The Questions That God Asks Us
In our Christian life we all know the experience of people asking God questions, or asking questions about God and why things are the way they are. But what about the times when God asks questions to people, such as individuals in the Bible? I consider that here we see a few different categories of such questions. In Job 38-41, for instance, God asks Job countless questions — rhetorical questions to show God’s sovereignty and to “put Job in his place” but not actually expecting specific answers.
Another category is that of probing questions, and we see examples of these in several places, including the dialogue in Genesis 3, God’s conversation with Elijah in 1 Kings 19, and in Jonah 4. These are situations where God asks the person a question in an attempt to get the person to think and reason, to snap out of a sinful way of thinking. Throughout these incidents we also see God’s loving patience with stubborn and sinful men, the manner of a parent trying to reason with a rebellious and wayward small child.
I remember reading through John MacArthur’s Genesis series a few years ago and how impressed I was with the depth that I’d never seen before, especially when I got to Genesis 3 and God’s approach to Adam. MacArthur pointed out the loving approach God took; He knew that Adam had sinned and disobeyed, and could have instantly destroyed Adam — but He brought up the subject with questions, to get Adam to confess and return to fellowship: “where are you, Adam?” and then “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” It was an opportunity for Adam to admit and talk about it, but of course we all know how Adam responded.
The prophets give us two situations rather similar to each other, of prophets who are out of the will of God. Elijah was so fearful for his life that he ran away from Jezebel, but then told God he wanted to die. In 1 Kings 19, verses 9 and 13, God confronts Elijah with the same simple question: “what are you doing here, Elijah?” When Elijah doesn’t “get it” the first time, God has to show himself to the prophet in His true power — not in the great events of wind, earthquake and fire, but in a still small voice. The second time the question is asked, Elijah just repeats the same answer, and so God must also point out that Elijah is not the only one left.
Then God dealt with Jonah, a similarly stubborn prophet, with probing questions and another object lesson: the growth and subsequent demise of a plant that pleased Jonah. As with Elijah, God asks him the question twice: “Do you do well to be angry?” and later, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” Like Elijah, Jonah persists in his stubbornness and fails to “get it” until God brings home the final lesson. Jonah was even willing to die, he said, over the loss of the gourd: something inanimate, uncreated by Jonah, unnourished by Jonah, and temporary. How much more did God have concern over His animate, created, nourished and eternal souls (120,000 Ninevites).
The Bible gives us many other great examples of questions asked by God, as well as interesting conversations between Christ and people He interacted with. Here I think of the interesting conversations with Nicodemus and the woman of Samaria in John 3 and 4, as well as His words to the Syro-Phoenician woman. Another question in Matthew 19:17, to the rich young ruler (“Why do you call me good?”) was also designed to get the man thinking about why he was calling Jesus a “Good Master” but not thinking of Jesus as actually being God — though in this case the man did not respond and went away unsatisfied. All of these incidents from the Bible, of course, are instructive to us as well. Whenever we get into the same thoughts and attitudes as the prophets or the people Jesus encountered, we can remember these incidents and relate to the characters as people just like us — and take the same instruction from the words God directly told them.