Responding to the Lord’s Questions

Pondering questions the Lord has asked in the scriptures deepens our relationship with Him.

As the Easter season approaches, we may find ourselves contemplating the Savior’s divine mission. Easter is a time to reflect on the Atonement and on the depth of our discipleship. It is a season to repent as we remember the loving sacrifice of our Savior, who suffered exquisite agony so that we might not suffer if we would repent (D&C 19:15–20). It is a time to ponder our responses to Jesus Christ.

Over the years, as I have pondered my own response to the Savior, youthful questioning has given way to more mature questing after righteousness. I’ve learned that the Lord’s questions of me are more important than my questions of Him.

In my late teens and early 20s, I was full of gospel questions. I used to worry a lot, for example, about theological problems, like the so-called problem of evil. (I once told my sister that hardly a week went by that I didn’t think about the Holocaust.) Like many young people, I remember questioning if I had a testimony—even though I’d been blessed all my life with a deeply religious nature.

My questions became more intense as I approached my 19th birthday and the decision to go on a mission. I remember taking long Sunday walks on the south side of campus at BYU—fasting, praying, and wondering if I really knew the gospel was true. Was I ready to make eternal covenants? To stand in holy places and promise to stake my life on the conviction that God restored His Church through Joseph Smith? (The prospect of making an eternal commitment loomed much larger in my mind than did the commitment to spend two years as a missionary.)

Did I really know the Church was true, know it deeply enough to persuade others to join?

I suppose these are pretty typical questions for an adolescent—even for one who had had, as I had, many wonderful spiritual experiences. Still, I yearned to know for myself with complete certainty. And I was of a disposition and lived at a time period when young people were encouraged to question everything. Even after I decided to serve a mission and made temple covenants, it took a while for me not to let the habit of questioning color my religious commitments.

Not long ago I pulled out an old Book of Mormon, which dates from my college years. The margins are full of scribbling. Most notes record “aha” insights, but some ask questions of the text. As I re-read my notes, I recognized in my former self one who simultaneously believed and questioned. It is no wonder that a verse in the Gospel of Mark has long meant so much to me: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

I still have questions. However, in the past 30 years, my questions have come to feel far less important than they once did. I feel more patient with my questions as my testimony has grown more sure and as the confirmations of the Spirit have accumulated. At the same time, different kinds of questions have become much more central and urgent in my life. These are the Lord’s questions. Almost every hour of every day, I seem to hear the Lord’s persistent questions of me. My life still feels surrounded by questions, but now they are divine interrogatives.

Where Art Thou?

When God asks Adam, “Where art thou?” He knows full well where Adam is hiding. Yet by this question, God honors Adam’s agency. The question invites Adam to account for himself and dignifies him with accountability. God not only knows the answer to His question, but only He fully knows where either Adam or we are, physically and spiritually. And He knows this at every moment of our lives. We cannot escape from His sight. As the scripture says, “He can pierce you, and with one glance of his eye he can smite you to the dust!” (Jacob 2:15). His “all-seeing eye” pierces our every self-deception and all the excuses with which we cover our sins like fig leaves. It searches the deepest recesses of our hearts. Yet, though at every moment He knows where we are, still at every moment He calls, “Where art thou?” His inquiry demands unblinking accountability from us. Yet His call is not harsh. It is born of tender concern for His errant children.

I confess that this question “Where art thou?” looms large in my life. It echoes in my days. Sometimes it keeps me awake at night. Always beneath the questions and cares I hurl at heaven, I seem to hear the Lord’s voice whispering, “John, where art thou? You, the questioner, the seeker? What prompts your questions? Are you living up to the witnesses you have already received?” I know that the only fitting response to the Lord’s questions is to reply, “Lord, here am I”—in full readiness to do His bidding.

I also know that the Lord expects not merely words but a life answerable to His interrogatives. As one LDS author notes: “To most questions man wants to have an answer. But to the Lord’s question man must be an answer. From man God does not need information. Man’s response must be man’s own self” (Dennis Rasmussen, The Lord’s Question [1985], 7).

Further, the Lord wants to know not only where we stand but where we are heading. Thus, according to the Pearl of Great Price, “the Lord God, called unto Adam, and said unto him: Where goest thou?” (Moses 4:15; emphasis added). In this pilgrimage called mortality, there are only two directions: away from or toward God. To every soul, God calls, “Where goest thou?” Are we fleeing God or feeling after Him? He is “not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27).

But Whom Say Ye That I Am?

Another divine question compels my attention as it calls me into account: “But whom say ye that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). Jesus put this question to His disciples when they were in Caesarea Philippi, just north of the Galilee. On that day, Peter answered boldly, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Well answered Simon Peter, and well was he awarded the name Peter, or “rock,” for it.

All believers must build on the testimony of Jesus Christ. However, knowing the right answer and living the right answer are two different things. The Lord measures us not alone by what we profess but by what we perform. Thus the Lord asks His disciples to answer His question “Whom say ye that I am?” with their lives.

