A 12-year-old boy went missing for three days! Heightening the anxiety of this situation was the fact that it was while the family was out of town, trying to head home.
You are probably familiar with this case. The family had been visiting Jerusalem, and the boy was the young Jesus.
“And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers” (Luke 2:46-47). In addition to Him hearing and asking questions, His “answers” (meaning His replies) and the questions He asked displayed a certain level of understanding.
“Understanding” here is from the Greek synesis—literally meaning a flowing together. It has the connotation of two rivers flowing together and meeting. The kinds of questions Jesus was asking suggested a mentally putting things together in a way that people weren’t used to seeing in a 12-year-old. Likewise, when we ask great questions, it can be like one river of thought merging with another.
Upon finding Him, His mother asked: “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? … ” (verse 48). Jesus answered His mother with additional questions: “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (verse 49; New King James Version). He apparently thought His mother understood His unique purpose and future. But notice the reaction: “And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them” (verse 50). He asked questions that they didn’t understand, though verse 51 tells us His mother “kept all these sayings in her heart,” and one day she would understand.
Scratch Your Mental Itches
Growing up doesn’t mean you stop asking questions.
Albert Einstein said: “The important thing is to not stop questioning.” There is a godly kind of curiosity that we should never lose—a right kind of “questioning” that will enrich our lives and take us to new heights, that will cut to the heart of understanding something, that will foster constructive thinking habits and drive us to an honorable kind of study. There is also a wrong kind of questioning—in the spirit of stirring skepticism and strife (1 Timothy 1:4; 6:4; 2 Timothy 2:23; Titus 3:9). The Greek for “questions” in those verses have more to do with debating. It is not the same word that described what the 12-year-old Jesus was doing. We’re discussing honest curiosity that is profitable and edifying.
Consider how the first five letters of our word question is quest. A question is like being on a quest for understanding—a quest for the truth.
Herbert W. Armstrong set a great example of this—from earliest childhood till the end of his life. He exemplified constructive curiosity and quest-filled questioning.
In Does God Exist?, he wrote: “With me—and I hope with the reader—I wanted to know! I wanted to be sure! I questioned the existence of God! Also I questioned the opposing doctrine of evolution. I did not seek to disprove either. But I did research and carefully examine the evidences on both sides of this two-sided question. For this question is the very starting place for the acquisition of all knowledge. It is the foundation for understanding!” (emphasis added).
He equated a question with the foundation for understanding. Certainly that applies to those questions he was asking, though not all questions are that foundational. The mindset, however, should saturate our lives. This will broaden our perspective, deepen our thinking and strengthen our problem-solving.
A great book on this subject is Teaching That Changes Lives, by Marilee Adams. In it, she writes: “Answers typically close thinking while questions typically open it.” She makes the point that curiosity makes us better listeners—which is how we learn. If we have that mindset in a classroom, for example, we will be more engaged in what is being taught.
Einstein also said: “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
Though curiosity tends to be a trait more associated with children, we must never lose this childlike curiosity, or this “questioning” mindset.
Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath, defines curiosity as “the intellectual need to answer questions and close open patterns.” These are gaps in knowledge we want to fill. They write: “When we want to know something but don’t, it’s like having an itch that we need to scratch.”
The thing with mental itches, however, is that we can learn to ignore them. We can become dulled to the itch that unanswered questions cause.
In his autobiography, Mr. Armstrong talked about his work in advertising early in life. He learned, in writing ads: “First, put a question in the minds of readers they really want answered—or make a statement that is so unusual it either raises a question in the readers’ minds, or challenges them to demand an explanation and want to read on to get it. It must arouse instant interest. It must create suspense! Like a mystery play, it must not tell the reader the answer at the beginning. It must develop rapidly, lucidly, increasing the interest, toward the final solution or answer. It must hold the interest until the story is told. The advertising headline should, when possible, make people say either: ‘I’ve always wondered about that!’ or, ‘I never thought of that—say, that’s interesting—I want to know the answer!’”
Prove All Things
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). We are constantly proving things through life, but some things, once proven, must be held fast. For example, once we prove that God exists and that the Bible is His inspired Word, we don’t have to keep scrutinizing that. But we will constantly be proving additional things true our whole lives.
