Consider the Context
After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
- Matthew 11:1-3
John and Jesus went way back. Their mothers were pregnant at the same time. John grew up to become a wild prophet and famous, baptizing people in the Jordan River, and calling the nation to repent. Jesus lived a quiet life throughout his childhood and twenties, in the shadow of his thunderous cousin John.
But all that changed. Jesus started working miracles and preaching about the kingdom of God. He gathered disciples about him and travelled throughout the Galilean countryside. News about him began to spread. Messianic fervor rose. People began to hope and dream that Jesus would set them free from political and spiritual bondage.
And, at that same time, John picked a fight with a political despot and was thrown in prison. John would eventually die in that prison.
John’s question to Jesus comes in the midst of these bigger movements in life and history. In fact, our questions about God, faith, religion, and spirituality are always grounded and rooted in bigger movements.
There are some questions about God you just won’t ask until you experience or witness a tragedy. There are others that won’t occur to you until you’ve been wounded. And there are still others that you may never ask … life and the universe may just never give you the raw materials.
This is one of the many reasons why we have to learn to be gentle with each other’s questions. They may ask something you answered a long time ago. They may ask something you don’t understand. They may ask something that you would never think to ask. Tread lightly when you can.
Take some time today to listen to the questions people ask about God, faith, religion, and spirituality. Ask yourself where those questions might be coming from. Taking a beat to consider the origins of a question can help you give a more helpful answer.