Peter later discovered it was easier to confess the Lord among friends than to live true to this testimony among foes when one’s life is at stake. On that terrible night when our Lord was betrayed, Peter denied knowing the Christ thrice before the cock crowed. I wonder if at that dark hour in Jerusalem Peter recalled the Savior’s question to him in Caesarea Philippi: “But whom say ye that I am?”

Nevertheless, I do not condemn Peter, and he certainly proved his faithfulness later. How many times have I lauded the Lord with my lips on Sunday and subsequently dishonored Him with my deeds on a weekday? My transgressions often make me wonder how well I am responding to the question “Whom say ye that I am?” For I know that the Lord’s questions insist that my conduct must be fully congruent with my confession of Him.

Will Ye Also Go Away?

My inadequacies remind me of a similar question Jesus Christ put to the Twelve to sound the depth of their commitment: “Will ye also go away?” (John 6:67). Peter, to his great credit, answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). By contrast, I am forced to admit that sometimes I have deserted the Master; sometimes I have wandered. In the words of the hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” I know that I can be “prone to wander … prone to leave the God I love” (Hymns [1948], no. 70).

And yet I also know that in a deeper sense, I am bound to Christ, who has bought me with His blood and won me with His love. I am bound to Him by ties that reach to the very depths of my soul. Even when I wander, I feel the tug of His loving question “Will you also go away?” And with Peter I feel constrained to exclaim, “Lord, to whom shall I go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”

The Lord’s questions call me home. They draw me back to my true self, to my eternal nature. While sin leads me ever farther away from myself, into a realm of masks and error, the Lord’s interrogatives invite me to claim my true name—son of God—and beckon me to my true home.

Lovest Thou Me?

Another question that reverberates in my heart and echoes ever more loudly in my ears as the years go by is “Lovest thou me?” (John 21:15). The Lord addressed this question again to Peter, only this time after the Resurrection. “Lovest thou me?” He asks His chief Apostle—and implicitly all who would call themselves His disciples. It may seem easy to say, as did Peter, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee” (John 21:15). But the Lord is insistent that this question be taken seriously. As if to signal how serious the question is, the Lord repeated it three times. Thrice Peter denied his Lord; thrice he was required to reaffirm his love for the Lord, as if to atone for each denial. The repetition also made clear that the Lord will not settle for any perfunctory, easy answers. This question must be answered honestly, in the light of searching self-reflection about whether our commitment to the first commandment has made any discernible difference in how we keep the second great commandment. “Lovest thou me?” He asks. Then “feed my lambs. … Feed my sheep. … Feed my sheep” (John 21:15–17).

I, too, cannot answer this question easily. No pat answer will do. For this is surely a question that will be asked me in heaven by the “keeper of the gate,” “the Holy One of Israel,” who “employeth no servant there” (2 Ne.:41). This question calls me to a deep accounting of my life. How well have I loved others? I remember that Jesus laid down His life for such “sheep.” Have I lost my life in service to others? What about those for whom I have been given special care—my wife, my children, my parents and extended family? How have I cared for my home teaching families, the 14-year-olds I teach in Sunday School, my friends and neighbors? “Lovest thou me?” Then “feed my sheep.” Once again, the Lord’s question cuts to the core of my being, brooks no evasions, and demands to be answered with my life.

Encompassed by Divine Questions

In my youth, I was full of gospel questions. Now, in middle age, I feel encompassed by such questions as these—the Lord’s questions. They punctuate my prayers. They qualify my own questioning. “Adam [or John], where art thou?” “Whom say ye that I am?” “Will ye also go away?” “Lovest thou me?” Such divine questions now seem much more important than the questions I once wrote in the margins of my scriptures. Now when I read the scriptures, I feel the weight and tug of questions posed to me by the scriptures, such as: “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” (1 Ne. 11:16). “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” (Matt. 8:26). “Wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous?” (Job 40:8). “Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:23). “Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? … and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, … can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:14, 26).

At this Easter season, it is appropriate to remember the Lord’s questions, which challenge us to repent and give our lives more fully to God. By opening my heart to the Lord’s questions of me, I have discovered that I am in a better position to ask and receive answers to my questions of Him. I have come to learn that the promise He gave His disciples in John 7:17 is true and faithful: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” When I faithfully live in accordance with the will of God, doubt fades, testimony grows, and I seem to know more certainly and hold more steadfastly to truths that really matter—such as that Jesus Christ lives, that this is His Church, that Joseph Smith was a true prophet, that the Lord guides His Church today through a living prophet, even President Gordon B. Hinckley.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Del Parson, except as noted

[illustration] Above right: Cast Your Net to the Other Side, by Minerva Teichert

John S. Tanner is a member of the Edgemont 20th Ward, Provo Utah Edgemont Stake.