It was a scorching July day in southern Minnesota. One of those “90/90” days; 90 plus degrees and 90% humidity. Being smart people, we were inside the house enjoying the invention that is air conditioning.
On summer break from college, I was hanging out with friends on their farm. Whatever else I’d learned the previous semester, I did know that miserable heat outside = stay inside. But the 4-year old boy running around the house didn’t care about that equation. He begged for someone to take him outdoors.
I can’t remember if I did it out of the kindness of my heart or if I was trying to impress a girl who was there. I said, “C’mon, kid. Let’s go.”
He ran ahead and I walked behind, sweat pouring all over my decision to demonstrate I was good with children. He stopped at the wooden pasture fence, climbing up enough rungs to drape his arms over the top rail. Surveying the wide open space, he asked, “Why are the cows under the tree?”
I wanted to say, “Because they are smarter than we are standing in this blast furnace sunshine” but figured the sarcasm would either be lost on him or invite more questions. Turns out, he didn’t need help with the latter.
“They are under the tree to get shade.”
“Shade is where you get out of the sunshine.”
“Why do they want shade?”
“Because they are trying to stay out of the sun.”
“Why are they trying to stay out of the sun?”
“Because it’s hot.”
“Why is it hot?”
“Because it’s summer time.”
“Why is it summer time?”
I bet this kid is great fun on a road trip.
“Because it’s July and it’s hot.”
“Why is it hot?”
“Because the sun is hot.”
“Why is the sun hot?”
I wonder if those cows have any room for me under the tree?
“Because the…because the sun is hot.”
“Why is the sun hot?”
“Because…because…because God made it that way.”
And that was that.
In the 4-year old’s world, “because God made it that way” was a good answer. A satisfactory one. Yet when we’re leaning on the pasture fence at 35 or 45 or 56, the answer “because God made it that way” just begs more questions.
When struggling through the challenges in our lives, the ones that make us worry and sweat, the first question we ask is “why?”.
It’s understandable. It’s normal. It’s human to ask “why?”.
Sometimes we can get an answer. Sometimes it’s an easy answer. The answer is, “Because I did something stupid.” Sometimes it’s no one’s fault but our own. We are the reason we are suffering. As John Wayne put it, “Life’s hard. But it’s harder when you’re stupid.” When our suffering is our fault, we need to admit we created our own consequences. Then, deciding to be smart, we move on in the grace and forgiveness of God, making sure we make amends to anyone we hurt.
Sometimes the burden of consequences and circumstances we carry are loaded on us by someone else. Either on purpose, or by chance. In these situations, the “why?” question isn’t so easily answered.
Why did my child turn her back on everything we taught her?
Why did my friend walk away from God?
Why did my spouse change their “I do” to “I don’t”?
Why did that drunk driver run the red light and kill my Dad?
Why do 5-year olds get cancer?
Why do 55-year olds develop early onset Alzhiemer’s?
In a fallen world, there’s no end to these “why?” questions.
We possess a sin nature and we live in a sin tainted world. We shouldn’t be surprised when things go bad. To the contrary, we should be surprised when anything goes right.
As much as we’d like answers, most of the time we have little or no idea why people do what they do. As the classic radio show “The Shadow” began, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” To keep asking “why?” is like rocking in a chair. It gives us something to do but it doesn’t get us anywhere.
There is a better question to ask. When bad things happen this side of heaven, it’s better to ask “what?” than “why?”
Instead of asking God, “Why did this happen?”, ask Him, “What do you want me to learn from this?”
God always answers the “what?” question. Because He is all about our growth. Asking “what?” points us toward a purpose. Asking “what?” tells us God we care about moving forward. Where endless “why?” questions cause us to spin our wheels, asking God what He would have us learn gives us traction to get unstuck.
Romans 8:28 promises that “all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose”. That’s a comfort when we have no answers to the “why?” Yet it goes on to say that God’s goal for us is to conform us into the image of His Son Jesus. When we ask God, “What do you want me to learn?” we are cooperating with God’s purpose in making us more Christ-like.
Asking “what?” instead of “why?” moves us forward.
God is all about moving forward. We should be, too.
Todd A. Thompson – toddthompson.net