5 Strategies for Tough Questions–Part 2: Push it Personal

Jacob (name changed) had come to youth group because he liked a girl. Smart, funny, and good looking, he thought himself to be wise beyond his years. He was used to impressing people with his big vocabularly and smart-sounding philosophies. As we talked afterward, he argued that there is no such thing as right or wrong. People simply do what they think is best. They make their choices, I make mine, and neither of us should judge the other.

Rays of light thru trees

(Photo by demjan on http://www.sxc.hu)

(This post is part of a series on 12 Questions Young People are Asking. To see the intro to the series, click here, for part 1, click here.  To get a sneak peak of the 12 Questions material, sign up to receive my free e-book on the right sidebar.)

I could have taken him to a logical argument about ethics, and why utilitarian ethics break down under logical scrutiny. I could have brought up Hitler or communism or the Rwandan genocide. But nothing is so personal, as, well, pushing it personal. So I asked about him.


“So, if you went home from youth group tonight, and your mom was dead on the floor, because someone had murdered her, you’d say that was ‘their choice?’ You’d be ok with that?”

John (name changed) was wrestling with the issue of hurt and suffering in the world. A senior in High School, he wanted to know why God let bad things happen to good people. I could have taken him on a study of the effects of sin, or how you can’t really believe in good or evil without believing in the God who defines good and evil. But I knew that John’s best friend was dying of cancer, his dad had left the family, and John was experiencing more pain than any 18-year-old man should. So, I decided to Push it Personal. I asked about him.

John, this sounds more painful than I can imagine. I can totally understand why you are asking these questions. How are you doing? What’s this making you wonder, making you feel?

A couple of observations:

  • Questions are very rarely impersonal. But we often treat them as if they are impersonal. Someone asks about “pain and suffering in the world” and we give them cold, logical answers. Instead, we must learn to ask, “How have you experienced pain and suffering in the world?” Perhaps a friend is sufering from cancer. Perhaps a loved one just passed away. The conversation changes dramatically when we Push it Personal.
  • People need to bring their hearts ‘to the table.’ Many questioners feel comfortable sitting in the land of abstract ideas. Like guerilla warfare fighters, they like to launch question ‘grenades’ into a conversation and then run. When we Push it Personal we invite them to bring their hearts to the conversation. We get to the real them instead of the abstract questions.

It might look like this:

  • Someone asks, How can you claim you have the only way to God? We reply, What do you believe? How do you answer the big questions of life?
  • Someone asks: What about all of the problems in the church? We reply, What has your personal experience with church been like? (Have you experienced any of the bad things you’re talking about?) Why is the thought of church so hard for you?
  • Someone asks: “What proof do you have for me? Why should I believe this is actually real?” We reply: What would be proof to you? What evidence would you need to be certain this is real?

Please don’t misunderstand my tone here. The point of Push it Personal isn’t to be force an argument or make someone defensive. In fact, most of the time the goal is simple kindness—we know a question has a personal edge. We want to care for that question with the person in mind—not just the question. When we Push it Personal we invite someone to wrestle with the question from an honest position—and we can do the same.

Do you remember Jesus with the lawyer in Luke 10? The lawyer asks, “What is the greatest commandment? Jesus replies, “What does the law say? How do you read it?” Push it Personal.

Question: Have you ever had an opportunity to Push it Personal? How did the other person respond? Was it helpful or unhelpful? Leave a comment here: comments

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