Christians believe something very deeply… we’ve entrusted our lives, careers, money, opportunities, everything over to Jesus. We’re depending on Jesus’ grace to get us through death. These are all serious things!
So it makes it really hard when our non-Christian friends or family poke fun at our faith. When they joke about going to church, or even mention “hell” like its a place they’ll get to party. So, apart from letting it pass most of the time, in the odd times you can address it, what might we say?
- “Just a second… I’d really like you to think about what you said just then.”
- “Hey, I’m not sure you realise how important this is to me personally. Can I explain?”
- “I know you think it’s kinda funny, but I really care what you think about this stuff.”
It may not get somewhere, but it might help them realise that you really do take it seriously… and maybe they should too.
A ransom note isn’t a question. It might use words like “please” or “I was wondering if…”, but in the end it means, “if you don’t do this, I’m going to hold it against you / hold it over your head”.
When people ask you one of these questions; questions that sound like questions but seem to carry a ransom note tone to them… its worth just asking if you’ve heard them right. “Is this a question that you’re happy for me to decide either way?”, “Are you going to be completely ok with whatever I choose?”, “Are you asking me what I think, are are you really just trying to tell me what you think?”
Chances are they don’t realise they’re giving you a ransom note. That’s ok… But don’t simply answer every question assuming its a real question.
Whether you’re in a small group or answering questions from out the front, this is a good rule of thumb.
If someone asks a question, and assuming its a genuine question, you don’t want to beat around the bush or make them feel any more stupid than they probably already do. So just answer the question as simply as you can. That might mean you don’t go into details and just give a big principle answer. That’s ok. But try not to answer with a question unless you really need more info to be helpful.
But many times people don’t use question time to ask questions (or they hide their statement in a question like, “wouldn’t you say that…”). These people want to comment, make a statement. Many times these statements can be really helpful. Many times they are not.
How do you respond to statements? Most people respond by making another statement. But it might be better to answer with a question. Not a direct question, but a hypothetical question. A principle question.
For example, “Thanks for that comment, we do want to love people like you’ve said,but a question we have to keep asking ourselves is how will those people fare on the last day when Jesus returns if we don’t try and tell them hope Jesus offers them now.”
You can take the comment, deal with it, and respond with a hypothetical question that allows you to move on.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things’” Matt 21:27
We have a very peculiar cultural rule; that if someone asks you a question, you have to answer that question. We seem to think we’re somehow obliged to answer, as though we’re permanently standing in some courtroom with a lawyer saying, “Answer the question please… and do remember, you’re under oath”.
But you’re not.
A valid answer to some questions is simply, “I don’t feel comfortable telling you that.”
In fact, I believe that many times, that is the best and most loving answer to give. It protects people, both the hearer and the speaker. It may even be protecting other people.
What’s the big theological principle behind this? Simply this… “everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” Matt 12:36
You don’t have to answer every question you get asked, because you only have to answer to God.
Most questions get asked because of wrong assumptions. They’re still good questions. They’re not stupid questions. But people ask them because what you’re telling them doesn’t fit with their existing believes, and they assume you’re wrong.
So that’s why the best answers to questions (especially in public “question time” type things, or in walk-up situations) don’t immediately answer the question.
Instead, before you answer, start with your own system or grid. Two Ways to Live is a great one to start with.
Are they asking about sin? Talk about box 2.
Are they talking about knowing God? Talk about box 1, and then box 4.
Are they talking about life after death? Talk about box 5.
This doesn’t cover everything, but the principle is that there’s usually some important element they haven’t got that’s led to the question. So start with your system, and move to their issue.
One great question answer-er I knew once said, “There’s only about 10 questions, but those same questions keep getting asked in different ways”