asking "why"?

At small group, we’ve been going through (alongside the Book of Job) a book entitled “Disappointment With God” by Philip Yancey, author of “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” and “The Jesus I Never Knew.” The book deals with three main questions: “Is God unfair?” “Is God hidden?” and “Is God silent?”

While we were discussing the chapters last night, I found myself verbally processing out loud and said something that confused everyone, including myself:/ So eventually one of our leaders suggested I email everyone to explain it. While thinking this through, I wrote out this email, which I’ve decided to post here (most of it anyway) for your viewing pleasure—or viewing frustration.:

Basically, what I was trying to say is that at its core, the human tendency to question the actions of God and ask “why?” ultimately boils down to a questioning of His motives and of His nature. Is God motivated by love or are His actions (or inactions) proof of His un-love? Or put it another way: Is God truly all-powerful AND all-loving?

We may ask “why?” to tempt God into explaining in such a manner “Well, if such-and-such didn’t happen in your life than this-or-that wouldn’t have happened, allowing you to become this or do that.”

Just think back on your own life. If you hadn’t attended college here or moved to this state, then you would never have met so-and-so or had the opportunity to do whatever and–“oh thanks God, now I get it!” We all long for that epiphany, that moment of clarity and revelation. That was the million possible varieties of answers that I was referring to. The concrete, historical, logical reasons which allow us to connect the dots to explain our circumstances… The answer to “why” is the answer that we think we need to understand everything.

In the instance of Job, let’s say God really did explain Himself to Job–thereby explaining Himself to us. He said, “Well, you see, Job you were the center of this debate between Satan and Myself, and I decided to go all in, banking on your ever-faithful response.” Even with this answer–the Job could still question God beyond this and say “Well, why?” There can only be one of two answers to this final “why”: love or un-love. There really can’t be any middle ground here.

And the answer–as the cross testifies–is still unmistakably love. Love because God endorses free will, love because He grants us this “dignity of causation,” love because redemption is the heart of God’s design for humanity.

This is why I love how Philip Yancey proposes that the question “why?” becomes transformed into “what end?” The question we ask really should not be “why?” because at this point, the millions of questions funnel down to an infinitely simpler question “what end?” The end, as Yancey says, is redemption and Re-creation.

Playing the devil’s advocate here (pun intended), let’s just posit the opposite motive of God in answering His question. Imagine Him responding this time: “Well, you see, Job you were the center of this debate between Satan and Myself, and I decided to go all in, banking on your ever-faithful response.” Again, Job responds, “Why?” God answers simply: “Un-love.” We can then imagine this unloving God to say all sorts of things to explain His answer: “Because I’m an all-powerful sadistic God that has no concern for your welfare or soul” or “I have bigger things to worry about” or “Because I could and I felt like it.”

Imagine if God admitted to that. To un-love. The debate on the problem of pain ends there. We can now effectively blame all suffering on the inaction of an all-powerful but indifferent God. And of course, like a tyrannical dictator, that kind of God is not worth following.

This is why I believe what Philip calls the theological kryptonite, the question of the problem of pain. To reiterate, the problem of pain is the question of the existence of a God that is both all-powerful and all-loving. The common argument is that “If God has the power to stop bad things from happening, but He chooses not to, then He might be all-powerful, but He’s not all-loving. On the other hand, if God does attempt to stop bad things from happening out of love, then He might be all-loving, but He’s not all-powerful. If the choice is one or the other, He’s a God not worth following. And either way, the all-loving, all-powerful God of the Bible cannot exist.”

That is a formidable argument. Is God truly all-powerful and all-loving? Our whole concept of God–His nature, His attributes–proceeds from the answer to that question. I am not going to even attempt an address on that debate because there’s no way I could ever completely answer that question, but let me say that ultimately, this is place where all roads of questioning “why” lead. Not to say that once we reach this hub, that it doesn’t spin us off into a thousand other directions, but all questions to God of “why” feed through here–an “all roads lead to Rome” type thing.

And yes, Jeanne was right I think…. I’m not proposing that if we truly grasp–as far as limited human beings can–that God is loving, the questions all dissolve. Not at all. After all, as one of you pointed out, Job never did get his answer, as far as we know. As growing, maturing Christians, that’s where all of us become entrenched from time to time, as life hits us with seasons of hardship and disappointment. It’s natural to ask “why” and to plead for God to provide that epiphany, that moment of understanding so everything would make sense, at least for the time being. And of course it’s unbelievably frustrating when He doesn’t.

I’m just proposing that every time we ask God “why?”, that line of questioning ultimately brings us back to one place and one place alone: asking God if He loves or not, as it relates to any given circumstance.

But as Yancey said in the last chapter, in Christ, the “why” transforms into “what end.” And while that might not be enough to satisfy our curiosity, the person of Christ–particularly what He accomplished through suffering–effectively gives us reason, vision and hope enough to eventually move forward through cynicism and doubt and onto an redemptive outlook on life…much like Peggie’s ability of “endurance”, beyond the ability “to bear things, but to turn them into glory.”


3 thoughts on “asking "why"?

  1. Some deep stuff going on- not knowing the previous conversation, but chiming in anyway- this is another reason why I love the Psalms so much. The psalmist is able to ask, “Why?” to plead with God, to honestly say, “God if you’re so powerful and so loving, what the crap?” And the author is never slapped around for that. But the psalmist also has a progression, too. In every psalm of disorientation (except for one) there is a progression towards truth, escaping the chaos of which it started. And our lives mirror (or should mirror) that aspect. It may take days or years or decades, but there is some form of trajectory for the believer.

  2. I like that.. the “escaping of chaos.” What is that Psalm you’ve been obsessing over lately? Was it Psalm 28?

  3. I think one of the challenges of faith is trusting God and believing what He says, and this includes believing in God’s goodness. It is easy when things go well, but it is difficult when things go badly and we do not understand why. But that is the lesson God wants His children to learn. He does not want us doubting Him and what He says for all eternity. We have to learn to trust that God knows what He is doing and will tell us the truth, even when we do not understand the “why”.Many people are troubled by the dilema of suffering in this world. They reason that if God is all-powerful, He could prevent it, and if He is all-good, He would do so and protect us from suffering. But the Bible reveals a great plan God has for mankind, and that plan includes learning painful lessons in this life that will pay off with benefits in the eternity to come. We suffer to learn lessons. That is part of the answer. The world is writing a lesson in human history that man apart from God does not know the way to peace and happiness, and that sin produces suffering. Most of humanity is experiencing that lesson but does not understand it yet, but the understanding will come in a future age.Some are troubled by the idea that billions who have lived and died without an opportunity to learn about Christ will be condemned, never having had the opportunity for salvation. In the minds of some, this makes God seem unfair. But as I point out in my book, God has provided a opportunity for every person who has ever lived to learn about God and salvation and make a choice. Ezekiel chapter 37 describes a future resurrection when those who have died without an opportunity to learn about Jesus Christ and the true gospel will come up in a resurrection to physical life, and God will make salvation and His Holy Spirit available to them at that time. Then each person can make his or her own choice.

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