A practical demonstration of this mindset is found in Acts 17, when discussing the Bereans. Verse 11 says they “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
They embodied this childlike curiosity and questioning mindset. Notice that they did this daily; it was a constant thing.
They also “searched,” which would be better rendered “judged.” Malachi’s Message states: “The Bereans approached their Bible study by investigating and examining the evidence. That includes examining our leaders—as long as it is done with a Berean attitude. God knows if an attitude is right.”
This verse also states that they did this with “readiness of mind”—meaning they were eager, willing and zealous about it. There was a curious, frequent scrutiny.
Curiosity for All Ages
Again, the curiosity that inspires that kind of “proving” is more common when we are children. But “maturing” shouldn’t mean growing out of that. In truth, thinking we have the answer is not maturity. It can be vanity.
It isn’t far into our childhood when we don’t want to be thought of as a “baby.” Then we get older, and we don’t want to be thought of as a “kid.” Maybe, at age 12, we can’t wait to be a “teenager.” Then, before we’re even out of our teen years, we start expecting certain privileges of adulthood. Often, we think that means showing we have all the answers.
Marilee Adams quotes education experts who say we must be “interested in not only how many answers students know, but also how students behave when they don’t know an answer. We are interested in observing how students produce knowledge, rather than how they merely reproduce it.”
Growing up, maturing and making a commitment to God’s way of life does not mean being a know-it-all.
Mr. Armstrong said that as a child: “I was constantly pestering [Dad] with questions. I always seemed to want to know “why?” or “how?” I wanted to understand. At age 5 I can remember my father saying: ‘That youngin is always asking so many questions he’s sure to be a Philadelphia lawyer when he grows up.’ That obsession for understanding was to have great influence on founding the Plain Truth magazine and Ambassador College in later years” (op. cit).
Mr. Armstrong was in his early 40s when he founded that magazine, because he never lost the “obsession for understanding” he had at age 5.
He also wrote of this trait in Mystery of the Ages: “… I was always asking so many questions about so many things. I wanted to understand. I craved understanding. King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, desired wisdom, and God gave him wisdom above all others. After so many years I realize now that the same God has given me the understanding of life’s deepest mysteries that remain an enigma in most minds.”
What did this 93-year-old put on the cover of that book? It started with the phrase, “Have you ever asked yourself ….”
Consider Jesus again. That 12-year-old eventually grew up and conducted a powerful ministry in His early 30s. And He never stopped asking great questions—either to learn about those He was interacting with or as a teaching technique with His disciples. He would ask them a question to generate curiosity or deeper thought. Sometimes His disciples were hesitant to ask Him something, but in those instances He perceived what their questions were and instructed them as though they had asked (see Mark 9:31-32; John 16:17-19). And He often responded to questions by asking another question.
The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) contain 3,779 verses, and over half of those (1,915 to be exact) contain quotations of Christ—which some editions put in red letters. Of those “red letter” verses, 268 contain Christ asking a question (not including parables He told where He’s quoting a character in the parable). That means about 14 percent of what He was recorded as saying was a question. And of those 268 red-letter-question verses, 46 are Christ answering a question with a question. That means almost 1 in 5 of the questions He asked were in response to other questions.
The book of Mark has the highest percentage of question-verses (19.5 percent). It contains a riveting account of Christ answering a question with a question.
Some of the leading men in Jerusalem asked Him: “By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?” (Mark 11:28). “And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me” (verses 29-30).
The next verses explain why this question was so potent: “And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed. And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things” (verses 31-33).
He answered a question with a better question. The skeptics’ question was not about finding the answer, and His question revealed that.
Marilee Adams discusses the answering-a-question-with-a-question technique: “When someone asks you a question, perhaps looking for advice or a quick-fix solution, become curious and ask them questions instead of automatically answering. For example, ask clarifying questions about the situation, their goals, what they’ve already tried, or what they may want you to provide.”
Luke 10 contains another great example: “And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (verse 25).
Christ replied with some fantastic questions to reveal more about the one questioning Him: “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” (verse 26).
The lawyer responded: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself” (verse 27). Christ agreed that he gave the right answer and proceeded to tell him how that needs to be applied, which revealed even more about this lawyer.
