Episode 119 - There's Often a Heart Behind the Question

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Today's episode is largely for me. Now, of course, you can listen; I hope you do. I'm speaking to myself here more than I usually do. Usually, I'm speaking from something that I'm confident in, that I've researched, that I speak on, that I write on, those types of things, but today I'm speaking from more an area of weakness and something that I need to remind myself of: remembering that there is usually a heart behind the question.

Now, of course, everyone who asks a question has a heart, has a soul, that type of thing. What I mean, is that a lot of times the person asking the question isn't just wanting to bat around an intellectual idea. They're not looking for a stimulating academic conversation. A lot of times, there's something emotionally attached to the question they ask, and I often forget that, honestly. I don’t take that into account. That’s not my first response much of the time.

I think this is a liability that we need to be aware of as we seek to be more informed and as we seek to address issues and topics and culture that we often talk about on this podcast, because there are liabilities that comes when you have well thought-out views and you know exactly where you, stand and you're confident: that can come across as cold and heartless. It comes across as academic.

Now I think some of this is due to our unique cultural moment that we're in, where if someone speaks definitively about something, that they don’t pause and they don’t say "um" a lot, that it sometimes comes across as closed-minded or sterile at the least. When we get a question on salvation and, “Is Jesus the only way of salvation?” We might quickly reply “Yes, most assuredly. John 14:6 says, ‘Jesus is the way to truth and light. No one comes to the Father but through him.’ Paul makes it clear that there's no other name under heaven where men can be saved, these types of things.”

We can just launch into that and give a very thorough explanation, but the person may be thinking that their grandparents never actually had opportunity to hear the gospel. Maybe they have a relative or maybe they just can't bring themselves to believe that God exists or Jesus exists. They realize that on this view you're putting forth, that this means they will suffer in hell for eternity. There's something very real in terms of the consequences of the idea that’s involved in your answer. Yet, all too often (I’ll just speak for myself), I hop in and give the answer to the question, and I don’t even think of the heart behind it. Now I've gotten better at this over the years, but I still find myself surprised at how often I miss this point.

For instance, recently I was having a conversation and a question was asked, and I just thought it was kind of an intellectual curiosity: "Do you think people need to have a moment, kind of a Paul Damascus Road type of moment where they become distinctly aware of the fact that they're a Christian? Do you need to be able to cite when you became a Christian to the day?” I said, "No. You know, it's interesting. I've been doing some reading and there are people who think you should just have a child that grows up and they never know anything different than being a Christian." The person said, "Well, is this a good thing?" I said, "Yeah."

I go to move on, talk about something else (we're in a group of people), and I look back and this person is very emotional at this point. They look upset, and I’m thinking, "Oh, gosh, what did I say? What did I say this time?" It turns out that this person had been told throughout their life that they needed to have a “moment.” If you didn’t have a moment, then you probably weren't a Christian and that type of thing.

There's no Biblical foundation for that at all, and I think often this view that you have to have a moment or kind of a very noteworthy testimony is more prevalent sometimes, sadly, in Southern Baptist circles. I'm a Southern Baptist. I can say that. I've grown up hearing that.

This view that you have to have that isn't prevalent in other denominations a lot of times. This was a huge deal to the person I was talking with. They had been told something different for their whole life. They had guilt associated with this because they didn’t know their moment. But in that conversation, I just thought we were talking about an idea in passing, and I was sharing something I'd been thinking about and reading about, but, no, this was immensely personal.

This happens a lot, I think. I think this happens more than any of us realize, because when we ask questions, a lot of times we're pretty good about being emotionally guarded and we just present things as ideas, but that doesn’t mean that questions are only ideas. They have hearts and they have souls behind them that care about these things. The more prepared we are to give an answer for the hope we possess, the greater the liability that we'll do that without the thought of the heart and the emotional sensitivities behind it.

Some sample questions might be, someone might way, "Well, what's your view on homosexuality?" I had this conversation recently. I knew enough to ask, "Why do you ask? I'd be glad to talk with you, but where are you coming from?" If I had just launched into an answer that was correct and Biblically robust, I would have missed the fact that this person struggles with same-sex attraction. I need to talk with him as a person and understand where they're coming from first and foremost as a person before we talk about this. They need to know my heart towards that type of thing, because how I would write about the specifics of an issue is different than how I would talk to a person who's struggling with that. Now the truth claims are going to be the same, but how they're presented is going to be very different.

This is perhaps a more obvious example, but the person who asks if abortion should be against the law on our view, well, on the one hand, that question has a yes or no answer. Either it should be illegal or it shouldn’t be illegal, but likely, this person might have had an abortion in the past. They're wondering, "Do you think I should be in jail? Do you condemn me?“ Now I think we can work through this answer and the logic of the pro-life position with this person and reason from a Biblical worldview, but nonetheless, I need to be sensitive to that.

