The Christian Discipline of Finding the Question Behind the Question

Every parent is familiar with the question behind the question.

That’s because every child, whether they know it or not, is familiar with the question behind the question. Let’s take a simple example. There is a plate of cookies on the counter. In your family of five, everyone has had their daily allotment of sugar, and there is only one cookie left. So the youngest child asks an innocent question:

“What’s going to happen to to the last cookie?”

Again, an innocent question. It’s a question seeking information. But it’s not the real question. The question behind the question is this: “Can I have the last cookie?”

Most of the time we can intuit the question behind the question. Or at least we can when it comes to other people. We kind of, sort of, mostly have an idea about what a person is really asking – of what the true question is under the surface. We are not as good, however, at seeing this in ourselves.

We all have questions. Especially right now. We have questions about the future, questions about faith, questions about life in general. And the questions we ask out loud most of the time are informational in nature. But there are also other questions – questions behind the questions. And part of knowing yourself, in light of knowing God, is being able to dig to the heart level question that is truly prompting all the others.

Here’s an example. Let’s say that you have lost your job. You know the severance package is a ticking clock, and you have a lot of questions. Many of those questions are of a practical nature:

  • Are my skills marketable?
  • How should I be networking?
  • Am I going to be able to replace my income?
  • What about my health insurance?

Now these are all questions that need to be answered. A responsible person should be asking these questions. A Christian should be asking these questions. But a Christian should recognize that there is another question – a heart level question – behind these questions as well. It’s a question about security:

Is God going to take care of me?

And that’s ultimately the one that needs to be answered first, because the answer to that question tempers the way we approach any of these other questions. It changes our posture entirely. But our posture to these larger, more overarching questions is, of course, dependent on how these larger questions are answered. Fortunately for us, they have already been answered. In Romans 8, Paul lays out for us the real questions. They’re the heart level questions that are at the bottom of every other question:

What, then, are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything? Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the one who died, but even more, has been raised; he also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (Rom. 8:31-35).

These, friends, are not just a list of rhetorical questions. These are the questions behind every question. These are the questions about provision, goodness, and security. These are THE questions. And they have all been answered at the cross:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:37-39).

The Christian finds the question behind the question. And the Christian, thanks to the cross, already knows the answer.

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