During my doctoral studies, my colleagues and I were confronted regularly by the question, “So, what?” Our instructors introduced us to the question, and we asked it of each other, often in jest and sometimes in earnest.
For someone trying his or her best to say something profound that no one else has said—a fool’s errand if there ever was one—hearing one’s brilliance interrogated with the question, “So, what?” can be heart stopping.
The other day, the question came to my mind as I was looking at my bookshelves. I love books, and I read constantly. As I contemplated what to read next, “So, what?” echoed in my mind.
More pointedly, I asked myself what I would find in any of the books in front of me that would add to—and not take away from—my following Jesus. I wasn’t trying to be super spiritual. I’m just growing more keenly aware of how much time I have in this life.
Even at my youngish age, what I spend my time doing really needs to stand up to the question, “So, what?”
Frankly, all of us need to ask this question about a lot more things.
Getting the most out of “So, what?”
In an academic setting, it looks like this: Someone presents his or her research on an issue and names conclusions that technically are true. While several people yawn, one person asks the presenter, “So, what?”
It sounds a bit rough, doesn’t it? Some poor soul has sacrificed time with family, agonized over getting the logic right, been brave enough to expose his or her flaws to a roomful of peers—only to receive, “Yeah, that’s great and all, but … so, what?”
The power of the question is in the attitude—of the questioner and the recipient. The question works best when the questioner wants to sharpen or build up, not attack or humiliate, the person being questioned.
Sign up for our weekly email newsletter.
Also important, the person receiving the question should not become despondent or nihilistic, worried that nothing he or she does matters or ever will. This simply isn’t true.
For the question to sharpen and build up, two things are necessary.
1. Knowing what matters. We can’t answer, “So, what?” if we don’t know what matters.
2. A shared definition of what matters. We will stumble into division if we don’t have enough common understanding between one another about what matters.
A Christian’s “So, what?”
For a follower of Jesus, what matters most is God’s kingdom and will. Loving God completely and loving one another are evidences we are seeking God’s kingdom and will first and foremost.
Where we have gotten into trouble—and get into trouble still—is by confusing lesser things with what matters most. Methods, ways of organizing, wealth and power, being respected or right—these are lesser things.
Our worry, hyperactivity and weariness; the heat of our arguments and the brokenness of our relationships; the tension in our churches and communities—these are evidences we either don’t know what matters most or we don’t have a common understanding of what matters most.
Lacking that knowledge and shared understanding, we spend our time, energy and resources chasing after lesser things.
Followers of Jesus aren’t immune. While we agree, in general, that seeking first God’s kingdom and will and loving God and others are of prime importance, we separate over the particulars. We differ on what exactly qualifies as being within God’s kingdom and will, what qualifies as loving God and loving others.
Once we separate over the particulars, we attach ever greater significance to lesser things and lose sight of the most important things.
Holding everything up to “So, what?”
We need to be brave enough to hold up everything we think and do—from the most mundane to the most consequential—to “So, what?” What does any of it have to do with God’s kingdom and will, with loving God completely and loving others.
Here are just a few examples of things we can examine.
• They’ve given that movie rave reviews. “So, what?”
• He has a degree from a prestigious university. “So, what?”
• We have our traditions. “So, what?”
• She’s the smartest person in the room. “So, what?”
• Maybe I’m right about the order of service for Sunday worship. “So, what?”
• She can do 100 push-ups without a rest. “So, what?”
• Our neighborhood is one of the best in town. “So, what?”
• Maybe you’re right about the best way to govern. “So, what?”
When we hold up these things—and a million more—to the filter of what matters most for us as followers of Jesus—God’s kingdom and will, loving God completely and loving others—we may receive a double joy.
The sooner we figure out we are investing ourselves in lesser things, the sooner we can refocus on what matters most—and celebrate the redemption of our time and resources.
At the same time, we may discover some lesser things are gifts of love leading to or emanating from God’s kingdom and will—and simply enjoy them.
Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.