Devotional or Speech given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
November 2, 2015
John S. Tanner
There is a very old idea that the mark of man is a question—meaning that humans are distinguished by their unique capacity to ask questions. We are the only species capable of formulating abstract questions. Questioning sets us apart. It makes our lives distinctly human. Through questions we understand our world. And through questions we master it. Human progress is driven by the ability to ask and answer new and ever better questions.
I hope, and trust, that your university education has greatly strengthened your ability to ask good questions. This is among the most important gifts true education gives. It puts you in the company of wise men in all ages who, like Socrates, spent his life asking questions. Questions turn a life into an adventure of discovery; into an intellectual and spiritual quest.
There is another, perhaps even older, idea about questions. It is that humans are distinguished by their ability not just to question but to be questioned. Human life gains its true dignity as we respond to moral questions that ask us not just what we know but who we are. Such questions dignify our lives. They enable us to live a “life of response.” We answer these questions not with words but with our lives.
These spiritually transformative questions that can keep us up at night come from our conscience, and ultimately from God.
Today I want to talk about three questions that the Lord puts to his errant children in the beginning. By these questions, the Lord calls us into account. They call us back to Him. They call us home.
ADAM, WHERE ART THOU?
The first question is “Adam, where art thou?” The Lord asks this question of newly fallen Adam, but He also directs it to us all. This question echoes from Eden to each of us today. Substitute your own name for Adam’s: John, Susan, Where art thou? God always wants to know.
Some Biblical commentators have fussed about why the Lord asks such a question. Does He not know where Adam is? He is, after all, omniscient. Surely He knows where Adam is and what he is. And he knows this about all of us, at all times.
Yet still He asks, “Where art thou?” For the Lord’s question is not really for the Lord but for Adam and for us. His questions always are. The question “Where art thou?” enables Adam to give an account of his actions. Likewise, it invites all of us to be accountable before God. It calls Adam out of his hiding place, and brings him before God in the capacity as a responsible, moral agent.
God’s question re-establishes a relationship broken by sin. I like the way that the poet John Milton reimagines the question. In Paradise Lost, the Lord says, “Where art thou Adam . . . I miss thee here.” God’s question reaches out to restore a broken relationship. It calls Adam and all fallen mankind, back into the Lord’s presence.
As you leave this university, may you also always hear this question calling you into account, and inviting you to come back to God. And may you always be prepared to respond to the Lord’s question, “Where art thou?” with the prophet’s answer. “Here I am. I am ready to do Thy will. Take my life. Heal me. Help me. My life is yours.”
Remember that there is no forest so thick, no fig leaves so carefully woven that can hide us from God’s all-seeing eye. We must always be prepared to answer his call, “Where art thou?” And we must answer this question not with our mouths but with our very lives. For on Heaven’s map of mortality, there is only one way of marking our location. We are either near or far from the Lord.
WHERE GOEST THOU?
The Pearl of Great Price provides another version of God’s first question to Adam. I find it very instructive. In the Book of Moses we read, “And I, the Lord God, called unto Adam, and said unto him: Where goest thou?”
Where goest thou? This formulation of the Lord’s first question gets at an issue that is even of greater concern to our Heavenly Father, not just for Adam but for all his children. Our Father is more interested in where we are going than in where we are. In Heaven’s eyes, our direction is even more important than our position.
For the sinner who is moving his life toward God is in fact closer to Heaven than the lapsed saint who is moving away from God. There is rejoicing in Heaven over the repentant sinner, no matter how low he has fallen. There is weeping over the backsliding saint, no matter how high he had risen. A new convert whose heart is burning with desire to keep his covenants may be closer to salvation than a High Priest whose testimony is becoming cold. Or who is standing still spiritually. For on the journey back to Heaven there is no standing still. Life is in motion; it is moving forward toward Judgment. We are either learning and growing and becoming more prepared to meet our Maker, or we are forgetting and losing ground.
So the Lord asks each of us, Where goest thou? Once again, we must answer such questions with our lives. As soon as we turn to Him, we are moving in the right direction. We may be in the same spot on the road, but it now becomes not a road to Damascus but a road to Jerusalem. It becomes the road of discipleship.
WHERE IS THY BROTHER?
The third divine question from Genesis that echoes to us today was directed not to Adam but to his son Cain: “And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is [Abel] thy brother?”
The Lord puts this same question to all of us. He holds us accountable not simply for our own lives before God. He holds us accountable for how we treat his children, who are our brothers and sisters.
Cain denies his fraternity. He claims to have no responsibility for his brother, not even to know where his brother is. God expects more of Cain and of us. He expects us to know and love our neighbor, for they are in fact family.
The first two questions--Where Art Thou? & Where goest thou?--remind us of the first Great Commandment: to love God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength. The third question reminds us of the second Great Commandment: to love our neighbor as ourselves.
On your mortal journey, may we all also hear this question echoing in our souls: Where is your brother? As you respond to this question, you will find yourself moving toward God.
Brothers and Sisters, in conclusion, I bear my witness that our lives are under God’s questions. It is a wonderful thing to have learned how to question. That is a treasure you will take from this university. I hope you will also take from here the ability to answer God’s questions, to answer them with your lives. May we respond, “Here I am. Take me. Guide me home.” And may we say, “Here’s my brother. Help me save him.”
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Dennis Rasmussen, The Lord's Question: Thoughts on the Life of Response , 3.
 Dennis Rasmussen, The Lord's Question: Thoughts on the Life of Response .
 Genesis 3:9
 John Milton. Paradise Lost.
 Moses 4:15
 Genesis 4:9
 D&C 59:5; see also Matt. 22:37
 D&C 59:6; see also Matt. 22:39