“Dad, why did the Cardinals lose to the Braves?”
“Why do we eat potatoes?”
“Why is there grass?”
“Daddy, why did Jesus die on the cross?”
These are just a few of the questions my kids have asked me over the last week or so. The older ones are at that point of wanting to know why things happen. As a result, I get a lot of “Why?” questions right now. I don’t mind; I know that’s how my kids are learning right now and I remember asking my parents a million similar questions when I was growing up. (On the occasions where the question has taken a bit of a disrespectful tone, I’ve even had to resort to the proverbial “Because I said so” line. Funny how we become our parents, isn’t it?) In fact, our kids ask “Why?” so much these days that Jackson has started mimicking them. When we tell him to put on his shoes or head to the van, inevitably he’ll ask, in his sweet little voice, “WHY?” But with all three kids, no matter how accurate my answers are, there’s a sense in which they never really satisfy. I mean, I could try and explain that the Cardinals lost because Kyle McClellan had poor control in the 8th inning and the home plate ump blew the call on 2-2, giving Matt Diaz an extra swing, which he promptly deposited in the outfield to plate two runners and give the Braves a 2-1 lead Tuesday night. But all of my cause-and-effect reasoning simply leads to more questions. (Especially when I try to explain why Jesus died on the cross!)
Let’s face it: the “why” questions never really go away for us. In fact, it’s been my experience that they only become more frequent and bewildering the older we get. My parents died when I was very young. My sister miscarried three times in a span of three or four years. My best friend’s sister is 35 years old and she’s been diagnosed with breast cancer. A kid who used to be in my youth group is fighting for his life after liver transplant surgery in Arizona. I can hardly keep up with the friends and loved ones who have lost their jobs in the past year. One million children worldwide will be forced into the nightmarish world of child prostitution in 2009.
To all of these situations and countless more, I find myself asking “Why?”. And even when I find a rare answer or two, I’m often still left unsatisfied.
But I’m also learning that “Why?” is also a question of faith. What I mean is that I was taught as a child that one should never question God. God is a sovereign Being whose “ways are not our ways” and trying to understand the reasons why certain things happen is like trying to explain trigonometry to a ladybug. To question God was to act irreverently and disrespectfully. To ask why was tantamount to renouncing the faith.
But the “Why?” questions don’t strike me as being the disrespectful questioning of God that my teachers told me it was. I guess that’s because I’ve done a fair amount of questioning myself and I don’t feel as if I’m some faithless pagan. In fact, the questions (not the pat answers that were recited to me) that produced greater faithfulness in me. Even Jesus on the cross was bold enough (read: faithful enough) to ask God, “Why have you forsaken me?” In the context of this quote (from Psalm 22), the question is a faithful one, full of expectation and hope and yearning for God’s activity in our lives.
At the end of the day, I’m still left with my questions and with an expectation. And I’ve learned that this is often better than any answer anyway.