Observe any three-year-old and you’ll see extraordinary responses to ordinary things. I remember my own children at that age asking questions about everything. Many of them were classics, like “Why is the sky blue?,” “Why did God make mosquitoes?,” and “How many stars are in the sky?” This reaction is a fitting response to a world of wonder.
But somewhere along the way as people bump into hard questions without soothing answers, this curious energy can drain out. Rather than evoking a respect for the sublime, the big “why-questions” can make people anxious. Stuffing them can bring relief.
Here are a few lessons I learned fielding questions over the years…
“Head-Questions” come in a clump
There’s a universal set of why-questions. Sometimes they get tucked away like a barrel full of monkeys. If somebody feels safe to draw one up, they often discover a whole clump of others tied in and spilling out. That experience can set off warning bells, like an old country song says, “Diggin’ up bones/Exhuming things that are better left alone.” But even buried, big questions continue to have tremendous influence upon our assumptions and outlook.
“Heart-Questions” need more empathy than answers
Questions are not just intellectual. If they were, then they’d have no influence–we would feel no fire as we stoke or extinguish them. Time and again, when engaged by someone with difficult questions, I see ideas linked to deep emotion and a personal investment. Heart questions need ears attached to a person, not a mouth attached to answers.
Questions can expose unfinished business
When people run from big questions, they really hope to distance themselves from pain. Some questions are a thin veil over bitterness. Over time, people with unresolved anger begin to consider the universe their hostage, wanting answers as a ransom.
Questions reveal the nature of one’s relationship to God
After Madalyn Murray O’Hare died (a famous atheist from last century), her diary became public, which included this most poignant question: “Will somebody somewhere please love me?”
When you peel back the layers of our big questions, what you find is the state of someone’s relationship to God. The word relationship is key, because again, more than ideas about God are on the line. We are relational creatures, so it follows that we have a relational Creator. I have seen distance from God drive people to become very productive, only to find their ladder of success leaning against the wrong wall (Thomas Merton). Ultimately, sustained distance can make even great success seem insignificant.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Solomon, Eccl. 3:11).