Since God knows everything, why would he ever ask a question? It is not so that he can learn new information. Questions can powerfully focus the attention of the hearer in ways different than a direct statement.
Consider one of the first questions in the Bible: “Where are you?” Do you recognize that question? That was what God called out to Adam, after he and his wife, Eve, ate the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:9). Big changes had happened between the last time that Adam and Eve had walked in the garden shamelessly with one another and with God himself. Satan had invaded and tempted Eve to disobey God and then to lead her husband to join her. Sin entered God’s good garden. The couple covered their bodies and tried to hide from God’s holy presence.
So, God asked a question? “Where are you?”
How might that question be more effective than if God just declared them to be guilty and summed them to line up for their punishments? It is interesting to think about, although we don’t know all that God was up to. I think the fact that God asked the question, however, offers insight into the potential power of questions.
God did not need the information. He knew exactly where Adam was. We also know that this question wasn’t asking questions to build a connection with Adam and Eve. They already had a perfect relationship before sin entered the picture. This was a question designed to awaken Adam’s conscience.
When God asks where you are and you know that God knows where you are, you then know that God is wanting you to know that you are not where you are supposed to be. The question itself would begin the conviction process that would lead to Adam and Eve’s ultimate repentance.
Before there was anything like repentance, though, there was excuse making: Oh, we were hiding because we were naked and we were afraid. God asked another question: “Who told you that you were naked?” (Yikes, is it getting warm in the garden!) Then God asked yet another question: “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Gen. 3:11).
Once again, God was not looking for information, was he? These strategic questions directly provoked Adam to consider the truth of his sorry situation.
After Adam tried to play the blame game and point out that Eve had given the fruit to him, God turned a question to the woman. “What is this that you have done?” (Gen. 3:13). Instead of humbly taking responsibility for her sin, she pointed to the serpent’s deceptive ways.
In the next chapter in the Bible, God asked another important question to get Cain to think seriously about his guilt in murdering his brother, Abel? “Where is Abel your brother?” God asked (Gen. 4:9). God knew Cain had done the deed, but he asks anyway. When Cain tries to answer with a famous question of his own: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God fires off a final inquiry: “What have you done?” (Gen. 4:10).
Sometimes you will discover more about a situation than the guilty person realizes. Parents often learn when their children have done something wrong before their children admit it. Friends can find out bad news about friends, even without trying to listen to gossip. The same is true of spiritual leaders in the context of the church, especially in the age of social media.
How should you approach the guilty party? Certainly, there are times to make a plain declaration of a sinful situation. At other times, however, a strategic question may be a more effective first touch. As we minister to someone is sin, whether it be our children or a fellow church member, our goal should be to honor the Lord by helping them to repent. It is bad to sin. The person who has sinned is hurting themselves and others around them. They need to be convicted and repent. Questions can further this process.
A question can be an indirect way of pointing to the problem. When we directly confront a sin, the other person can be tempted to proudly put up their shields and harden their heart. A question offers a challenge that can often slide through the cracks of their defenses. Repentance is a spiritual gift (2 Tim 2:25-26), but God uses means. Gentle questions can be useful tools in God’s hands.
Where have you been? Why have you not talked to so-and-so lately? What is the Lord doing in your life about this situation? How have you been recently tempted in this area?
The question is not the whole answer. You should pray as you engage with these types of questions. Ask that God will use it to expose the sin to their heart and convict them of it. Ask that God would give them the gift of repentance. Also, have the Bible ready. Sins are not just different personal preferences, they are violations of God’s commands. Be ready to show them their sin from the Bible.
I suppose you could even use a question to expose them to the Scriptures. Remember how Jesus often asked his opponents: “Have you never read in the Scriptures. . .” right before he quoted the challenging verse.
Think about and plan to use the power of timely questions as you help other people to see their sins.
By John Crotts