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30 April 2013

The hardest question

The hardest question

'What is the question that you most fear getting asked?' All across Europe students respond with the same three issues - suffering, hell and homosexuality. Michael Ots, an evangelist who speaks at university missions in the UK and Europe, unpacks how to respond to those questions you'd rather not answer.

I often ask Christian students: "What is the biggest fear that stops you from speaking about Jesus?" Without fail, one of the biggest is, 'What do I do if I get asked questions that I can not answer?' Yet, far from being a barrier, difficult questions are a great opening to share the gospel. Even if we can't answer them straight away then we can always get back to them - giving us another opportunity to speak about the gospel. I would then follow it up by asking: "What is the question that you most fear getting asked?" All across Europe students have responded with the same three issues - suffering, hell and homosexuality.

So how do we go about responding to such issues and how do we help others to be better prepared to "give an answer" as Peter commands all Christians (1 Peter 3:15). Lets take the first, biggest and most perennial question of all - why does God not stop the suffering? Before jumping straight in with an answer I would suggest you need to do two other things.

Why do people ask that question?

People ask questions for all sorts of reasons. Why might someone ask about suffering? It may be that they are suffering, or someone close to them is. It could be a natural disaster that is in the news. It could be a philosophical problem, or even a way to catch you out because they know it is hard to answer. Unless we know the motivation, we won't know how to answer it. Personally motivated questions need emotional empathy in a very different way to a philosophical debate.

Answer people's questions with questions

How will you know what motivated the question? Only by finding out more and assigning questions of your own. It could be helpful to ask: "What kind of suffering were you thinking of?"

So questions help us to get more information. But they have another purpose as well. In the gospels, Jesus asked over 200 questions. Why does he do so? Not for his own benefit(he already knows everything he needs) but for the benefit of the person he is speaking to. Questions help others by unlocking assumptions, exposing false logic and dealing with antagonism.

So you could also ask: "Do you think suffering ever has any positive benefits? Or if you were God what would you do? Or what would the world be like if God always stopped any action that would cause suffering?" Get them to think and don't do all the talking!

Answer the question

Only when we know the motivation and get them to think, can we go about trying to answer the question. What we say will depend on the reason but here are some thoughts.

We don't have all the answers but the Bible gives us a big picture of the world into which we can start to make sense of the individual events. This world is not the way it once was. It is broken. This makes more sense that the atheistic worldview that doesn't give us the basis to say that anything is wrong, which states that this is just the way the world is - as Richard Dawkins says the universe has "no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference."

Be positive - we have amazing hope in Christ. This world is not the way it one day will be. Our hope is not fluffy and unreal but very physical and encompasses all of creation because of Jesus's resurrection.

Michael Ots runs MOET which helps train young evangelists in public persuasive evangelism. He has written a book which answers 10 of the toughest questions titled What kind of God?


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