I love questions. Want to know why? Partly because of their power to reveal hearts. The question I just asked revealed your heart toward me and this article. Though I and others may never know what it revealed, the question forced you to see things within you – good, kind, patient things, I hope! Sometimes, questions are so powerful that they become heart-revealing statements. For instance, “What’s your problem?” That’s not so much a question as a statement indicating irritation. Yes, the sentence ends with a question mark, but the meaning often requires a period or an exclamation point to be properly understood. Questions can reveal the hearts of those being interrogated, and they can reveal the hearts of the interrogators, too. Scripture is full of heart-revealing questions, including some of the most powerful questions ever stated. Let’s look at a few of them to see what’s going on in our souls.
Ancient Israel was in the wilderness and on the way to the Promised Land. They were exhausted, traumatized after all they’d been through, and thirsty. In Exodus 17, we read their outcry against Moses their leader. They “ask” him if he brought them out of Egypt just to kill them and their families with thirst. The text records no answer from Moses. Perhaps, If the severely stressed leader lived in our day and spoke in our vernacular, he may have replied with his own declarative question: “Seriously?!”
The question was insulting, given all that Moses had done and endured to pry God’s people from the ten-times stubborn grip of a psychotic despot and four centuries of slavery within his empire. Of course Moses didn’t mean to drag them into the wilderness just to kill them. What a horrible thought! But Israel was not done yet. Moses was merely the servant of the Lord. They uttered their most powerful, provocative interrogative statement against him: “Is the Lord among us or not?”
This question was not only a statement; it was an accusation, and a brazen one at that. They had just seen supernatural plagues unleashed on their Egyptian slavemasters and the parting of the Red Sea, the drowning of the Egyptian army in that same sea through which they passed on dry ground. How could they say such a thing about God? We must be careful. That question might be an accusation we aim unintentionally at ourselves, revealing some not so good things.
It’s easy to accuse those ancient people with such a question, but we need to ask a genuine question of ourselves before we do. Would we have done better in their place? Sometimes we have an overly generous view of ourselves and how we would have fared in situations Scripture describes, and an ungenerous view of those who actually endured them. We must pay attention to our hearts during hard trials we endure, to look for symptoms of the spiritual disease which devastated the body of God’s people gathered in the wilderness. Israel suffered from deep and pervasive discontent. They were not content with God’s providence, so they denied his presence. Don’t we struggle in the same way? That’s a statement, too.
Do you think of God in these terms: “If you’re really there, or at least there for me, you’ll do this, or you won’t allow that.” Such statements call into question the presence of God among all of his people. And because He’s promised that presence, such statements call into question his trustworthiness and love. Something hard, hurtful, and perhaps unexpected happens, and it’s as if we look to heaven and accuse: “But I thought you loved me! Are you with me, or not?!”
When I was in elementary school, I got sick and missed a lot of school. I was terrified of going back – all the missed work, not being as far along as my friends, and worst – having to miss recess to make up tests. I was truly afraid of going back. I just wanted to put it off forever. One morning my dad and I were sitting in the car in our driveway on what would be my first day back to school. I begged him to let me stay home just one more day. I employed every excuse I could think of, but he wouldn’t yield. So I decided to play dirty. I looked at him, and I said: “I thought you loved me.”
My dad rarely showed pain, but I could tell that my words had cut him. After a pause, he looked at me and said: “I have never accused you of being a fool…but if you think I don’t love you, you are a fool.” And he was right. I was the very definition of a fool according to Scripture, the one who knows the truth but refuses to acknowledge it. I knew my dad loved me; I had seen it all my life. I wasn’t a sincere, frightened boy with reason to doubt; I was simply trying to manipulate him to serve my purposes. My statement called into question something that was indubitable. But I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see the good in what my dad wanted me to endure. All I could see was the fearful situation ahead and the fact that he was forcing me into it. Through a heartfelt but dishonest statement, I questioned my dad’s love for me because I hated what he wanted me to do. So it was with ancient Israel.
In Exodus 4, God calls Israel his firstborn son. But in the wilderness, they were not all Israel who were of Israel. A few among them were faithful, trusting in the promises of the God whom they not only knew, but were willing to believe, was good. In doing so, these faithful children of God foreshadowed the true and ultimate Son of God who endured his own agonizing trial in the wilderness.
After the Lord Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit led him to a time of intense trial. By no mere coincidence, not only did it take place in the wilderness, but it involved Jesus fasting for forty days and nights – the same number of years Israel spent in the wilderness due to their disobedience. In one of the Bible’s biggest understatements, Matthew tells us in chapter 4 that after over a month of fasting, Jesus was hungry. Satan comes to him with several statements, calling into question the loyalty of God’s eternal son to his father in heaven, or perhaps more pointedly, calling into question the Father’s love for his son. Why would God put his son through all of this?
