, mind you, is in the eye of the questioner.
So it’s not a surprise, I suppose, that I would be drawn to the questions in the Bible. A couple weeks ago, we talked about God’s first question. (Where are you?) It’s important, I believe, to look at the things God wants to know and ponder why. (I did say I asked “why” a lot.)
Questions God asks
God, presumably, does not ask rhetorical questions. He doesn’t need to ask questions at all. What doesn’t he already know? Can he ask a question he doesn’t know the answer to?
“Omniscient” is one of those fifty-dollar theological words that means the ability, or even character trait, of knowing absolutely everything. (So go use that word now to impress people.) God has no need to ask us anything at all.
That’s why I find the fact that he does so intriguing.
Who is able to advise the Spirit of the Lord? Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him? Has the Lord ever needed anyone’s advice? Does he need instruction about what is good? Did someone teach him what is right or show him the path of justice? (Isaiah 40.13-14)
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone? Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east?
Do you know where the gates of death are located? Where does light come from, and where does darkness go? Can you take each to its home? Can you direct the movement of the stars? Do you know the laws of the universe? Can you use them to regulate the earth? Can you shout to the clouds and make it rain? (Job 38)
So why would he ask us questions?
Well, why did I ask my students questions when I taught high school? Did I need to know the author of Pride and Prejudice? Was I ignorant of the psychology behind Javert’s issues? Could I not google the date of publication of War and Peace if I didn’t know? (No, in fact, I couldn’t. We didn’t have google. Or the interwebs. It was that long ago.)
As a parent, do I really have to walk into a room and ask “Who made this mess?”
No parent in the history of parents needs to ask that. We know.
But we do ask these things. We ask them for several reasons.
We want to see if others do know the answers they need to know. We want to give people a chance to confess to things they need to know (or things they did) before they have no choice. Maybe we want them to rethink an answer they’ve given or a belief they hold. Perhaps we want to prod action. Possibly, we just want a dialog.
God works in similar ways. He doesn’t need information or answers. So what’s left?
Maybe God also wants to:
- Help us figure out the answers
- Make us rethink some answer we thought we knew
- Prod us into thinking about our answers
- Give us information
- Move us to action
- Have a dialog with us.
It’s a well known axiom of adult learning experts that asking questions helps people learn better. (That’s why I’ve taken to doing it a lot when I preach.) In their research, Julie Bugg and Mark McDaniel at Washington University in St. Louis (shout out to the alma mater!) set out to discover what kind of questions worked best. They determined that conceptual questions—those where you ask yourself or someone else questions that require putting ideas together rather than just knowing details—help us learn best.
So asking about motives of Javert would give my students a much better grasp of literature than asking the publication date of War and Peace. Truth.
What does this have to do with God?
It’s important because if God asks a question, we should probably pay attention.
If he’s wanting to dialog, we should be joy-filled at the prospect.
If he respects us enough to want us to figure things out on our own, we can be grateful. He made us in his image, which includes the ability to think things through.
If he speaks in questions so often, perhaps we should rethink our tendency to speak in proclamation more often than not. I love that Jesus often spoke in questions. Maybe being like Jesus should prod us to listen more, ask more questions, trust people more to be able to come to conclusions of their own. Perhaps being so sure we have wisdom to impart should give way to his method of helping people figure out wisdom and confession in their time and way.
If questions are such a vital part of God’s toolkit, maybe we could take a look at why. Next week, we’ll continue the journey that we started with God’s first question—Where are you?—with Jesus’ first question. What is it? You’ll find out next week.