Questions that Begin with How

There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner. – 1 Kings 21:25-26a (NIV)

For a while, I was admirable. “I just don’t know how you do it!” others would exclaim, noticing mostly my upstanding qualities. I would smile and shrug. I was mostly sure that I was admirable, too.

Then, I became contemptible. “How could you do that?” others cried, noticing mostly my less-than-exemplary character traits. I would sigh and shrug. I was fairly convinced that I was contemptible, too.

But really none of us, even Ahab the most terrible king who ever kinged, are all one thing. Just a few verses after this deprecating kick in the pants, God notices Ahab’s new attitude, a humility that no one had seen in him before. And then God defers divine punishment, at least for a generation. 

Both “How do you…?” and “How could you…?” create distance rather than build relationship between the questioner and the questionee. “How do you…?” places the other on a pedestal. “How could you…?” pushes them into the mud. 

As children of God, we have the opportunity to ask different questions than the rest of the world asks. Questions that help us truly meet one another on holy, even ground. Questions like: “What is happening in your heart?” “Who do you love?” “Why does this matter?” “When did things change?” “Where do you turn for support?” Or, if it must be a “how” question, maybe just “How are you?”


Holy One, help us to ask the right questions, so that we might draw nearer to one another, and to you. Amen. 

dd-brownell.pngAbout the Author
Jennifer Garrison Brownell is pastor of Vancouver United Church of Christ. Her writing appears in collection The Words of Her Mouth: Psalms for the Struggle, available from Pilgrim Press.