Satan tells Jesus to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger, as would be his divine prerogative as God’s son. Jesus refuses, responding that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Father. He would endure this physically and emotionally devastating trial until His father lifted it from him.
Satan attempts to play on Jesus’ trust in the Father’s word by quoting Scripture, Psalm 91, which promises God’s protection of the Messiah. He tempts Jesus to take a quite literal leap of faith. Why not put the Father’s faithfulness on display? But Jesus is not fooled by the devil’s abuse of Scripture. He sees the hook beneath the bait. For Jesus to follow through would be to show the exact opposite of trust. For Him to jump would be to force the issue of the Father’s faithfulness, to call for its proof in a way that the Father had not commanded. Jesus wouldn’t do it. The Son of God was confident in His Father’s power, but also content in His providence.
Beginning with Adam and Even in the Garden, Satan had been successfully tempting all of humanity to sinfully question God’s goodness and moral right to rule the universe. His winning streak was unbroken until he tried to tempt God’s son, the man Christ Jesus. Jesus says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” The Father had nothing to prove to the Son who truly loved Him.
In Jesus, Satan found a heart utterly devoted to the Father, and therefore a wisdom which saw straight through the devil’s deceptions. So, Satan abandons all his serpent-like subtlety and bares his fangs. He tells Jesus that he’ll give him all the kingdoms of the earth – all the world’s power with none of the cross’s pain – if the son of God will fall down and worship him. Again, Jesus answers with his Father’s word, his law, his house rules for the universe: “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Satan flees, and angels come and minister to God’s true, ultimate, loyal and loving son.
Where did Jesus’ unbreakable obedience and trust come from? From his limitless love for the Father. All throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, He communicated and displayed His love for the Father. He said that He and the Father were one; he always did exactly what the Father told Him and said only what the Father told him to say. Think of Jesus’ words in John 4:34 and their thematic connection to Matthew 4: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
That love and pleasure existed before time. All Christ had known from all eternity was the radiance of the Father’s love and pleasure in Him. And yet here in our text, the Son is moving step by step toward that awful moment when on the cross He cries out to the Father whom He loves: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Notice, that’s another question having to do with God’s presence – a question both like and unlike Israel’s question. In both cases, the answer to the question is known.
In the wilderness, Israel knows that God is with them, but refuses to trust. On the cross, Jesus knows that God has forsaken Him, but He continues to trust. The Israelite question is an accusation revealing distrust, disobedience; Jesus’ question is an affirmation revealing trust, obedience. As he was dying on the cross, God’s son was living out what he said in the garden to his Father – “Not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus could say far more fully than Job: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” And as the Lord asked and declared when Peter tried to prevent his arrest, “…shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” What was the Father’s will? For the sinless son of God to bear all the sins of His people, to bring his true sons and daughters home.
Our failure to fully love and trust God is the spiritual disease beneath the disease of discontent. The Father sent his sinless son to redeem us, to rescue us from distrust, discontent, from the subtle self-worship which always lurks beneath it, and the death it always brings, the death we feel daily in a fallen world. God sent Jesus to overcome that death, and to bring you home, so that you can call him “Father.” God has not failed to love you and to provide for you.
Sometimes you might really feel like God has forgotten you. Sometimes you may hate what your Father is calling you to do, what he’s telling you to endure. Go to him in prayer and song – maybe Psalm 13, or 91! – Go to God in whatever condition you find your heart. But don’t go as the wilderness-wandering Israelites did. Go to him through your Savior, who’s leading us to the Promised Land.
The fact that God has given you His Son as your intercessor shows that He is not far from you, and that he can and will save and that every provision or lack thereof in your life’s journey is part of the path the Father has chosen for you to walk in faith. Trust his will; trust his heart for you. He’s given you his son to lead you along that path for his name’s sake.
Some of you who are reading this know from deep, lived-in experience: the more trials you endure in life, the more deeply you come to understand that God is loving you not despite them, but through them. The Good Shepherd will make sure that you His sheep will not fall short of the Promised Land. He will shepherd you on to glory. How can we be so sure, when we feel so forgotten? Because it is the Father’s will for Him to do so. And the Son always does the Father’s will.
Questions are powerful. They reveal hearts; they also teach hearts. Some questions are statements, even accusations. Other questions are affirmations, even assurances. Writing about the unbreakable, infinite love of God for his people, the Apostle Paul asks an assurance toward the end of Romans 8 – “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
Isn’t God so good, and worthy of our total trust?