Thursday, October 04, 2012

When we ask "Why?"...

Did you ever have something bad happen to you, or see something bad happen to someone you know, or read about some disaster or tragedy happening to someone someplace in the world and find yourself asking the age old question?


If you say you have never asked that question, I have to wonder if you ever really lived. Young children from an early age ask their parents or teachers or whoever, "Why?", and sometimes to the point of beyond annoying.

The question becomes especially acute and personal when bad things happen specifically to us and we are brought face to face with the question, "If God is good, why does He allow bad things to happen in peoples lives, and more personal and specifically in my life?"

It is not my purpose here to answer that broader question, but to examine how we may respond to it.

One response to the question is to stoically "stuff it". We can do this as Christians when we think we dare not ever ask "Why?", and to do so is arrogant wickedness and unbelief. Who is mere man to ask God why? This kind of response does have a legitimate concern, but I'm not so sure this response is wise or spiritually healthy.

The fallacy to the stoic approach is we try to deny the reality that there are times when things happen and the very core of our heart and soul screams out the question. Can we or dare deny what we really think? Is God so ignorant He doesn't know those inner most thoughts and feelings? Can we come before Him and pretend we don't have those thoughts and questions? Of course not!

Another way to respond to the question "Why?" is with angry bitterness that colors our view of God as being an arbitrary capricious tyrant who can never be fully trusted. Of course that kind of "god" would not be worthy of our worship and praise, so the end of that road is unbelief.

So how should we respond to the question of why? My focus is not so much what we say to others who are asking the question, but how do we deal with it in ourselves when in the very core of our being the questions screams in our mind, "Why?".

To start with, and in a sense to also end with,we need to be honest with ourselves and with God regarding our feelings and thoughts. As was noted before, God already knows what we are thinking and we need to openly acknowledge that before Him. Our example for doing so is found in the Scriptures. For our purpose I want to focus primarily on the Psalms, Job,and the life of Christ as recorded in the Gospels.

Regarding the Psalms, we could go through the whole book of the Psalms and underline all the times we see phrases like "How long O LORD..." or "Why O LORD..." For example:

"How long, Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages,my precious life from these lions. (Psalm 35:17)

"Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" (Psalm 10:1)

The point is that in these passages and many others that could be cited from the Psalms, the Psalmist is open and honest before the LORD with his questions. If inspired Psalmists can be open and honest before God, then we ought to follow their example. It should be clear that asking the question in and of itself is not wrong or sinful.

The next example is Job. How many of us could have endured what Job went through; loss of property, loss of all his children, and loss of his health. It is in this context Job in Job 3 says, “Why did I not perish at birth,and die as I came from the womb?" What is of interest is that in God's dealing with Job in chapter 38 - 42, Job is not condemned for asking the question even though God does not ever answer his question. Job could ask God the question. What he could not do is presume God owes him an answer. In God's response, Job's asking the question is not taken as a reflection on the integrity of Job's godliness.

And then there are the words of Jesus from the cross:

"From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,[a] lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)" (Matthew 27:45-46)

Did Jesus at this point doubt God's goodness and purpose? We know He did not. Was this a cry of unbelief? We know it was not. Was this a real honest cry from the heart of the One who is fully God and fully man? Yes it was. Most important of all, was this cry the end of the story? It most certainly was not! The Resurrection and Ascension were yet to come.

So what should we do when we face those things in a fallen world that cause our very heart and soul to ask why? Be honest before God about your thoughts and feelings. He knows what those thoughts and feelings are and you can not hide them from Him. In light of that omniscient knowledge, we need to be brutally honest before the LORD regarding our thoughts and feelings. But we dare not stop there.

We also need to know and affirm that the present circumstance is not the final end to the story; resurrection and glory are yet to come and it is faith that clings to that promised hope. Every tear WILL be wiped away (Revelation 21:4). In the meantime, in your questioning be humble and remember even the Apostle Thomas had his doubts. Do not let evil circumstance drive you from the promises of God into unbelief. Do not let those circumstances cause you to doubt the character of your God and Savior.

Finally we need to humbly recognize that though we may ask the question, God may in His sovereign prerogative as He did with Job choose to not give us an answer. Job's question was swallowed up in the declaration of who God is as Creator whose creation declares His glory and attributes. It was in view of the person of that revealed God that Job put his hand to his mouth and was satisfied even though his question was not answered.1

As Christians we are redeemed creatures not yet fully redeemed, and living in a fallen and yet to be redeemed world. This is the context of the existential angst we feel in this life that causes us to cry out, "How long O Lord?" Come quickly Lord Jesus.

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)

Recommended reading:

How Long O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil(2nd Edit.); D.A. Carson; (Baker Academic, 2006)

1I have thought perhaps God's dealing with Job should be seen in the light of our Savior's words in Matthew 7: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

Job asked for an answer and God's answer was to give Job Himself.

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