The Question Behind the Question

Posted by on May 30, 2013

I’ve been interviewing a lot of new Christians to hear how God has worked to bring them to the Savior. Their stories encourage me greatly. Several recurring themes emerge. Mostly, I hear of the improbable nature of God breaking through to people who seem the least likely to be interested, open, or ready.

One pattern intrigues me. I often hear of people asking one question but really seeking an answer to something else. Underneath the iceberg lies something far bigger.

An illustration may help me express this.

One man told me of a Bible study he attended for months before trusting in Christ. The study was designed for people just like him – those who knew little about the Bible but were open enough to come every week to wrestle with the text. They walked through the gospel of Mark, asking who Jesus was, what faith looks like, and why God works the way he does.

In the course of my interviewing these new converts, I always ask if there was any one question or objection they felt they needed to have resolved before believing. You can imagine the common roadblocks: “What about evolution?” “Why is there so much evil and suffering?” “Isn’t the Bible full of contradictions?”

I asked this man if he had any major questions. Here’s how he responded.

“No…not really…well, wait a minute. Yeah, I can think of one. You know that part in the Bible where Jesus cast the demons into the pigs? When we read that, I was like, ‘What’s up with that? What’s Jesus got against pigs?’”

I must confess, as he told me this, I wondered, “Really? That’s your big objection? A bunch of pigs was stopping you from experiencing eternal life?” I said none of those things. Instead, I asked him how his Bible study leader answered his question.

“Well…at first he said he wasn’t sure.”

That’s actually a good start, I thought. Admitting we don’t know the answer to every question may be a great evangelistic aid. Too many non-Christians think we’re arrogant know-it-alls. Admitting we’re not sure of something helps break down barriers.

“Then he told me that the story of the demon and the pigs tells us at least two things. It shows that demons aren’t to be messed with. And it kind of implies that there’s something radically different between being a person and being a pig.”

“Did that resolve it for you?” I asked him.

“Yeah…well, it answered it enough. Y’see, you need to know where I was coming from. If I had asked that question at the church I went to when I was growing up, they would have told me to not ask such a question, that some things are just mysteries, and you just have to ‘believe in Jesus’ and he’ll take away all your questions. That always seemed stupid to me. So, when this Bible study leader gave me a fairly intelligent answer, I figured that his faith wasn’t stupid.”

I’m not sure he had put all those pieces of his story together before he recounted this moment in his journey. I noted that his real objection was far bigger than concern for swine.

And this point is worth considering: Quite often the “presenting problem” is just the tip of an iceberg. The question behind the question may be far larger. It may be, as it was for this man, “Is your faith a stupid faith that tells people not to ask questions?”

The gospel already carries a significant stumbling block that we dare not eliminate or minimize – the need to repent of sin and acknowledge that we have no righteousness of our own. But we can clear the way for receptivity of that good news by listening for the question behind the question and responding to both. What starts out as a discussion about pigs may lead to far bigger things.

4 Comments

  1. Anne Wenger
    May 31, 2013

    Randy, How helpful it is to hear of this exchange. I know someone who also questioned the disregard for the pigs in the incident in Luke. However, I find it very helpful to think of how something like that represents a much greater issue. Keep on writing!!

    Reply
    • Darren
      June 1, 2013

      If you’ll recall, pigs were considered “unclean” under the laws of Kosher.

      So what happened there represents:

      1. Jesus handing a *major* insult to the demons

      2. the demons being so ready and eager to possess any sort of body that they’d take a pig if a human was unavailable… thereby establishing them as pathetic beings according to Jewish culture.

      Reply
  2. Tait Mathieson
    June 14, 2013

    What a poignant thought. I suggest that through life we encounter one puzzling or unnerving thing after another and pile them on top of each other. The iceberg, I think, could actually be like a huge mound of questions buried beneath each other. When we sort out one, we uncover another, and on and on it goes. Thank God for His infinite patience and His truthful Word which has the power to demolish those burial mounds. The best that we can do, I think, is commemorate the progress that God has accomplished in our lives, so that others can see what real redemptive work looks like. Hope that that is helpful. God bless everyone and keep the faith 🙂

    Reply
  3. Swanie
    April 30, 2014

    This article is so great!!! My sister and I recently had a talk about the story of he swine and also of the donkey that was able to talk . We thought, oh my gosh, this a silly question to ask Pastor Bob as Christians. He gave us basically the same answer but in his own hilarious style also said, ” I guess that is what you can call true “deviled ham” and we cracked up! It is great to have a wise pastor who is so wise but is funny as well! Amen.

    Reply

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