It’s a question every parent is familiar with. And, at least in my experience, it’s both beautiful and annoying at the same time. It’s beautiful in the sense that it exposes the natural curiosity and wonder of our children. It shows us their seemingly insatiable desire to discover and know. It propels them into greater and greater learning as they encounter more and more of the world around them. But it’s also annoying.
It’s annoying because most of the time, there is no end to it. Your kids ask you “why” something is, and the majority of the time, that only leads to another “why” question. You can explain and explain and explain and yet there is still more to explain, until at some point, most every parent answers the “why” question like this:
Kids grow, and as they do, they also tend to ask “why” less and less. It doesn’t disappear entirely, but it’s like that natural sense of wonder gets beaten out of them. Their creative curiosity starts to ebb, and it’s as if they care less and less about the reasons behind certain things. They begin to accept that things are the way they are and they no longer need an explanation for it. And then they become adults. They become us. And we don’t ask the “why” question a whole lot. But when we do, we usually do it out of a posture of pain.
We are hurting because of disease, death, destruction or else the general chaos we see in the world around us. We can accept alot, but every once in a while that chaos becomes too personal and too overwhelming for us to accept much more. And so, like children, we once again cry out, “Why?”
- Why is my wife sick?
- Why can’t I find a job?
- Why is there so much anger in the world?
- Why is God allowing this to happen?
But here is a difficult question to ask ourselves during these kinds of “why” seasons: would knowing the “why” really help us? We think it would, but I don’t know – I’m not sure that knowing all the cosmic reasons behind this event or that one would actually be the balm on our wounds we think it would. Knowing the “why” doesn’t take the pain away. Not really.
Job, when he was stricken with all kinds of suffering, went on a quest for answers. He sought understanding – the mysterious “Why” behind his troubles. He wasn’t content with the explanations of his friends, and pressed into God asking the hard questions most of us shy away from.
In Job 38 God started talking back. He answered Job out of a whirlwind, which must have been more than a little disconcerting. But after these thirty-seven chapters of accusations, ques- tions, and pain, the answer God gave was not the “Why?” Job was looking for. It was the “Who” he wasn’t.
For the next four chapters, God talked about . . . Himself. He talked about His power and His creativity. He talked about His wisdom and His justice. And He reminded Job that he, as a human, possessed none of those qualities in comparison to the Almighty. Never once did God crack the door of eternity and say, “See, this whole thing started when Satan came walking in here. . . .” Never once did He take Job into the future to show him the good that would come from his struggle. Never once did He reveal the way He would redeem Job’s pain. Never did God show Job one of the billions of Bibles that would be printed in the future, all containing his story. Not one single answer to Job’s specific questions. Just descriptions of Himself. This is often where the “why” leads us – it leads us not to specific answers but to God. And that is a very good thing.
I wonder, though, if there is another word we can change, by God’s grace, during seasons of difficulty that will also dramatically change our perspective. What is instead of asking “why”, we began asking “what”?
See, if we really believe that God loves us, that He is for us, that all things work together for our good, that He is busily taking all these events – even the painful ones – and using them redemptively to shape us into the image of Jesus… if that’s all true, then we can ask the “what” question.
- What is God teaching me?
- What is being exposed about my heart?
- What needs to change in my faith?
- What lie have I been believing?
These are the “what” questions. Now to be clear, the “what” questions do not come immediately. We need to sit in our pain. To process it. To lament over it. To grieve. And so start asking the “what” questions too early can do more harm than good, as if we are denying that what’s happening to us is real and that we are terribly sad because of it. But at some point, by God’s grace, shifting that one word can make a world of difference. It can move us into a posture of humility, accepting that God can take what is terrible and use it for good.
This is the “what” the “who” does during seasons of “why.”