Questions Often Mask Deeper Questions
Quite regularly, congregants will approach a pastor after the worship service and ask generalized questions. Does God approve of this? Condemn that? Can satan do such and such? Do dogs go to heaven? Could Sampson (or Judas) have repented and lived?
Often, those questions betray a deeper need. The person wants to know how they can find forgiveness, or whether God condemns something they or a loved one is doing, for example. Even theological questions often mask deeper personal issues. Why did God seem to order genocide in the Old Testament? Perhaps the real question is, “What sort of God is this?” Is God a God of violence? What about the rights of the oppressed?
I once heard a young person call into one of those “Bible answer man” programs and ask if dogs go to heaven. The radio pastor launched into a theologically cold discussion about animals and souls and atonement. The caller lost her pet and was grieving. The pastor completely missed the point.
At a retreat center, a woman asked the retreat leader if there was a bus that could take her home. He simply replied that he didn’t know of any and walked away. He missed the look of hurt and agony on her face. He missed that she was emotionally wounded by something that had happened earlier that day. He too missed the point.
The real concern is very often under the surface question. People need us to take the time to ask open-ended questions and listen. They need us to listen to their hearts, not just their words. They need us to pay attention to their expressions and mannerisms. They need us to care. When we do, the real issue bubbles up. My puppy died. I don’t feel welcome here. I’m afraid God can’t forgive what I did.
Then we can heal hearts with the love of Christ.