The Ministry of Questions

I was out to dinner with a group of non-Christian friends one evening when I was suddenly and unexpectedly put on the spot.

“Alina, if an atheist is really, really good his whole life, can he go to Heaven?”

I froze. Did she really just ask that, and do I really have to come up with an answer, right here, right now? My heart and mind raced. I couldn’t even count the number of directions my response could take. I could start from the beginning and go through Adam and Eve, what sin is, and what the Gospel is. But we had already talked about these things in conversations past, and I didn’t sense the group was in a place to hear me preach over dinner. So instead, I asked a question in return.

“Do atheists want to go to Heaven?”

From there I talked about how the goal of Heaven is not to enjoy a blissful eternal life free from suffering because you have somehow earned it during your stint on earth. Rather, the greatest beauty of Heaven is for people who, while they love and know God in part while still on earth, still deeply yearn for the whole and complete relationship with their Beloved Savior and King that they will only experience in Heaven, where they can enjoy and honor Him fully and freely, forever. The greatest joy of Heaven is being with God Himself.

So again, I repeated my question back, “Do atheists want to go to Heaven?”

It was a ministry of a question led by the Holy Spirit. It was apparent from the reactions of my friends that it was not the response they were expecting, and it generated a whole different line of thought beyond “But I don’t think people are really sinners” and “How do you know Jesus is the only way to Heaven?” It brought the group away from “Do I want Heaven and how do I get there,” and back to the more fundamental question of, “Do I want God Himself?”

Throughout Scripture, we can see how the Lord employs questions as one means of ministering to His people, and it is both purposeful and effective. When Adam and Eve disobeyed and then hid from God, “Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Gen. 3:9). I imagine this question highlighted to Adam and Eve the tragic break in their relationship with their Creator, and perhaps for the first time they became self-aware of emotions such as shame and fear. When Job poured out his angst and bewilderment to the Lord about his sufferings, the Lord eventually responded not with direct answers to Job’s questions, but with His own questions for Job to wrestle with. “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: …I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38:1,4) The Lord went on asking in detail if Job knew the mysteries of the universe and all its intricate workings, and at the end, Job, a righteous man, was humbled even further before the sovereignty of God, and he repented in dust and ashes.

Jesus asked questions as a means of ministry. In John 5:1-15, Jesus encountered a man who had been sick with some ailment for 38 years. You would think anyone afflicted for that long would obviously want to be healed, and yet Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be made well?” Curiously, the man didn’t give a direct or immediate “YES please!” response. Instead, he explained to Jesus why he had not been able to get into the pool where others had received healing. Jesus went on to heal him, and we later learn in verse 14 that there had been some direct connection between this man’s sin and his lifelong affliction. Jesus searched out the man’s heart with a question. We don’t know if the man, unwilling to repent up until this point, chose to deal with the subsequent ailment so he could remain in sin. We don’t know if the man perhaps saw his ailment as his badge of shame and was terrified of how to live in forgiveness and freedom. Jesus searched out the man’s heart with His question, “Do you want to be made well?” The man had to decide what his response would be.

Psalm 139:23-24 says,

Search me, O God,
And know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

The Psalmist first invites the Lord to search out his heart, to know him deeply, and from there, he asks the Lord to lead him. The leading of the Lord, and the implied willingness to follow on the part of the Psalmist, comes from an intimate relationship where God has searched, and a man finds himself deeply known.

In our relationships, be it with non-Christians or other believers, there is something we can learn – and gain – from this ministry of questions that God Himself has modeled for us. Learning to ask the right, or at least better, questions, can help us:
-       Search out and know peoples’ hearts and anxieties (“Where are you?”)
-       Reveal unrecognized folly in thought, belief and/or behavior patterns by helping people recognize it for themselves (“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” “Do you want to be made well?”)
-       Gently point others towards the leading of Christ, after we have taken time and care to get to know their hearts.

In a time where people seem to be pressing more vehemently than ever to make their thoughts, beliefs, and frustrations known, we have a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate Christ’s love by humbly asking questions, and listening openly and carefully to their responses. It is tempting in this current climate to insist that we as believers need to preach louder than ever, and louder than everyone. But perhaps people will sense the love of Christ from us in a fuller way when we minister graciously, non-defensively, and wisely, through our questions. May our Loving Father grant us greater patience, humility, and wisdom to ask questions that will help reveal who He is, where we are, and how we can follow His leading of love.