Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Q is for Questions

What has made the Hebrew culture so enduring that it has stood the test of time, tread the world over, and survived long past each its conquerors? Yes, the Hebrews are God's chosen people, but as with everything else that is marked by God's hand there must be evidences of purpose, clear signs of intentionality. What are these signs? How have they aided the Children of Israel all along the way? What is it that makes them a peculiar people? Part of it is their deliberate style of teaching. The Hebrews are a people rooted in oral tradition. From the spoken word flows both stories and instruction often combined together to convey the history of a people and lessons to guide generations following. Yet theirs are no mere morality plays, no fanciful fables, no cautionary tales for children ending in frightful messages of import passed on from adults who know better. Rather the Hebrews sought to transfer a way of life. To simply show their culture by painting a verbal narrative, thus both entertaining young ears as well as instructing young minds. It is a tradition grounded in the belief that humans do not know everything and that we are so very forgetful. How will we know how we are to act in life, what is expected of us, how we are to relate to our fellow man if it is not told to us, modeled for us?

"When your son asks you in the time to come, 'What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?' then you shall say to your son...."
Deuteronomy 6:20-21

The instructor is given guidance on how to instruct while in the midst of instructing the inquirer. Here is the nature of accountability, the very substance of discipleship. We are made to be both accountable to someone and accountable for someone. The Hebrew culture—and by virtue of inheritance, Christian culture—is not one of isolationism and individuality, rather it is a culture of interwoven relationships, a community that ends up looking more like a family. To that end it is this interconnectedness that is a safeguard against forgetfulness:

"Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children...."
Deuteronomy 4:9

The foundation of Hebrew teaching is embodied in their use of questions. Questions they use to instruct, to probe the thoughts and intentions of the heart, to shed light on an inquisitive mind, to bring humility and repentance where there is forgetfulness. Is this rhetorical device what has made the Hebrew culture so enduring? Is this one of the evidences of purpose, one of the clear signs of intentionality that we would expect to see marking God's chosen people? How much can truly be revealed by studying a cultures use of questions? Does this further help to mark them as a peculiar people? How?

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