Sometimes There Are No Answers

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)

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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.

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5 Responses to Sometimes There Are No Answers

  1. D. Meadows says:

    Hey, bro

    I agree with your lengthy answer in that we can’t always get the answers to our “why” questions. I believe that if we could find all the answers ourselves, we would think more highly of ourselves than we ought and therefore would decrease or eliminate our dependence on God. Like you, I have had times in my life when I railed at God for some position I found myself in. Yet I hung on. As I get older, I now realize that I may not even want to know the “why” of a situation. I just know that I am happy that God is in control and I’m not. Trust in God; have faith in God. He is the One!

  2. jim says:

    We struggle with GOD, not because he and his love isn’t big enough but because our faith isn’t big enough. Plus, we always want it our way.

  3. mattdabbs says:

    Danny,

    In my toughest moments in life I just had to rest in trusting that although there are “no tears in heaven” that maybe God was just as sad about what happened as I was. We think God is in control of everything because he is all powerful and all knowing. But I am convinced that this world is pretty messed up and there are things that happen that God doesn’t like either. In fact, maybe he is even more upset with them than I am. In the end he will make it all right, that is called reconciliation.

  4. dannydodd says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Matt, I believe also that God is deeply moved by our situations. I think Scripture bears that out. I also believe that he fashioned the creation so- that he does not always get his way. In other words he limits himself in creation to allow us to make our own choices. This plus simple randomness and Satan’s work within it creates the problems we deal with.

    Since God has the power, we want him to just remove the difficulties, but this is not how he has chosen to have relationship with us. For some this is a tough idea to accept. The best way I can relate it is with parents to children.

    As parents with young children especially- we have the power to intervene and eliminate thier challenges (and sometimes we do- just as God does, but when God chooses to do this we may never know it). But often we allow the child to make their own choice- so they can learn and grow. The child has complete trust in their parent. Because they suffer the consequences of a bad choice or because they happen to trip and fall- does not negate their trust. They still love and trust their parents even if they do not completely understand why they suffer sometimes.

    This is one reason Christ calls us to be like little children. Again it is about faith and trust- set against suffering and unanswered questions.

    The fact is that right now, we only “know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9)- so as for now we will be limited in understanding suffering. One day when we “shall know fully” (vs. 12) we will have a better context in which to put our “why” questions.

    Also- in the post I mentioned The Shack. If anyone is interested in an expanded study on this book, John Mark Hicks has a terrific one- just go here and follow his links.

  5. SteveLavin says:

    Danny,

    I too have experienced hurt, disappointment, and anger with God. And yes, I have prayed, pleaded, bargained and shouted for an answer to my ‘why’! I have also experienced hurt, disappointment, and anger with myself at my lack of faith and weakness in giving vent to these emotions directed at God. When faced with great tragedy, it is a faith path to which many succumb… but not everyone. Knowledge of this only served to deepen my personal guilt for having these feelings. I found ‘answers’ at the time both illusive…and inadequate.

    The Shack is indeed a great read that helped to some degree in dealing with tragedy beyond my control. (I too recommend it.) Many of the scripture references you mention are also helpful in dealing with these situations. But, for me, perhaps the greatest comfort for a faith challenge of this magnitude is found in the book of Matthew.

    In Matthew, chapter 11, we are given the story of John the baptist in prison sending word to Jesus. John too had but one simple question, “Are you (Jesus) the one to come, or should we expect someone else?” Wow! I never grasped the significance of this single question until faced with my own personal tragedy. But then it hit me, how could John, a man of great faith and devotion to the Savior ever question all he had come to believe and, indeed, devoted his life to? Simply put, John was asking ‘Why’?

    I was reminded that this was the John that had leapt in his mothers womb at the mere sound of Mary’s voice. The same man who unwaveringly pointed his disciples to follow Jesus. And it was John, who was witness to the Spirit of God descend like a dove on Jesus…that he heard the voice of God proclaim, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” And yet, faced with a personal tragedy, this was the same man seeking meaning, comfort…and answers.

    Whether John was hoping for a rescue or he simply had the need to know that all he had come to believe was true… that his life had not been spent in vain…it was still a question sent from a man struggling with his faith. I found comfort that even John struggled to make sense of his faith walk.

    Then Jesus sends his answer: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” So what does that mean?

    Jesus was reminding John that Christ (and God) can do the impossible. That they sometimes choose to do the impossible to glorify God. But in order for miracles to remain miraculous they must remain rare. That not everyone…no matter their faith walk or obedience… receives a miracle. In fact, Jesus’ final words serve as an encouragement to those who live faithfully but learn that they won’t be receiving a miracle. “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” Jesus is telling John…Jesus is telling us…’Don’t let today’s struggles rob you of the truth you have come to believe. That the God of heaven is still the God of miracles. Don’t let your faith in God as a ‘miracle worker’ rob you of your faith if a miracle is not meant for you. Blessed is the person of faith who hangs on to God…even when Satan would have you believe that God has let you down.

    Those words helped me focus on all the miraculous events that have occurred in my life. The events, blessings and ‘miraculous’ circumstances that have served to form my faith walk. I was reminded of how many blessing I look back and see. Blessings that I did not direct or remotely deserve. And I was reminded of God’s love and direction in my life.

    It is difficult to write about such things. They are immensely personal…but healing I think. To someone in the throws of tragedy, I am sure my words will be as inadequate as any that have ever proceeded them. To those that can relate I can only extend a sympathetic heart that mourns your ability to do so. But I do believe that God also mourns our losses and stands ready to bless those who face such challenges and, yet, do not fall away. I have faith in the promise of Jesus to do so.

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