Because the quality of your questions regulates the range of your answers. When you say, “Do you like chocolate or vanilla ice cream?” you limit the range of answers to two: chocolate or vanilla.
Here’s a more complex case: 500 years ago the Europeans wanted better trade with people in the east and perceived the Moors to be “in the way.” Their question was: How do we get through the Moors? But someone soon discovered the world was round. A better question would have been, “Is there another way around?” The question limited the answer.
We ask questions about our life all the time, don’t we? Are they the right ones? Have you ever stopped to think that maybe you’re limiting your answers because your questions are limited?
Will my kids succeed?
How can my marriage improve?
How do I keep my faith in such a cynical and brutalizing world?
How can I get so-and-so to change?
God, are you there?
Why won’t you give me a sign?
Will I ever be truly happy?
How can I like my job better?
When will I get stop being in so much pain?
How can I stop beating myself up about things?
Am I being tested?
What is my greater purpose?
The wrong questions close doors. The right questions open them. Wise questions get helpful results; foolish questions get harmful results.
Edwin Friedman says it like this: “The way one frames the question… predetermines the range of answers one can conceive in response.”
This might still seem a bit theoretical or vague. But it wasn’t for Kennon Callahan who received a 2am phone call from Mary.
She wanted help; her husband John was beating her. He rushed over and found him lording over her with a semiautomatic submachine gun. Terror. The pastor had one chance to ask the right question. If he asked about the gun, it would have highlighted the gun and what guns do. If he had asked about his anger, it would have drawn attention to his anger, and he would have most likely been directed to act out of anger. So with his one chance he said: “John, what kind of a future are you building this morning?” That started a 4 hours conversation and a road to health.
He asked the right question.
See how it works? The wrong questions close doors. The right questions open them. The quality of your questions regulates the range of your answers. Wise questions get helpful results; foolish questions get harmful results. Or at least dead-end ones.
Jesus was a pro at re-framing questions because the many traps that were set for him limited the range of possible answers that could be given. Hey Jesus, this woman was caught committing adultery (John 8) and the law says we should stone her. Death. Do you agree? Jesus re-frames the question. Whoever is without sin be the first to cast a stone. He takes a question about following the rules of crime and punishment, sees its limits, and raises it to be about the sin that flows through us all and the titanic need for God’s mercy in this horrific situation.
The quality of your questions regulates the range of your answers.
I think each of us has questions. I certainly do. But I can often get bogged down in trying to find answers that are probably responding to limited questions.
H.L. Mencken issues us a warning: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.”
This week I invite you to think about this: What questions are you asking about your life and family and faith and world? Are they the right ones?
Here’s one: “God, why won’t you give me a sign?” But what if God is asking you for a sign? Why is the burden always on him? What if he is asking you for a sign that you are alive—that you are in fact made in the image of his beauty and love?
Here’s another: “Why is [insert your gut-wrenching experience here] so hard?” But what if the question was rather: How can I show God’s love in this situation? Maybe you’re there because of your faithfulness and strength and you’re the vessel to effect something for good.
How about this one: “How can my church grow?” If the motive is corrupt, this question could be harmful. But what about: “How can we ensure Jesus is at the centre of all we do?” Because it doesn’t matter if your church has 10 people or 10,000 if Jesus isn’t in the middle. He’s the Head of the church not its left toe.
Here’s one people don’t write down but which swirls in their heads: “What will my legacy be?” But what if the question was really: “Lord, who do you want me to love?”
Here’s one final one: “How can I get so-and-so to change?” Hmm. But what if we approached it like this? “How can I mature?”
Maybe these questions are the wrong ones too. It takes a while for the world to get un-flat.
Think of your own questions. The quality of your questions regulate the range of your answers.
The wrong questions close doors, but the right questions open them.