Right now I have several friends and acquaintances who are undergoing tough spiritual times. Life has not recently been kind to them or those they care deeply about which has created tension within their faith journey.
They all are asking “why” and are not finding adequate answers. Occasionally they have gotten angry- angry even at God.
My only point of reference here was during my divorce. I did ask “why.” I remember being so angry that I literally shouted at God. At times I thought about throwing in the towel- of quitting. I mean if God cannot help me when I need him most- what is the point, right?
Well- for me- I learned God was helping me when I needed him most. I learned his shoulders were big enough and he was graceful enough to handle my anger and even the shouting. I learned he was tightly loving me through it all. I learned that he can take our hurtful situations and work for us and through us in them. (For a full treatment of this idea I recommend reading The Shack by William Young- but be ready- it is a little out-of-the-box.)
What I didn’t get though were answers to all my questions. Still don’t have them. In my journey I learned that sometimes there really are no answers- and eventually I learned to live with that.
That was my journey, but I know for others it is not that simple.
So, below I offer an attempt at an answer of sorts to the “why moments” of life. This effort was a part of a “case-study” assignment in a class I recently completed on Old Testament Theology. It may help deal with the “why moments” or it may not, but for what it is worth I offer it to my friends and whomever may be in the middle of these types of struggles. I offer it knowing full well that theology (as I admit in the study) often feels cold and impotent in the midst of our suffering. But I do offer it- in love and respect and in hopes that maybe a word written here may somehow be helpful. (Warning- it is lengthy so it will take a bit of time commitment to read it)
This case study is just another illustration of the long-felt tension between the actions of a God presented in Scripture as just, kind and loving and his interaction or perceived lack thereof in human events– which do not seem to reflect this revealed character. The study also underscores major theological challenges in adequately addressing this tension, not necessarily because theology cannot provide an answer, but because often the answer seems academic and distant from the emotions of the moment. It is usually takes time for deep pain to soothe and to process the understanding of how the Lord has chosen to act.
To address the questions raised by this case study I would begin at the very point of contention: that is, God’s nature. I would offer an assuring word that God is, in fact, just as he is revealed to be within Scripture. He is a God who is kind, loving and just; one who has entered into a relationship with us and therefore is a God who is deeply moved by our actions and sufferings, and one who will respond to them. His history with us demonstrates this (Job 38-42; Exodus 6:5-7; 2 Kings 20:1-6; Jeremiah 12). This history teaches us that he is not an indifferent or isolated God. He remains out and about in his creation in relationship with man working for his redemptive purpose. While this may not eliminate the immediate tension created by questions posed in this case study- it does provide foundational truths about God vital to any long-term theological understanding.
Even as we present these images of God, there will always be an element of mystery surrounding exactly how he is working in and among us toward his redemptive purpose. I do believe the ideas expressed in Isaiah 55:8-9 speaks powerfully to this discussion. Contextually speaking, there were- no doubt- similar questions of “why” being asked around Isaiah. Isaiah gave a reassuring answer to the cries but modified it with the knowledge that God acts and reacts in ways that at times are not completely comprehensible by us. We want results based upon our immediate needs, limited understanding and perceived idea of justice. God, on the other hand, is not limited in these ways and has an eternal perspective in mind. He must and will act according to his righteous nature and how he chooses to accomplish this remains a mystery to us based upon our limitations. So, while we may not be able to answer exactly why events do unfold, often unfavorably in our eyes, we can be comforted in knowing that God is working within them through his mysterious purpose to ultimately eliminate suffering from having the last word. He did it for Israel and he is doing it for us.
Like Israel he is asking us to trust. To me, this remains the central focus in offering answers to the “why” questions. It is because we will not be able to understand God’s mysterious ways; we must never cease to grow in our trust toward him. Prayer is a powerful tool in this process. The Old Testament is full of various lament narratives when people caught up in the “why moments” cried out to God and God responded. Interestingly, he usually did not respond when and how these people expected. Job demanded of God to answer his “why” questions. He got the response and in the process learned that he was totally incapable of fully grasping God’s mysteries. Yet he clung to God in his oppression and God rescued him. While in Egyptian bondage, Israel cried out to God for deliverance for generations and God moved to bring freedom (Exodus 6:5-7) but only when he through his mysterious will, knew the time was right. Daniel prayed and fasted for over three weeks before receiving the details of a revelation given to him (Daniel 10). He certainly could have given up because he got no immediate answer but he did not. He kept praying and trusting. Daniel lived during the time of Israel’s exile when thousands were lamenting their lost identity to God. God heard them and eventually restored their land because they kept praying and trusting. So we must keep praying and trusting if we are to process in a spiritually healthy manner the “why” questions of life. Ultimately God will reward this trust– he always has. He will deliver us from the oppression (emotionally and physically) such situations create. This may be here or it may be hereafter.
There also must be the acknowledgment that another element is at work in the creation to deal with the “why” questions. God put within his creation the element of freedom which Satan exploited to cause the sufferings generating most of the “why” questions. His exploitation of this freedom has done tremendous damage to God’s original purpose for his creation and God continues to work diligently to correct this damage in order to restore that original purpose. When full restoration occurs, we can be certain the “why” questions will be resolved and the tensions surrounding them erased as God will be fully known and understood (Jeremiah 33:31-34). It is God’s promise of rescue again- which underscores further the need for prayer and trust.
Finally, it would be essential to this analysis to note that within his creation God has allowed for randomness. (Ecclesiastes 9:11). God has not created us with our lives all mapped out. Our futures can include different options based upon our actions and decisions (Jeremiah 22:1-5). This is part of the freedom God allows in his creational work and this freedom can often lead to suffering. Time and chance will happen to us all often as a direct result (but not always) of our choices which God freely allows us to make. Couple that with the continual effects of Satan’s exploitive work, not just in our personal lives but in all of creation itself, and it does provide a context in which the “why moments” will occur. Throughout all of this, God continually asks for our trust and he promises to reward it with rescue- as he has consistently done throughout history.
To me this is a proper way to engage the “why” questions. By putting them into a discernable context, we can emerge from the tension and pain they create into a stronger relationship with God. In the end the only meaningful way to resolve “why” challenges of life is simply to rest in the presence of loving, kind, and just God.