It’s the question that gets asked any time there is a tragedy, any time the world experiences something awful and heart-breaking, any time there is a painful experience. The question is not new; it’s been asked since the beginning of time. Page after page has been written attempting to the answer the question satisfactorily, psychologically, theologically, but the fact that books continue to be written on the question shows that few are satisfied with the answers given thus far.
But what if the point is not so much about the answer, but about the question? Philip Yancey, in his new book “The Question that Never Goes Away” points out that while many in scripture ask “Why God,” God never gives a direct answer, and neither does Yancey. And yet, the repetition of the question throughout Psalms and the rest of Scripture demonstrates that God has heard the question, even inspired the question in the Bible, but has chosen not to answer. “Why, God? Why, God, are you not answering my question of “Why, God?” What is the point of a question that we know God hears, even affirms, but does not answer?
1. The question assumes brokenness
We ask the question when something unexpected takes place. Few ask the question “Why, God” when a drug-addict overdoses. We assume we know the answer to that scenario. Rather, we ask the question when tragedy strikes, when an unexpected death occurs, when something other than the norm takes place. We have assumptions as to how our lives will go, idealistic thoughts to be sure, but we have the expectation that we will all die in our beds in old age having led good, full lives. But how do we explain the people killed by drunk drivers? The drunk driver died for their own poor choices, but why the others? The devastation seems so random, so inexplicable. Good families, loving parents, young children, all killed by someone else’s act of stupidity. Cancer and other sicknesses strike young children who are supposed to be young and carefree. These are what cause us to ask “Why God?” And the very fact that we ask the question shows that we have an intrinsic understanding that this is not how it is ‘supposed’ to be. We have an innate sense that this world is broken and messed up. In a word, we know that the world is fallen. This evil was not “supposed” to happen. When we ask “Why God?” we are agreeing that this world is tainted and corrupted, cursed and disordered by the ravages of sin. This is not Eden; this is not paradise. What this is is not what should be.
2. The question assumes an answerer
Those outside of Christ ask the question, but they assume that someone has the answer. They ask because they assume that there even is an answer! And there is; it’s even an answer they already know deep down: whatever prompted the question shouldn’t have happened; it isn’t right. This world isn’t right. And yet, even knowing that the world is not right, even knowing this world is messed up and corrupted by sin, we still ask the question because we assume that the one who has the ability to answer the question has the power to change it. We ask not just so that we will know, but so that the one who is ‘responsible’ for this will do something about it. Even those who lack faith in Christ ask the question because they believe someone or something knows “why” and can do something about it! Their question even reveals the assumption that the one in control would care enough to do something about it. Otherwise, what’s the point of even asking?! And the great news of the Gospel is that there is someone who knows, and He has done, is doing, and will do something about this problem of evil!
3. The question assumes an answer we will agree with
So then why doesn’t God give me the answer? We admit what God has said: this world is corrupt. We even know that He has the answer. So why no answer? And to be honest “all things work out for good” is not that big of a comfort in the midst of the tragedy. Try telling any father that his daughter was tragically killed so that the father could grow spiritually. Thanks a lot, God but I want my daughter back. The reality is that we know that there is an answer and we know who has it but He is not giving it. And the truth is, we know that the answer is not one we would like. I have six children, but if God told me that one of them had to die so that every person in Africa would come to faith in Christ, I guarantee you I would say “no” without a moment’s hesitation. We ask “Why, God” because we really think that God is going to give us an answer we will agree with. How do you Job would have felt if God told him that all that tragedy happened because God had a wager going with a fallen angel? I guarantee Job would not have liked the answer. In the midst of the tragedy, when we cry out “Why, God” why someone assume we would like the answer if God gave it. But that’s not true at all because we are as affected and broken as our world! Knowing “why” will not make us feel better.
What we are really saying when we ask “Why, God” is either “This hurts, God” or “I disagree, God.” The solution to both of those is faith. Faith that admits this world is broken, and only God holds the answer. Faith that admits I disagree with what God is doing because this hurts. Faith that hopes in the future when this pain is gone, when the world is remade in perfect order. Faith in that time when we will be able to look back on it all and not only understand, but also agree. Until then, we ask the question “why” in pain and in faith that there is an answerer, and one day, we will not only agree with the answer, we’ll worship the answerer for it.