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Opinion | Why Jesus Never Stopped Asking Questions

Jesus’ parables provide layers of meaning: There is enough richness and ambiguity in them that people could spend a lifetime reading them and taking different things from them. Bobby Gross of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship told me, “Parables and questions invite us — require us — to think, to ponder.”

With his puzzles and paradoxes, Jesus is trusting our discernment, knowing that the Bible includes contrasting approaches on matters ranging from why people suffer to keeping the Sabbath to how we should treat our enemies. As the theologian Kenton Sparks put it, “At face value, Scripture does not seem to furnish us with one divine theology; it gives us numerous theologies.”

I wonder, too, if Jesus, in telling parables, might have had in mind what Emily Dickinson described when she wrote, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant/Success in Circuit lies.” So much more so when she closes her poem by saying, “The Truth must dazzle gradually/Or every man be blind.”

Kerry Dearborn, a professor emerita of theology at Seattle Pacific, told me that in terms of the ways in which Jesus communicated, “I’m convinced he used questions and stories as a means of connection and transformation — to awaken us, to whet our appetites, to invite us to draw nearer, that we might open up more fully to God and to God’s purposes in and for us.”

“With his use of everyday elements of life, people felt seen,” Ms. Dearborn added. “With his powerful depictions of a father who loves prodigals, tax collectors and Samaritans, people were comforted and felt safe enough to follow him. And hearing stories of the ways in which God stands on the side of the oppressed, people would know they could trust this God of both justice and love.”

Philip Yancey, the author, most recently, of the memoir “Where the Light Fell,” said that “the aspect of Jesus’ style that stands out to me is how unpropagandistic he was. Imagine: He knew the truth more than anyone who has lived and could have responded with dogma and fiat, as the church so often has done in his place. Instead, he was anything but an arm twister.”

Mr. Yancey went on to point out in so many places, Jesus makes it impossible for us to conclude, “I’m OK. I can relax.” Whether it’s Jesus’ teachings on anger or lust or his command that we be perfect as his father in heaven is perfect, “no one can reach that place of spiritual superiority that Jesus holds out, which was his point, exactly. We don’t earn God’s grace; we receive it.”

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