This prompted another question from the lawyer: “And who is my neighbour?” (verse 29). To this, Jesus launched into the parable of the good Samaritan: about two people who ignored an injured man who’d been the victim of a violent crime, and the Samaritan who helped him. This powerful account ends with this profound question: “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?” Christ turned that moment of skepticism into quite the “teaching moment.”
Of course, when Christ was asking questions, it wasn’t from the perspective of a student trying to understand the curriculum better. Neither were the 80 questions out of the 200 in the book of Job, from the Being who became Jesus Christ. But knowing the questions that a situation requires—knowing the questions that can truly reveal what is hiding under the surface—reinforces the power of great questions.
When Christ was on Earth Himself, so much of what He did should have prompted more questions from others. For example, John 4:1-26 describe a detailed exchange Christ had with a Samaritan woman while His disciples were in a nearby city buying meat. Verse 9 shows that the Jews didn’t really interact with the Samaritans. Keep that in mind here: “And upon this came his disciples, and marvelled that he talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her?” (verse 27).
John specifically mentions that none of them asked Christ these powerful questions. “They … should have been asking these big questions!” Gerald Flurry writes in John’s Gospel—The Love of God. “Christ wasn’t speaking with this Samaritan woman in vain. He had a lot to teach the disciples about what He was doing, and they had a lot to learn! … We all have to learn to think about and ask the big questions: What is Christ doing? Why would God give me this trial? Why must I go through this? Why does God command tithes and offerings? We may never know all the reasons, but at times God can reveal quite a lot of them to you. … We are supposed to think like Christ! That means we need to begin to ask the big questions: What is Christ doing? What does this mean? He does nothing in vain!”
The Apostle John was a thinker, and he wrote this Gospel long after these events took place. He had time to think: Yes, why didn’t we ask Him this while we were there?
Childlike curiosity is a gateway to asking the questions that get to the heart of matters.
There are two big enemies to this mindset. One is simply not asking important questions. If a question—any question—is creating a cognitive “itch,” then find out how to “scratch” it. That process can form great study habits and thought patterns.
In a piano lesson, I can dish out information that a student needs and readily receives. But they are most receptive to anything I say when they come to a lesson with a question already in mind—about a spot that was giving them trouble the previous week.
Marilee Adams talks about some teachers who have a box in their classrooms. It is somewhat like a comment box, but more properly a “question box.” Over the box, a sign reads: “All questions welcome.” The teacher occasionally will pull out a question, write it on the board, and discuss it anonymously with the class. This encourages the class not to sit on their questions.
The second curiosity killer is assumptions. Adams writes: “Continually wondering about assumptions is the core discipline of the most effective thinking and problem-solving.” She also writes this powerful statement: “Assumptions and hidden beliefs are our largest sources of problems, misunderstandings and missed opportunities.”
Is that an exaggeration? Consider what Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in Does God Exist? This is under the subhead “Don’t Assume—Know!”: “All the facts, positive evidence, rational reasonings and proofs in the world will never induce such a one to accept that against which he is prejudiced. For prejudice is a barrier to the entrance of truth into any mind” (emphasis added).
Proverbs 18:13 warns us, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” This proverb warns against assumptions and prejudices—against a mind unavailable “to the entrance of truth.”
Mr. Armstrong regularly challenged his readers to prove all things. In his July 1969 Plain Truth personal, he wrote: “Very few realize just how they came to believe the things they believe.” Not only do few even know this, they don’t even think to question it. “Truly, unless we are vigilant, our minds will play tricks on us. So beliefs are accepted, and prejudices are built up.” See the sidebar (page 4) with more relevant quotes from this profound article.
In Does God Exist?, Mr. Armstrong wrote, “People want to belong! They go along with their particular group. In general, they believe what they have taken carelessly for granted—without examination or proof!”
We can blindly accept anything: from big things like God’s existence to smaller things about ourselves personally, our preferences or pet peeves, or our abilities even to understand something. Sometimes we will put up mental blocks, predetermining what we can or can’t do or comprehend. We must challenge those things!
Adams writes: “Einstein once said that insanity consists of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That would be like asking the same questions over and over and expecting different answers. If you want a change, an innovation or a breakthrough, only a new question can open that door.”
