Karl deSouza just explained how part of a missionary’s job is to discover the real “question behind the question.” That’s not always easy, but here are a few hopefully-helpful-hints.
When is a question not a question?
If a person has absolutely no interest in your answer, they are not really asking you a question.
So, a question is not really a question if the person cuts you off almost as soon as you begin to answer. Or, they might let you finish your answer, but rather than acknowledging or interacting with what you said, they immediately ask another question. Now some people may get excited, and interrupt you for that reason. But if you say, “Excuse me, I’d like to finish answering your question,” if the question was real, they will listen.
When is a question masking another question, or even more likely, making a statement?
Sometimes people ask a question that they believe will force you to prove their point. In our July newsletter, David mentioned that when people ask us, “Do you believe I’m going to hell because I don’t believe in Jesus?” we normally respond with another question. “Do you believe in hell?” Quite often, they don’t.
Why would a person who does not believe in hell ask such a question? They usually want to prove to themselves, to you or to anyone who might be listening how narrow minded and/or judgmental Christians are. You can turn this around by not taking it personally. The very fact that people are so sensitive to being judged is a great topic for conversation. Among other things, it gives you the opportunity to let other people know that we don’t see ourselves as being more righteous than they. You can make the point that none of us wants to be judged, and that is why you are so glad that God judged the sins of the world at the cross!
Which brings us to another kind of question behind the question, and Karl touched on it.
Many people ask questions that are really statements of their outrage over God’s grace as well as His judgment.
“Do you mean to tell me that a criminal who’s done blank and blank can receive Jesus and be forgiven, while a wonderful sweet woman like my grandmother who only ever did good things will go to hell because she did not believe in Jesus? I could never believe in a God like that.” The real question is,
“Can God truly be good if He doesn’t care how evil or righteous a person is, but only whether they believe in Jesus?”
That question is a real question, but it springs from three missing pieces of the picture.
The first piece is awareness of God’s holiness; the second is understanding of our sin; and the third is the fact that God gives grace to those who repent and are born again through faith in Jesus, not merely those who mouth a belief in Him.
The part of us that can discern God’s holiness in contrast to our own sin is blind, dead even, until the Holy Spirit breathes a spark of life. All we can see is how good we or those we admire are, compared to other people who are more discernibly wicked. So the thought of grace for those who are so apparently wicked is repugnant, and the thought of condemnation for the wickedness we don’t recognize seems unfair. This is particularly true for Jewish unbelievers who have heard a simplified or distorted view of Christianity, usually from other unbelievers.
Yes, there are illustrations and ways to show people that we are all sinners, but it still takes a work of the Holy Spirit for people to understand how deeply offensive all our sin is to God, and just how loving and gracious it was for Him to lay the whole burden of it upon His Son.
But one thing that we can do is correct the misunderstanding that if a person simply repeats the “magic words” that they believe in Jesus, all is forgiven. While it is true that none of us can do anything to merit God’s forgiveness, without repentance we cannot enter His kingdom.
This time of year the High Holidays focus on the problem of sin, as David Brickner pointed out. They can offer the perfect opportunity to ask your Jewish friends some thought-provoking questions of your own concerning their views on God, sin and salvation.