In his book, Tactics, Greg Koukl talks about something he calls “the question.” This is a question that someone puts in front of you that, regardless of your answer, you will find your position hurt. The question is designed by an adversary to make you look foolish, closed-minded, harsh, or the like. It is often presented in a format where you can only answer in a couple of ways, without qualification, and those answers both make you look bad.
Interestingly, in Luke 20, we see that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day tried to ask him a form of “the question.” They tried to put him in a position where they could condemn him. The religious leaders demanded that Jesus tell them where his authority came from. If Jesus claimed his authority was directly from God the Father, they would have accused him of claiming too much. If he told them that he, as God the Son, had the authority in himself, they would have disregarded him. In no way were they really looking for his answer. They wanted to trap him.
Luke 20:1-8 – 1 One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up 2 and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” 3 He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, 4 was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” 5 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ 6 But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” 7 So they answered that they did not know where it came from. 8 And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
How did Jesus’ respond to “the question?” He refused to respond . In Jesus’ wisdom, he posed a question back at the teachers that disarmed them. The Savior asked about the teaching and authority of John the Baptist. The teachers knew that any answer they offered would get them into trouble. And when they refused to answer Jesus, he simply responded in kind, refusing to answer the trick question they asked.
When you and I are in conversations with others, we will find ourselves sometimes in dangerous places. People will ask our views on emotionally-charged issues. There will be times that no answer we can give will sound loving or politically correct on the one hand and consistent with Scripture on the other. This is not because there is not a loving answer, but simply because a straight answer, without qualification, cannot explain to a skeptic the loving purposes of God.
We can learn from Jesus when we are pressed into a corner. Ask a question of your interlocutor. Make them respond in such a way that allows you to safely respond to their question. Put them in a position where they cannot trap you by backing you into an unfair corner.
Koukl suggests that we respond to “the question” like this:
“When someone asks for your personal views about a controversial issue, preface your remarks with a question that sets the stage—in your favor—for your response. Say, ‘You know, this is actually a very personal question you’re asking. I don’t mind answering, but before I do, I want to know if it’s safe to offer my views. So let me ask you a question: Do you consider yourself a tolerant person or an intolerant person on issues like this? Is it safe to give my opinion, or are you going to judge me for my point of view? Do you respect diverse points of view, or do you condemn others for convictions that differ from your own?’” (77-78).
This is very similar to what Jesus did. Jesus showed the religious leaders that they were not willing to be treated as they were trying to treat him. When they would not make a stand, he simply refused to answer their question. And if a person in conversation with you will not make it safe for you to answer a difficult question, if they will not give you the opportunity to explain fully your position, you do not have to answer them either.