I long for certainty. I yearn to know, to analyze, to grasp the ins and outs of everything that happens in our world. I like reason, and I like knowing the reason for everything. When asked why something happens, especially something bad, I like to be able to give a neat answer. Maybe the answer doesn’t provide any comfort or any relief from the pain, but the knowledge of the ‘why’ is helpful for me. Lately, however, I’ve been unable to find a reason why.
The problem of pain, or of suffering (theodicy for those who like the technical word), has plagued humanity from the very beginning. Job, possibly the oldest book in the Bible, deals with this very issue. How can suffering exist, especially in the lives of those who are righteous, in a world created by a loving God?
Surprisingly, in my faith journey theodicy has never caused me much trouble. The answer was simple. We live in a fallen world. Suffering is a side-effect of that truth, albeit a very unpleasant one. All that changes, though, when the suffering knocks on your own front door; when it comes as a thief in the night stealing that one thing you desired, loved beyond all measure.
In short, the why questions have been much more troublesome to me lately, largely because they are much more personal. The abstract answers will no longer do. I find myself identifying with those who suffer, and suffering seems to be absolutely senseless. The ‘why’ questions have become overbearing, because no answer will suffice. At the death of a child, or the onset of a fatal illness, or a freak traffic accident, the apparent arbitrariness of ‘selection’, of who has to suffer tragedy and who does not, renders all theological rationale seemingly absurd.
We are left only with mystery. Such knowledge is beyond us, and to me that isn’t very comforting. I trust God and I love God, but I want to know why bad things happen. Since there is no explanation, I feel as if I’m falling. Nothing is there to catch me as my world spirals out of control.
Recently, we had lunch with some friends, and our conversation turned in this direction. Our friend, a former paramedic, shared what helped him through the moments when he was forced to stare into the yawning void that is tragedy.
Don’t ask ‘why’.
That knowledge is beyond us, and, for all we know, it may not even exist. There may be no ‘why’ that we can grasp. Instead, we should start our questions with ‘because’. Because this has happened, what will I do next? That question seems more manageable.
Because Silas has died, how am I going to honor and remember his life? Because our future as we knew it is no more, what will we do with the days ahead?
Shifting from ‘why’ to ‘because’ isn’t just good advice; it’s good theology. We do live in a fallen world, and crap happens to all people irregardless of their morality, ethics, life-calling, or anything else. The promise of scripture, however, is this: “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
In all things God works for our good because we love God for God first loved us. So, instead of asking why God allowed this to happen to us, or instead of asking where God was when it happened, perhaps the more productive question is this one: Because this has happened, where do I see God working to bring about redemption?
It’s hard. Some days it is next to impossible to see the hand of God moving in our tragedy. Sometimes God seems absent, but I must force myself to look for God, anticipating the ways in which God redeems the wrecked present that is into the restored and redeemed future that only God in God’s loving power can bring about.