In journalism school we were taught six key questions to ask, with every story we covered: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. And you notice, when you read the news, that these questions are generally answered at the beginning of each article.
But these questions are important in life, as well. And they are particularly important when we study the gospel. In fact, they help us distinguish between that which is truly important, and the elements which sidetrack us from what matters most. What we need to remember is that the list of “5 Ws and 1 H” are not always of equal value.
I’ll illustrate with a simple example. Let’s say you’re wondering whom to marry. If you give equal weight to each of the questions, you’ll be as concerned about where you’re going to live, and which day to pick for the wedding, as you are about the person you’re marrying. With this decision, the Who is vastly more important than the Where or the When.
The same thing applies to the scriptures. Next time you’re reading, apply the journalism questions to the passage you’re studying, and then decide which one or two matter most. We all know the story of the Good Samaritan. Despite belonging to a despised class of people, the Samaritan outshined both a priest and a Levite, by stopping to help an injured man that they had both ignored. The Samaritan then took the man to an inn and paid for his care, even promising to pass by on his way back, to pay whatever costs were incurred. Wow. The Who is important, because Jesus was showing his listeners that it matters what’s in your heart, not what birth line you claim.
What is important, in that it tells what happened. But the When and Where don’t matter so much-the exact year, and the exact location on the road are less important. This story has impact during any time period and in any location. The Why matters, because the Samaritan was choosing to do the right thing out of love for his fellow man. But the best part of the story is the How-this complete stranger treated the injured man as if he were his literal family member, an actual brother. He didn’t just bind up the man’s wounds and then wish him luck as the guy limped away. He went out of his way to find an inn, and then paid the entire bill-food, lodging, medical care– no deductible, no co-pay mentioned! He treated that poor guy as if he were a king, no expenses spared. That is how Jesus wants us to treat one another. The How is everything.
Another wonderful story is the one of Ammon, defending the king’s herds by cutting off the arms of the Lamanite robbers. Kids, especially, love the super-hero element of this amazing account. The arms are gathered up and presented to King Lamoni, who is astounded. He has never seen such loyalty among his servants, let alone from a captive prisoner! And when he asks where this incredible fellow is, he learns that Ammon is feeding the horses, now. Are you kidding me? Who is this guy, right? In this story, the What matters, because what happened was indeed supernatural. Who matters, because Ammon was so faithful that the Lord blessed him. The When, Where, and How are less important. But the key question here is Why-the whole reason this story happened wasn’t just to entertain some Primary kids with a feat of strength; it was to help convert King Lamoni and many of his people. This is a missionary story, not an action scene from a movie.
The point of David and Goliath is often missed for the same reason-it’s such a fantastic underdog story of the little guy slaying the giant, that we often get caught up in the drama, instead of the lesson. But by asking the same questions, the real message cannot be ignored. Remember, Goliath was a Philistene who wanted to prove his false gods were more powerful than the God of Israel. That’s what this battle was about, not just who had the courage to face such a huge opponent. And this story shows us that even a boy can prevail, if he has faith in the power of the living God. David doesn’t beat Goliath merely because he is a clever shepherd with a sling. God helps him defeat Goliath to prove who is really God. The Why is the key question here.
This formula can be taught to kids, as well, to help them zero in on the most important aspects of any scriptural passage. It can keep us from missing vital lessons, and clarify exactly what we are to learn. I invite you to try this technique the next time you feast upon the word of God, and see if it offers you a fresh, new perspective.
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