There are times when life makes no sense. Times when there are no explanations for the things that have happened and when all we can do is wonder. And question.
As I write this, we’re faced with a time such as this. But it’s not the first time or the last time we’ll find ourselves asking how something so tragic, so horrific, so... evil could take place. In this country or any country. Among people created in the image of a benevolent God. In a world that at times seems so sophisticated and wondrous. Yet, it happened. And, we question.
We’re born with questions already prepared. What is this world around us? Who are these people smiling and making funny noises at me all day long? How did I get here? Where am I? Questions. But at the heart of all human experience is the Granddaddy of all questions. Why?
As a baby, “why?” is a question of innocent curiosity. As in:
Why do I have to take a nap?
Why are my pants wet?
Why won’t someone change my diaper NOW?
Children grow to turn this innocent question into a mantra fueled by discovery.
Why do wheels spin?
Why do flowers smell?
Why does the sun shine?
Sometimes, “why” is a direct challenge to authority.
Why do I have to obey?
Why can’t I eat 25 cookies instead of broccoli?
Why are you punishing me?
And the older we get, the more these questions of “why” become less about innocent discovery and more about demanding explanations and passing blame.
Why would you do that?
Why did you let this happen?
Why didn’t you stop this?
And that blame is often directed towards God, whether we realize it or not. You see, believing that God is sovereign necessitates that all blame and credit stems from Him. The buck stops there, so to speak. In times when we struggle to understand certain events with which we don’t agree (like an election) or which are tragic in nature, throwing around the “whys” isn’t always wise.
A recent sermon and an ESPN sports documentary both cemented this in my head.
In “Ghosts of Ole Miss,” an ESPN 30 for 30 film that addresses the racial tensions of 1962 on the University of Mississippi campus, Wright Thompson says of his research, “There are questions Mississippians won’t ask, because we are not prepared to hear the answer.” Thompson is specifically referring to the difficulty of facing the sins of our past. In a sense, the adages “ignorance is bliss” and “be careful what you ask for” find harmony as we’d prefer not to ask questions that will lead to indictment.
Meanwhile, in a little country church my wife and I were visiting just the other day, the pastor spoke from the book of Job. (Side note: you know a church is fired up when they’re preaching through Job.) Though the sermon series had begun long ago, we were visiting at just the right time. Job is a book full of “whys.” Job and his companions beg, nay, dare God to explain Himself in light of the tragedy that Job has faced. In chapter 38, in which the sermon was based, God answers. But it’s not what Job expected. Rather than an explanation, Job gets a reminder of the gap between God and Man.
This is probably not the answer we would expect, either. But the message of Job isn’t that we should never question God, it’s that we had better be ready to hear the answer before we do. There’s a reason our “whys” become less innocent over time: our ability to comprehend more difficult answers increases as we mature. However, there is a threshold, there are some things we simply cannot comprehend, regardless of our maturity. I know the jury is still out on perceptual blindness, but Paul mentions in the Bible that we see now as though looking through a glass, darkly. Were watching life on a wood-paneled black and white television with only 3 channels when the world and its millions of colors are being broadcast in extreme high definition.
Another example stems from the early complaints about The Hobbit. Shot in an unprecedented 48 frames per second (FPS) (standard is 24), filmmakers expected the clarity of the picture to blow viewers away. Unfortunately, (and, I expect the jury is still out on this as well) the human mind can only process images at about 40 FPS, so the extra “clarity” actually makes things confusing. Again, this is a disputed fact, but you get the idea. We’re drinking from a garden hose and begging to get a faceful of fire hose.
When we ask God why, we’re often asking for more than we’re ready for. When we question His motives, we challenge His authority. We vie for His throne.
Instead of questioning God’s will, we need to submit to it. Rather than “why,” we should be asking how to respond.
We need to be mindful of this and approach His throne with reverence and fear or else He may have to give us a reminder of our place. And we might not be as prepared as Job to hear it.
Thanks for your time.