Saturday, January 11, 2014

Why people play these mind games

In the first couple of chapters of the Bible, God seems to advocate a style of parenting I've never thought highly of, the rhetorical, or leading question.

'Who told you you were naked?' Well, since He's everywhere, He would surely know.
'Did you eat from the tree I told you not to eat from?' Same as above.
'Where is Abel, your brother?' Come on! He knows the answer very well.

It's like a smug mother asking her little boy, 'Who ate the doughnuts?' when she can clearly see the chocolate icing around his mouth? I used to hate it when my parents pulled this sort of question on me. It seemed they just wanted me to fib my way into a trap so they could pat themselves on the back by calling my bluff. The parent figure comes across as gloatingly superior while the child now feels naughty and foolish, instead of just plain naughty. Why can't we just play it straight? Why make everything into a character test? It used to sadden me that God would stoop to this sort of silly mind game too.

When you do try to wriggle out of it, they are ready to pounce on you with their superior knowledge.
MUM: Who ate the doughnuts?
KID: It wasn't me.
MUM: Then go to the mirror and look at your mouth.

GOD: Where is Abel, your brother?
CAIN: How should I know? Am I my brother's keeper?
GOD: What have you done! Your brother's blood is calling to me from the ground.

Well, if that's the case, why not just say so? Surely the aim of the interrogator is either to make themselves seem smart or to make the guilty party feel even worse by showing them up as a liar too, on top of being a thief (or murderer, in Cain's case). Why do that? Surely it's no way to make people feel friendlier towards you.

Thinking long and hard about it, I've got to conclude that maybe it's good for us, to show up what is inside of us. Maybe the leading question is an effective technique when the answers come as a surprise to us. We discover ourselves doing the underhand, sneaky, sly thing when we're put on the spot. That's happened to me several times before. I'd been thinking of myself as a pretty good person, and then found myself in action telling the lies, making the excuses, running away, implicating the others. I realised that I wasn't as good as I thought I was, because I was caught red-handed. If they'd simply said, 'I know you took the doughnuts and now I'm going to punish you,' I wouldn't have realised that my natural reaction would have been to hedge around and tell lies. I might have been left feeling resentful and self-righteous. Perhaps naughty and foolish is the better option. The questions are not for their benefit but for ours, especially when it comes to God.

Later, in Deuteronomy 8:2, the Bible says, Remember how the Lord your God led you... to test you in order for you to know what was in your heart.

I do understand. This sort of test is not like an exam condition. God is not like the education department. The sort of test we're talking about  is the type that shows up cracks in architecture, or traitors in war time. In the long run, it's better to be aware of our own weaknesses, than to be oblivious of them. It's better for ourselves to be shown, when we're potential traitors and don't even know it. Perhaps God tests us because we're oblivious to the mixed allegiances and motives in our hearts. When we find out, at least we're in the position to deal with them. If you're a knight, it's better to find out that your armour has chinks.

I can accept this. I like it much better than the notion that God is playing mind games with us. The questions we receive don't give God any new information about ourselves, but it may reveal a lot of new information about us to ourselves. And being armed with this new knowledge has got to be a step forward, however hard to swallow at the time. 


  1. Good post Paula. I see those questions as more coaching. The question encourages self-evaluation and self-moderation.

    Although we are dependent on God, he wants us to be independent of sin. He tries to teach us what is His way and what is not. Like any good parent, He poses the question, giving us a chance to alter behaviors instead of instantly berating us with reprimands accusing and punishing us.

    It goes to show He is NOT the angry dictatorial god some fear him to be - thankfully.

  2. Hi Kayleen,
    I completely agree. Good, how the Bible shows us examples of good parenting, when we look at how God does it :)


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