Small children often go through a phase of asking “Why?” in response to everything they are asked to do. It can become very wearing and we can end up saying, “Because I say so”.
I pondered on the power of questions when I listened to Radio 4’s Any Questions last weekend. I found most of the questions more searching and thought provoking than most of the answers. That was because the majority of the panel were politicians, had a party line to follow and were not free to explore the issues raised.
We can answer questions very quickly. We have the technology. I used to be puzzled why a friend of mine would grab his phone during a conversation over dinner. I had just been wondering about something and deciding I’d look it up – in a book – when I got home. Then he’d say something and I’d realise that he’d found the answer – on his phone.
Can we be patient and sit with a question? Socrates taught by asking questions, by getting his students to reflect on the nature of things. Good questions are not about finding an immediate answer. They are about getting us to search, to be willing to ponder, to live with paradox, puzzlement and uncertainty.
Jesus too asked some good questions. He asked 307 in all. He was asked 183 questions and only answered 3 directly, instead often telling a story for us to ponder on. I think that he would have agreed with the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who said, “Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”