What Does Your Toddler Have in Common with Ancient Judaism: How Jesus Might Have Handled the “Why Stage”

By: Kyle French

If you are like me it only takes to the third consecutive “why,” from my kiddos to wonder why we teach children to talk, or at least until an age where they are content, and they do not want to play twenty-one [thousand] questions on a daily basis. Fortunately, it does not take too long before the Spirit intercedes and overcomes my cynical heart. Because, to be honest, I tend to feel concerned by my lack of wonder. What I wouldn’t give to be able to look upon anything with as much intrigue and wonder as I did when I was a child. And lately it struck me, frankly, the disciples seem to ask a lot (I mean a LOT) of what I would believe to be useless questions, but he seemed to always be so level-headed in his responses. So, it got me thinking, could I look to Scripture for encouragement to be able to handle the “Why Stage” with more compassion?

            Before we move any further, it must be noted that Jesus was Jewish and throughout His earthly ministry He was seen as a Rabbi.[1]Which for our purposes, the most important piece to pull out is in the way in which others would speak with Him. It might sound exasperating, but typically questions were answered with a more detailed question than the initial one, to encourage the questioner to dig deeper, so that they can comprehend the content better. As you can imagine, this is an important tidbit to make note of before we start digging into dialogues with questions upon questions, upon questions. So, without further ado, let’s take a look!

Statistically speaking, within the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), Jesus asked 307 different questions, and had 183 questions asked of him.[2]You want to know how many of those questions that Jesus answered directly? Even the clumsiest of shop teachers could still count on one hand how many times Jesus directly answered the questions that were posed to Him. The all-knowing Lord of the cosmos, by what is recorded, only gave a direct and timely answer three times in His ministry! For example, the gospel of Mark has a great example of how Jesus wanted to go further than just a simple ‘Q and A’. 

            And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” – Mark 2:4-11 (ESV)

Instead of unloading on the oblivious Scribes, Jesus decided it was more important for them to be pursue the answer themselves than to give it to them directly. While it may seem a bit unfair that he responded although He was not directly asked a question, it was necessary for Jesus to use the opportunity to share some wisdom with some of His staunchest critics. 

Realistically speaking, is Jesus tending to questions about His divinity the same as your child taking you down a rabbit trail of ‘whys’, as to why the sky is blue or the tree is brown. Simply, no. But does that mean there is not anything to learn from this type of approach? Again, no. The key here is self-discovery, and that is what we should want our children to thrive on. And in some form or fashion, I believe this kind of approach will help you get through the ‘why stage’. Being that, if our perspective as parents or as an adult is to be frustrated with the insistent questions, then what are we really telling our children? There are two options that seem to stand out, 1) the child may stop wanting to ask you any questions at all, or instead begin to ask you even more nonsensical questions, because clearly you don’t care, 2) their sense of wonder may begin to dwindle when it seems like asking questions or being curious is trivial. Neither of these options are what we would want for our children, so we must be careful as to not be so quick to frustration, but instead to kindle their curiosity. Consider answering their third, fourth and fifth ‘why’ with a question of your own. At least if it doesn’t work, it may get them on a different subject.

While not trying to leap over mountain tops to connect the passages with your child’s questions, I think addressing the ‘how’ is just as important as the ‘what’. So, the next time your reading through the Gospels or maybe when you feel like you need some encouragement, look at ‘how’ Jesus addresses the question, not just at ‘what’ he says. You might find some relief.

[1]John 1:49, among others. 

[2]Keep in mind that the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are similar accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus and do at various points overlap.

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