It’s maddening when a person answers a question with another question.
A time or two is all right, but it’s frustrating when they do it all the time. Add this to the reasons that Jesus can be quite frustrating.
In his book, “Jesus Is the Question,” Martin B. Copenhaver said that in the gospels Jesus was asked 183 questions, only gave 3 answers and asked 307 questions himself.
I’m not going to take the time to check the math, but I have a feeling the data is accurate.
Jesus seemed to have all the answers, yet was reluctant to share. I don’t think it was because he was a truth-hoarder or because he intended to lead a mystery religion like Gnosticism in which only the insiders had access to the truth.
So why didn’t he ask fewer questions and give more answers?
I think one reason is that he believed that the most important truths weren’t hidden but in fact were rather self-evident.
Let’s face it, summing up the Torah with “love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” isn’t rocket science.
In fact, he wasn’t even the first one to say it; he was quoting two very well-known Scriptures: Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.
Every one of Jesus’ hearers knew these verses. Other rabbis cited them as summaries of the law; Jesus wasn’t breaking new ground here.
In Romans 1:19-20, Paul makes it clear that spiritual insight isn’t hidden but can be clearly seen. “For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.”
Jesus wanted people to see that they didn’t need a rabbi or Pharisee to impart to them great spiritual truths that were hidden from view. “Open your eyes,” he is saying, “and see what has been self-evident all along.”
He liked to tell down-to-earth stories that did not answer questions as much as provoke thought, and then he trusted people’s ability to hear his stories and reach some startling conclusions about the kingdom of God.
Jesus believed that farmers, housewives, tax collectors and lepers could imagine, think and reach conclusions. He believed in the human ability to discern.
Jesus knew that developing discernment in others was far superior to giving them point-blank directions.
Some individuals wanted Jesus’ ready-made answers to their dilemmas and usually went away disappointed.
But I think that Jesus wanted more than just for people to think for themselves; he wanted people to think differently.
Few of life’s dilemmas can be solved by ready-made answers. People aren’t machines, and neither is life. It is invariably unpredictable.
I have an inherent – and I believe healthy – distrust of people who come to me with “silver-bullet” solutions to my problems. I have found that life is much too complex for simple, one-size-fits-all answers.
But here’s the real kicker: I think that Jesus wanted to get people away from the idea that the kind of truth that really matters is the kind that can fit into an answer to a question, regardless of whether that answer is simple or complex.
The truth that really matters can’t be put into a propositional sentence like a math formula, a doctrinal statement or a creed.
At best, those kinds of answers can only point to the truth. Ironically, by pointing to the truth they are not, in fact, propositional statements but metaphors that head us in the right direction.
Remember, Jesus didn’t say, “I know the truth” but “I am the truth” as well as the way and the life.
There is a kind of knowing that involves facts, information, solutions and reasoning. But there is another kind of knowing that doesn’t involve any of that – and that is when you experience the truth.
I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, but I’m pretty sure that reading about it and knowing all the facts there are to know about it can’t compare to being there in person.
Once experienced, words are not only insufficient but also unnecessary.
To experience something is to enter into a relationship with it. You know it, even if you can’t quantify it. It may not be logical or make sense to anyone else, but it makes sense to you.
This is relational knowledge – “I am the truth,” Jesus said – and it isn’t subject to the categories of logic, the scientific method or inerrancy.
Since God is an animate being – a person – then it is the way that we must come to know him.
And until we know this, we don’t know a thing.
Larry Eubanks is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Maryland. A version of this article first appeared on his website and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @EubanksLarry.
Pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Maryland.