If the person who's asking a question about abortion is asking a factual question and yet they themselves have been affected by abortion, I need to talk about that first. I need to make sure they know my heart towards them and that issue before I go into something that’s cold and clinical. Not that sharing facts is only cold and clinical. I actually think it's a distinct act of love and caring to present the truth to someone in love, but there needs to be that love aspect, and that requires us to remember that there's a heart behind every question.

I think very commonly, the person who asks if someone could lose their salvation is probably the person who's questioning if they're saved, "Am I good enough? Did I actually believe in the past?" This is a personal type of thing. Now I often forget this because I talk with people who are in theological circles. We like to talk about the theology behind this, and that’s important. You have to know the theology behind this type of issue in order to give an accurate answer when asked, but you also have to remember, I have to remember that there's a heart that’s probably struggling with their security of salvation.

That’s the thing I need to talk about here. If I talk about the fact that, no, someone can't lose their salvation, but there are definitely people who think they are saved and are not. We could go look at Matthew 7 and multiple examples where the Bible tells us that if you do certain things you are not saved. Well, there are people today who do those things habitually. Well, Biblically speaking, they're not Christians.

We can talk about that logic, but I need to understand where this person is coming from. Why are you asking me this question? What's the place this comes from? Is this something that you question? Is this something that a loved-one questions? We need to be able to address that, because I could give an answer that’s factually correct and misses their particular nuance of it, or the thing they had in mind is not really what they asked, so they take my answer differently than I intended it.

Those are four different examples of different types of questions: views on homosexuality, views on abortion and salvation, and when did you become a Christian, those types of things, which have factual answers but often come from a heart-place that’s probably struggling, honestly. We need to be sensitive to that.

Now I did mention when I started out that there's a liability for those who have very well thought-out views, that they come across cold and calculated. I think that’s true, but I don’t think we should make our views seem more tentative just to be more culturally palatable. That’s not what I'm suggesting. I am suggesting that we present our views with humility, giving credit where credit's due, saying, "This is the view I have come to based on the clear teaching of scripture in this area," or, "You know what? This is a view that scripture doesn’t speak very clearly to and I could be wrong here." I think it's important to say we could be wrong wherever that could likely be the case. It presents humility, which, hopefully, is actually genuine. I try to do that more than not today.

I've become increasingly aware in conversations of talking past one another and missing the point that occurs, where both people leave a conversation and they think they’ve understood but they’ve actually misunderstood. I'm more aware of that, and I try to call that out more in conversations, whether that’s in ministry or in my profession or things like that. For instance "This is my takeaway. This is what I think we should do, but I could have misunderstood. I could be wrong here." I'm offering that up because it's true. I definitely could be wrong here. That type of humility goes a long way today. Obviously, this needs to be genuine. These aren't magic words.

I do think that can help soften the impact that’s often felt today from those who have well thought-out views, who present them succinctly and confidently. We need to do that on the thing sscripture speaks clearly to and convictionally to and confidently to. We need to speak clearly and convictionally and confidently. We don’t do the scriptures justice when we talk about issues differently than they do, even when our tone is.

I don’t think it's good that there are things that I actually lament that scripture teaches. I think it's fair for me to say that there are things i doesn’t like, but I shouldn’t present that like it's a good thing. Disagreeing with God on things, at least in how I feel, is not good. Part of the Christian life is bringing all my thoughts and my desires and my feelings into line with how God thinks and desires and feels.

All of that to say, remember when you're talking with people—I need to remember when I talk with people—that there is often a heart that is sensitive to the type of question that often comes across as just an intellectual question. That’s often not the case, though. There are hearts behind questions, and so it's very fair and I would encourage you to ask people, "Why do you ask that question? Where is that coming from? I'm glad to answer it." Make that clear, "I'm glad to talk about it, but I'd just like to understand where you're coming from. Why is this question important to you?"

Like I said, it's something I'm working on. It's something I fail in often, and this episode of this podcast comes from me being reminded of that in just the last couple of weeks.

I hope this is encouraging to you. It's helped me as I've talked through this more do this better in conversation, to remember the person who's asking the question and not just jump in and address the question and the details and the facts themselves, but to remember to stop and care about the person who's asking the question. Because honestly, that’s the only reason it's important to answer the question. It's for the benefit of the person, and I don’t want to hurt to them in the process of answering their question just because I forgot that.

I hope this is helpful, and I'll talk with you next week on Unapologetic.