She describes a process called Q-Storming, similar to brainstorming, but: “The goal of brainstorming is to come up with answers and solutions, and this often works. When it doesn’t, it’s probably because people were looking for answers to the wrong questions! By contrast, the goal of Q-Storming is to generate new questions, making it possible to discover fresh answers and new directions and possibilities. … Q-Storming is based on the following premises: • Great results begin with great questions. • Most problems can be solved with enough of the right questions. • The questions we ask ourselves provide the most fruitful openings for new thinking and change.”
The Curiosity of Kings
Growing up doesn’t mean having all the answers. We never should lose that childlike curiosity. Rather, have the “obsession for understanding” that followed Mr. Armstrong through his 93-year-long life. Always be, as Einstein was, “passionately curious”—aiming to scratch those cognitive itches.
Make that your quest! Don’t get into that dangerous territory where you simply stop asking, or you’re satisfied with your assumptions or prejudices.
“It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2). God is the great educator, and He wants us to learn. But that doesn’t mean He just spoon-feeds everything to us. Sometimes the best way we will learn is by Him hiding the answers and watching how we go after them! What questions will we ask to get there? What will we put in the search engine to get the results we’re looking for?
God perceives the kinds of questions we ask. He sees how curious we are to truly prove all things. This kind of quest trains leaders. Because that childlike curiosity—that searching out what God has hidden—is actually the honor of a king!
Sidebar: Excerpt From Herbert W. Armstrong’s “Personal”
How did you come to believe the things you believe?
Consider: The instant you were born you arrived in the world with a mind capable of absorbing knowledge and utilizing that knowledge in forming opinions and beliefs, arriving at decisions, forming judgments and conclusions, exercising will. But you did not come already equipped with a supply of knowledge. You merely had a mind capable of receiving knowledge and utilizing it.
Every bit of knowledge now in your mind—and every belief or opinion or conviction—has entered or been formed in your mind since birth! The question now becomes, then, how—by what process—did you receive this knowledge or formulate those beliefs?
Very few have ever stopped to ask themselves this question. Very few realize just how they came to believe the things they believe.
There are basically three ways by which most people acquire their beliefs and convictions.
1) First, by far the greatest number of beliefs and convictions have entered the mind more or less passively—not actively. In other words, people commonly simply take for granted, or carelessly assume—without any proof—that which they have read or heard. Especially if it evidently has common acceptance among their group, their locality, their people or country. Most people are far more discriminating about whom they admit into their homes than they are about what they admit into their minds.
2) The second largest number of beliefs and convictions have come somewhat prejudiciously, for the psychological reason that most believe what they want to believe, and refuse to believe what they don’t want to believe, whether true or false. Personal opinions often are formulated selfishly and prejudicially according to emotional feelings for or against.
3) The smallest number of beliefs and convictions held by the average person have been arrived at by careful sifting of all the facts, actively seeking full information, insisting on proof, and considering the question objectively and without prejudice. But most of the beliefs held by most of the people have not been arrived at by this process.
Why are most people in Italy, Spain, France, Mexico and South America Roman Catholic by religion? Why are most Arabs of the Middle East Muslim by religion? Why are so many Orientals, depending on geographical locale, Buddhist or Hindu or Shintoist or Taoist or Confucionist? Why, in many parts of the U.S. are most people Protestant by religion—if they profess any religion? Simply because those around them are of that belief or faith. It is what they have always heard. It is what most of those they know accept. They go along with the crowd.
Why have most people in the southern states of the United States been Democrats in politics—while up until about the mid-1920s most of the people of New England, Iowa and Kansas were Republican? Because their parents were. Because those around them were. Because they followed the crowd where they lived. Because it was what they customarily heard and read. Because it is what they carelessly assumed and took for granted!
Why do so many people believe that humans are “immortal souls”? Simply because they were taught it. They heard it, read it. Those around them believed it. They assumed it without question.
Now some will rise up and say, “I’ve proved it.” Do they really mean they carefully sought out all the evidence—the facts—weighed them impartially and without prejudice, before they first accepted it as a belief? Not at all likely. But some will make a stab at looking for evidence that can be made to support their conviction by the process of inductive reasoning, rejecting evidence to the contrary, and then say they have proved their belief!
Truly, unless we are vigilant, our minds will play tricks on us.
So, beliefs are accepted, and prejudices are built up.