I’ve been asking myself “why?” a lot lately in regards to this blog. Why am I spending my time writing about prayer? Wouldn’t I be better served to spend my time productively– making something useful, keeping the apartment cleaner, going to the gym–even spending more time in prayer instead of dissecting it and babbling on to an invisible audience?
But the truth is that I began writing this blog in response to another question, a more basic question thrown at me (not personally, but thrown out to all who believe in the power of prayer)– “WHY?” They weren’t asking the question because they really wanted to know my reasons for praying; instead, they wanted to make me feel ashamed and embarrassed, to doubt God’s goodness and my faith. In fact, they weren’t asking “WHY” so much as asking “HOW”. How can you continue to believe in God and continue praying in light of random shootings, manifest injustices, rampant corruption, and senseless tragedies? How can you say that God is good, when people continue to get away with evil? If God exists, where is he, and how can you just sit back and trust in him?
The fact that I DO continue to trust God doesn’t mean I don’t have questions and concerns, and even righteous anger about the state of the world and the tragedies that fill it. The questions come pouring out, sometimes keeping me awake at night, sometimes catching me at a raw moment and they are important questions. To pretend that I never wrestle or struggle with the questions is to say that good and evil, justice and mercy, that God himself– none of it really matters enough to seek an answer. God forbid!!
But there is a vast difference in asking “Why?” and asking “How? or How come?”
Consider a small child who asks, “Why is the sky blue?” (Don’t you just love the inquisitiveness of small children?) “Well…” I can explain that the sky itself isn’t really blue…I can go on to talk about scientific principals– the property of light, refraction through water molecules and dust particles, and more..I can point out that the sky doesn’t always appear blue, etc. At the end of my long and factual discourse (assuming the child hasn’t already interrupted), s/he is likely to simply shake their head and ask, “But, why?” WHY? Because I haven’t really answered the heart of the question. I explained HOW, not WHY.
Now suppose I don’t feel like being pedantic, and I answer “Because.” You can guess what comes next. The child will ask, “Because WHY?” Because “Because” isn’t a sufficiently satisfactory answer. The child wants more; he/she yearns for more comprehension; more understanding.
As an adult, we find this kind of questioning frustrating and annoying. I think it is because we have been conditioned to think that questions either have a “How come” explanation that sweeps away much of the wonder and mystery, or a “because” answer that leaves us unsatisfied.
As an adult, I may well ask, “Why is there evil in the world?” This is an important question; one I should be asking. Experts can and will give me all kinds of “how” answers– how the brain is wired, how emotions work, how society has failed various groups of people, how political structures create oppression, how religion teaches intolerance, how poor diet or lack of sunny days … there are a million explanation of “how” evil exists or why it persists. And many of these explanations contradict each other, so they can’t even give a conclusive answer. But just throwing up my hands, and saying, “just because” does nothing to answer my question OR provide understanding that could help alleviate the effects of evil in the world. “Because” communicates my powerlessness to comprehend.
Something amazing happens when I stop merely asking people for answers to these questions and start asking God. I don’t get a magical, comprehensive, incontrovertible answer to life’s thorny questions. God doesn’t send me a “cheat sheet” with all the “right” answers. I’m not suddenly an expert on good and evil or what should be done to eliminate crime and disease and poverty. I still have to wade through the “how come” explanations and use my limited judgment to decide what course of action I can take to try to make a positive difference. And I will make some mistakes along the way. But when GOD says, “Because”, there is an authority, a majesty, and a wisdom that can never be present in my answer. I say “because,” because I have no more to say; no better answer. God says, “Because,” because HE IS the cause! And he gives explanations in his word for many of my questions– even if I don’t like the answers! He doesn’t explain “how come” the sky is blue– he causes it to be blue. “Why is the sky blue?” God says so. “But why?” Because He is God and I am not. God explains “how come” there is evil in the world– it’s called SIN–but he doesn’t leave it there. “Why?” Because we have the free will to choose good or evil. “Why?” Because God wants willing obedience and loving companionship with us. “Why?” Because God is love! “So why does he allow evil to continue?” Because he has a plan that involves redemption and restoration and renewal. He is the cause of this plan, it’s author and finisher. Moreover, he is the cause of my desire to ask “why?”, to seek for a more fulfilling answer, to yearn for a solution to the very evil that prompts my questions.
I won’t stop asking “why.” Not because I don’t have any answer, or because I don’t know the answer. It’s just that the answer is so much bigger, so much better, so much MORE than I can handle in the shortness of this lifetime. And it’s important that I not only keep asking the question, but that I keep defending the answer.
1 Peter 3:14-16 English Standard Version (ESV)
14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.