Last Sunday’s reading at Mass was from the Gospel of John, and was the story about Jesus giving sight to the man born blind. Towards the end of the story, after the man born blind is questioned by the pharisees, he runs into Jesus, who asks the man whether he believes in the Son of Man. The man born blind asks a very interesting question: “Who is he, Sir, that I may believe in him?” (emphasis mine.)
It is interesting to contrast this with Pontius Pilate when Jesus said, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world: to testify to the truth. And those who are of the truth hear my voice.” Pilate’s response was, “Truth? What is truth?”
Jesus answered only one of these men, though they were, in a sense, asking the same question.
It’s interesting to contemplate why.
They were asking essentially the same question, but for opposite reasons. The man born blind was asking so that he may believe. A man cannot believe in something he does not know; faith is not the opposite of knowledge, but actually impossible without knowledge. The man who was born blind was willing to have faith, but he did not yet have the knowledge which would let him have faith, so he asked for it.
Pontius Pilate asked for knowledge in order to avoid believing in it. His question was not the seeking of truth but rather the denial of the possibility of attaining truth.
Despite what internet trolls will tell you, questions are not neutral things. We do not encounter questions floating in a vacuum. Questions always come from questioners, and questioners always have a goal in asking their questions.
As G.K. Chesterton said in Orthodoxy, motives matter:
But there is an anti-patriot who honestly angers honest men, and the explanation of him is, I think, what I have suggested: he is the uncandid candid friend; the man who says, “I am sorry to say we are ruined,” and is not sorry at all. And he may be said, without rhetoric, to be a traitor; for he is using that ugly knowledge which was allowed him to strengthen the army, to discourage people from joining it. Because he is allowed to be pessimistic as a military adviser he is being pessimistic as a recruiting sergeant. Just in the same way the pessimist (who is the cosmic anti-patriot) uses the freedom that life allows to her counsellors to lure away the people from her flag. Granted that he states only facts, it is still essential to know what are his emotions, what is his motive. It may be that twelve hundred men in Tottenham are down with smallpox; but we want to know whether this is stated by some great philosopher who wants to curse the gods, or only by some common clergyman who wants to help the men.