The key to taking a multiple-choice test is knowing what the test maker wants to accomplish. Are they checking for basic comprehension? Are they trying to see if you can pick out a subtle difference between answers? Are they trying to trick you?
In college, unconscionable amounts of assigned reading and late nights with friends at Taco Bell meant I frequently relied on this test-taking strategy. And more often than not, it worked.
When Jesus walked into the temple that Tuesday, it may have seemed to the outside observer that He was simply coming to teach rabbinic law. But He knew, as did His disciples and the teachers of the law, He was walking into a test where every answer mattered.
By whose authority are you doing these things? Should we pay taxes to Caesar? Will there be marriage after the resurrection?
And every time, Jesus knew the intention of the asker. He was the master test-taker.
There are three types of questions we tend to ask God:
1. Questions where we want the answer.
2. Questions where we want a specific answer.
3. Questions where we just want an answer. Any answer.
The first is what we lean towards in times of confusion or curiosity. I want to know what the answer is because I simply do not know or understand. God, what should I do next? God, will we poop in heaven? God, should I change direction?
We want clarity, information, and knowledge. We rely on it to move forward or to shape our choices — or simply to shape our theologies.
The second type is a little trickier. They are the questions we ask when we know what we’d like the answer to be. They are the questions we keep asking until we hear the answer we want.
God, how do you feel about this habit in my life? God, you approve of this relationship, right? God, do I need to give this up?
Jesus immediately spotted these sorts of questions — they were intended to trap Him. Although we may not be as malicious as the teachers of the law, who were trying to trick Him into a condemnable answer, we want to force His hand.
And when we don’t get the answer we want, we stop asking Him.
The final kind of question is the one that takes the most faith to ask. They are the questions that feel as if they fall on silent ears. God, why you allow this to happen? God, are you there? God, do you love me still?
They are the ones that others often try to answer for you with a platitude or a Bible verse — even with an example from their own experience. To resolve your discomfort. To resolve their own.
We have very little tolerance for unanswered questions. Years of facilitating Bible studies have taught me this. One of the most awkward moments in the New Testament must have been when they dragged the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, peppering Him with questions about how she should be punished. Think of the deafening hush that must have filled the air when Jesus knelt down to scribble silently in the dirt, leaving all questions hanging mid-air (John 8:1-11).
This last type of question is perhaps the hardest to ask. These are the questions that remain ringing, unsatisfied because you don’t want the answer. You don’t even want the right answer if it’s from someone else.
What you want is just an answer, a word, anything at all from GodHimself, a God who remains seemingly silent.
Jesus was not a stranger to these types of questions either. In fact, He asked them Himself. He lent His words to the question we’re afraid to ask. He willingly stepped into the emptiness we fear, separated and alone so we wouldn’t have to be.
But He was left hanging in the silence. His question went unanswered so that our questions will always have an answer. We now have a promise that silence is not the same as absence.
Jesus is there in the silence, too.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
– Psalm 22: 1-2 –
Day 3 of 13, “Come Alive: Easter in Everyday Life”