Sometimes I wonder if I was the most frustrating Sunday school student of all time. I have always had an inquisitive mind and I was not shy in asking questions; lots of them! I can remember asking, If God knows everything, why do we need to pray? Did fish, in their path of swimming, land on dry ground when Moses parted the Red Sea? Did Moses leave the burning bush and put his hand in and out of his cloak just to watch his hand turn to leprosy and back?
As frustrating as these might have been for the teacher, my questions were important in my process of understanding. Though I was unaware, I sought knowledge on a higher level; I wanted to understand. Questioning, when used productively, can be a valuable tool for understanding and we should use it more often.
- Questioning is a positive tool when we need to find out information.
How many of you find those around you who will not bother to ask for information and wind up going down the wrong path because they did not ask? For example, men and their reluctance to ask for directions. A friend told me one time that she and her husband were going to check out a new restaurant and they wound up driving two hours around the big city, looking for the place. Had he asked one simple question to the right person, they would have enjoyed a wonderful evening out. I have taken the time to analyze this behavior and have concluded that both sexes are hesitant to ask questions for two primary reasons.
First, we don’t want to appear stupid. Even though I am an adult, I find that I have, at times, the social skills of a middle school student. If I don’t see or hear others asking questions, it makes me hesitate to bring up my confused thoughts and ask for clarification. If I can alert my brain to send out a private alarm for this absurd thought, I can muster the courage to ask my questions. As I say at least twenty times a week in my classroom, “If you don’t ask, how are you doing to know?”
Another reason we sometimes hesitate to ask a question is that we don’t want to bother someone else. I know in my head that it does not irritate most people when someone asks a legitimate question yet I still hesitate. I believe this person is probably busy with other things or that it will annoy them. These assumptions often stand in the way of getting information that would improve my life.
2. Questioning helps to clarify things.
Though this questioning overlaps #1 somewhat, its goal is different. I see my students fail to use this questioning as a classroom teacher. I give out an assignment and then get them started. If it’s a work period, I move off to do something at my desk. When I check in with the kids, there’s always at least one who hasn’t progressed at all. When I ask the student why, he or she will say, “I didn’t understand what to do.” I force myself to smile and say, “Why didn’t you ask?” Unfortunately, many of them don’t have an answer. Questioning is vital in clarifying something on which we are not clear. Our confusion can be remedied with just a few questions.
3. Questioning enhances communication.
All healthy relationships need to nurture good communication. We need to learn to speak up and exchange information with others to coexist. Within these bounds of conversations, clarifying questions are important. How many times have we found ourselves in a bind because we made assumptions rather than requesting clarification? A question stated in the right way can make any relationship better. As much as I wish my husband could, he cannot read my mind and I can’t his. There have been many times in my marriage when I assumed what my husband meant when, in fact, I was wrong. Relationships of all kinds can benefit from strategic questioning.
I grew up in a time where many adults told me that it’s wrong to question anyone in authority, especially God. I understand the thought behind this because many think that in the process of questioning, I am usurping authority. However, there is a difference between rebellion and genuine questioning.
When God tells Abraham in Genesis 15 that he would become the father of a great nation, Abraham didn’t understand. He asked God how this could be possible. Gideon asked God in Judges 6 why all the difficulties were coming his way. Throughout much of the book of Job, we can read the conversations God has with Job. Job asks many questions and God patiently answered them.
There is a point, however, when we need to accept the answers God gives us in His word by faith and move on because “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17).
There are some types of questioning that are not productive and should be avoided.
1. When we use questioning to enable our laziness.
This questioning I hear regularly as a classroom teacher. Some of my students don’t want to answer the questions on an assignment so they “disguise” their lack of motivation by saying they don’t understand or that they need help. Having taught for over 30 years, I’m good at detecting when a student is asking a question because they don’t understand and when they’re just being lazy.
I’ve seen lazy questioning in the adult world, too. When someone doesn’t know how to do a particular thing on the computer, they forgo trying to figure it out themselves and call customer service right away. Now, I know that computers can be complicated but there are some things that we, as adults, can handle and using questions in this manner enables us to be dependent when independent is a better option.
2. When we use questions to fill our insecurity hole.
In my posting concerning doubt, I discussed questioning another person because of insecurity. I stated that there are human ticks in many relationships: family, coworkers, customers and more. When we question everyone, hoping to fill the bottomless pit that insecurity is, it will not fill this hole; it will often bring alienation.
3. When questions are our stand-in for rebellion.
Sometimes, questioning is rebellion in disguise. Children are not too good at this camouflage. A parent will state, “You need to feed the dog and take out the trash.” The child will frown, place his fists on his hips and reply, “Why do I have to do everything around here?” This boy is not seeking information, nor wanting clarification; he doesn’t want to be told what to do.
There is a Biblical example of someone questioning God with similar motives. In Luke 1, Zachariah questioned the authority of the angel, Gabriel, when he was told he and Elizabeth would have a child. God was not pleased with his attitude and He take’s Zachariah’s ability to speak away until the baby is born.
Questioning can be a productive tool when used properly. It is a behavior that we can learn and when used correctly, it can be a productive tool.