When I was in grade school, first learning how to write a story, my teacher always said great writing always addressed five important questions: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. We live in a time when asking questions and getting some kind of instant answer couldn’t possibly be much easier.
Ask Alexa or Google what the square root of 196 is, and the answer you’ll, get is almost instant. Alexa doesn’t even have to use her fingers. (It’s 14, by the way. I just asked her.) You can ask questions like ‘How far is it from where I’m currently standing, to the North Pole. And Alexa will tell you. When I ask my phone or computer a question — a question like, ‘Who was the 29th President of the United States,’ the answer comes back in seconds. The 29th President was Warren G. Harding. Or, ‘Who composed the jazz tune, “Mood Indigo?” It was Duke Ellington. And Alexa didn’t even have to think twice about it when she answered.
Getting answers to totally obscure questions can seem like a way of making life easier. Alexa, what’s the best way to clean an oven? Or, Alexa, how much paint to do I need in order to paint my house? Alexa, how do I ‘do,’ or ‘go’ or ‘know’ or ‘measure?’ Ask a who, what, when, or where question, and you’ll get your answer from Alexa or Google.
But try asking a question about meaning, or purpose or why something has happened in your life.
Ask Alexa where you are standing, and she’ll give you a map of your current location, with a blinking blue dot to signify where you are. But try asking her what’s going on, or where you’re headed in life? I did that the other day, just to see how she would answer. Her response was, “You don’t appear to be navigating anywhere at the present time.” She for sure knew where I was standing. But she had no idea why I am here, or where I’m headed.
The ‘why’ questions in life are some of the most difficult to answer. It’s always been that way, I think. In fact, I did a search for ‘why’ in the bible, and found nearly 600 verses that contain that word, ‘why?’.
Some of the time in the bible, the ‘why?’ is offered, not as a question, but as a rationale, or reason some action had been taken. God asked Eve a ‘what’ question.’ “What have you done?” in eating the fruit God told her not to eat. She answered with an excuse: ‘The serpent deceived me. That’s why.”
But many other times, ‘why’ is a question that the asker is posing to God, and goes without an answer; at least not an answer that the person posing the question would be happy with. Here are just a few of those ‘why’ questions the psalmists asked:
‘Why are the nations so angry? Why do they waste their time with futile plans?’
‘O Lord, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide when I’m in trouble?’
Or this question: ‘Why do the wicked get away with despising God?
Those why questions will have to wait for God to answer, when he brings his judgement to this world. He’ll answer why, in his own time.
But what about the ‘why’ questions the psalmist asks himself: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation — so, why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?’
You may have experienced a difficult season or event in your life and asked, Why did this happen, or why did it happen in just this way, and at just this time?
Or you may have had times when you felt like joining the psalmist, David, who asked, “Why am I discouraged?” or, “Why is my heart so sad?”
The answers to who, what, when, and where questions in today’s world are not difficult to come by. Ask Alexa. She’ll give you answers.
But those pesky ‘why?’ questions we’re so tempted to ask as life passes through our hands, one day at a time? I often think, if God explained his good and perfect plan and his reasons for the happenings in my life — if God actually gave me an answer to my why question: I’m not sure I would understand.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,”says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. (Isa. 55:8,9)