The World’s Easiest Theological Question

The World’s Easiest Theological Question

Written by Michael J. Kruger, |
Friday, August 18, 2023

How should we respond to the bad shepherds in our modern day? The same as Jesus. The text tells us that he was “grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5). We should mourn for those sheep who lack good shepherds. But, I think we can also follow Jesus’ lead in another way. We can distinguish between good and bad shepherds by again asking the world’s easiest theological question: “Is it lawful . . . to do good or to do harm?”

For those who love to talk about theology, a good head-scratching question can really be fun. It allows us to stay up late in deep conversations with our friends over the mysteries of God and his Word.

Indeed, Jesus was known for asking some pretty tough theological questions. Sometimes the answer seemed obvious when it was not. When Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Whose son is he [the Christ]?” they assumed the answer was simple: “The son of David,” they said (Matt 22:42).

Turns out, however, that it was not at all simple. Jesus proceeds to stump them: “If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matt 22:45).  The text then tells us: “No one was able to answer him a word.”

Lesson: we’re not the great theologians we often think we are. At any moment, Jesus can take us into the deep theological waters where the currents are swift and we struggle to keep our head above water.

Even so, sometimes Jesus asks easy theological questions where the answer is obvious. Often he does this to make a point about the hardness of men’s hearts. As an example, he asks the Pharisees what may be the world’s easiest theological question:

“Is it lawful . . . to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4)

No one hears this question and thinks, “Hmm. That’s a tough one. The Bible is pretty vague about good vs. evil. Not sure if God wants me to save a life today or murder someone . . . ”

No! Jesus is purposefully asking the Pharisees the world’s easiest theological question. One that any 3-year-old could get right. And how do they respond?

The text tells us, “And they were silent.”

So, let’s not miss how incredible this scene is. The Pharisees—Israel’s foremost scholars, teachers and theologians—won’t answer a question about whether they should perform a good act or an evil act.  What in the world is happening here?

The larger context provides the answer. This remarkable exchange takes place in a series of passages about what one is allowed to do on the Sabbath.

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