Superheroes, Socrates, and the Samaritan Woman

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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"Questions fascinate me," writes contributing editor Dena Dyer for our Power of Good Questions series. "Helpful questions give listeners the freedom to arrive at answers on their own. Jesus used them often … and we should, too."

I'm fascinated by the questions people ask.

My children are champions at creating random inquiries such as, “Would you rather have no pinkie toe or no big toe?” or “Which would be cooler—a giant crocodile dog or a small kangaroo bat?” Along with my husband, Carey, my sons can pit superheroes against one another in the “Who would win?” verbal game for hours.

The boys also think deeply at times; hence, yesterday’s query from my eleven-year-old: “Who invented written words? And why did they do that?” Since he was a toddler, I’ve had to dig deep to respond to similar questions.

As for the grown-ups in the house (and I use that term loosely), Carey and I have learned to pose better questions in our twenty years of marriage. I don’t think he’ll ever forget the withering glance he received after innocently asking, “What did you do all day?” after I had spent hours changing diapers and containing toddlers.

And I’ve stopped throwing fastballs he can’t possibly return, such as: “Why didn’t you tell me I looked fat in this dress?” The panic in his eyes—and the fact that he faked an injury to get out of replying—convinced me to change my ways.

Biblical Questions

The questions in the Bible fascinate me, too. When Job asked God to give an explanation for the multiple, painful ways his Creator had allowed him to suffer, God did the unexpected. He appeared, but instead of answering Job directly, God interrogated Job with dozens of questions no man could hope to answer.

As Amy Sorrells notes, “ … using the King James Version as a reference, who, what, when, where, why, and how appear collectively over seven thousand times in the Bible. Moreover, out of 31,102 verses in the Bible, 3,294 include questions.”

In his brief ministry, Jesus challenged followers with hundreds of direct and often surprising questions. Here are just three of the ones he posed:

  • What do you want me to do for you? (Mark 10:51)
  • Can you drink the cup I’m going to drink? (Matt. 20:22)
  • Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? (Mark 4:40)

In my own life, I’ve felt the Holy Spirit gently probe my mind, heart, and actions with thoughts such as, “Why did you say that?” or “Why don’t you call so-and-so?”

All of this biblical questioning leads, appropriately enough, to a question of my own. Why does God, and why should we, ask questions instead of giving direct answers to seeking people?

The Purpose of Questions

First, helpful questions give listeners the freedom to arrive at answers on their own. In “Five Reasons Why Asking Questions Is Good for Your Career,” author J.B. Wood writes, “The Greek philosopher Socrates invented a brilliant method of questioning called—can you guess?—The Socratic Method of Questioning. It simply involves asking a series of questions that eventually lead listeners to reach a conclusion on their own. It’s like peeling the onion to get to the root of the issue, when a startling insight is revealed. People will buy into a conclusion they've reached themselves much faster than hard-selling them through your know-it-all lectures … ”

Second, deep questions create immediate intimacy. Lucille Zimmerman calls this “an agonizing mercy,” referring to a teacher who helped Lucille heal from abuse by asking about her past experiences and present behaviors.

Immediate Intimacy

Jesus prioritized relationships, and his questions cut to the core of a person’s soul. He knew that the human being standing before him had spiritual needs he or she might not even be aware of.

When he asked the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), “Where is your husband?” he knew the answer she would give. However, he needed to show her his power and identity. The best way to do that was to engage her in meaningful dialogue, beginning with: “Will you give me a drink?”

Indeed, Jesus had water to give her—the living water—but he allowed her to discover that truth as she conversed with him. In fact, the Samaritan woman asked no less than four questions herself in their brief conversation, and when she began to tell others about the unbelievable man she’d met while drawing water, she ended her testimony with “Could this be the Messiah?”

It’s a difficult, grown-up lesson to learn, but good questions don’t always lead to pat answers. With the Samaritan woman, questions led to more questions. But they also led to relationship … and transformation.

When we are children, we want answers, but as adults, we realize we don’t need to know—we can never know—everything.

As C.S. Lewis wrote, “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer will suffice?”

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