Today is a day for sober reflection. No matter how often I interact with people from all walks of life who are suffering through various challenges in life, the question invariably crops up: Why? and just as often, Why, God?
It’s an understandable question, almost as natural to our humanity as breathing. In some respects (no matter our age), we are like three-year-olds investigating a complex world we’d like to understand. Asking Why? is our common standard that (hopefully) leads us to understanding.
Why is the sky blue? Why do dogs let their tongues hang? Why do I need cash when you have a credit card? These are the kinds of questions children tend to ask, but in our own way, we adults express an identical inquisitiveness, though we often do so with guarded sophistication … for fear of being perceived as ignorant.
Without wading into a repetition of Job’s experiences (a discussion I’ve reserved for Sunday posts), I think it’s common for parents to endure perennial self-flagellation struggling to come to terms with Why? Our precious children cause us hours and days of worry but that’s nothing compared to the amount of time we (as parents) devote to second-guessing decisions we’ve made or actions we’ve taken (or not taken) in relation to those precious children. Did we do enough? Did we do too little?
… And if something bad happens? Oh, boy! The Why? questions compound quicker than Hillary Clinton’s $1,000 cattle futures deal turned into $100,000!
Children learn to understand some Why? questions simply don’t have answers … I don’t know. They also accept certain explanations (i.e. why is the sky blue?) may be beyond their limited comprehension of concepts (such as atmosphere and light waves). When the explanation becomes too complex, they tend to filter out puzzling information.
Adults are less sanguine about accepting I don’t know … particularly when it comes to the big questions of life. There’s an innate demand to understand, to assign a label for the exact Why? and on occasion, to allocate blame. This enables us to fit our circumstances (whatever they happen to be) into a manageable box, categorized and filed away in orderly fashion.
But some events don’t fit into the box. A convenience store clerk is senselessly murdered over a pack of cigarettes? Why? Why did God allow this to happen? Why was my baby born without eyeballs; will he always be blind? Why is our wife/mother/friend dying of cancer? Why is she going to be torn from us and why will her beautiful life be cut short? Why is there suffering and starvation in far-flung locations like Nigeria, the Middle East and other third world places?
But let’s bring the Why? question closer to home. You’re a Christian parent. You’ve followed Christ your whole adult life. You’ve loved on your children, you’ve encouraged them to follow Christ, you’ve done
everything … almost everything … okay, many things but (in your estimation) maybe not as much as you should have … to raise them “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
And still, things went awry. You hand-wring. You might even shake your fist at God. Was it sin? On your part? On your spouse’s part? On your child’s part? You ask Why? because you need to understand, you need to fit things into the box, and you need to allocate blame somewhere.
In a way, it’s almost easier to chalk up the suffering or tragedy or misfortune to sin. It’s our inability to be perfect … and because of our lack of perfection, we conclude God is justified in punishing us. Even though we don’t care for that scenario, we’re often more comfortable with this compartmentalization because it helps us maintain our sanity.
But what if there’s a better explanation? We do live in a sinful world so the effects of sin will always plague us. However, when we view God as that grumpy bully in the heavens, it’s natural to question and mistrust Him. Is it God who’s deficient or is it our view of Him that requires correction?
When I begin to feel a persecution complex rising in the pit of my stomach, I’m reminded that I should stop the hand-wringing and caterwauling. Instead, I need to engage and grow a more robust faith, grounded in the confidence that He loves me. HE LOVES ME! Hebrews 12:5-6 declares this awesome reality!
“My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline,
but don’t be crushed by it either.
It’s the child he loves that he disciplines;
the child he embraces, he also corrects.”
Asking Why? doesn’t end during our lifetimes. It’s our knee-jerk response to troubling events. But knowing and experiencing God’s love (and discipline) provides a much-needed perspective. We have to remember, “it’s the child he loves that he disciplines.”
I’m reminded of a C. S. Lewis observation: “When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now.” Using the word dearest likely referred to his spouse, Joy. Nevertheless, it could easily apply to all earthly relationships, children, spouse, parents.
Above all else, may I learn to love God … the One who first loved me.