One of my favourite questions is “Why?”. No matter what is happening or not happening, I want to know why. When the lawn mower won’t start, I want to know why–I am not always overly upset at not being able to mow the lawn but I still want to know why it won’t start.
When a person does something, I want to know why. As a pastoral counselor, I often find myself using this desire to know why to help people explore their lives and motivations to see how their present behaviour results from past events and then using this insight to make positive changes in their lives.
When congregations become dysfunctional, I want to know why the dysfunction developed so that I can help the congregation deal with the causes and move on to health. It is no real help to the congregation to have them make cosmetic changes if they don’t know why they got in the state they were.
Asking and answering the question “why” is important to me. It is without question my favourite question–but at the same time, it is also my most frustrating question. While some whys immediately become obvious (The lawn mower doesn’t work because the gas tank is empty), others take some serious work (The lawn mower doesn’t work because I hit a rock and broke the shear pin on the shaft) and some, well some just have no real answer (The lawn mower doesn’t work because something in not right in its mysterious inner works).
I keep asking the question even in my spiritual life–but in that area of my life, the unanswered whys become more and more common. Lots of other people have the same whys and often look to me as a pastor to provide answers to those whys.
Someone gets terminal cancer and everyone wants to know why–and they aren’t looking for a medical, scientific answer to that why. I could probably give them a somewhat reasonable answer to the medical, scientific why. But they want a spiritual answer, one that involves God and unseen purposes and long reaching positive benefit somewhere. They want to know that there is a deeper purpose, a significant why to the situation.
And while there are lots of traditional answers to their why questions, most of them are based on little more than a desire on the part of the answerer to say something that will at least sound spiritual even if it is really the spiritual equivalent of cotton candy–fluffy and somewhat tasty but with no real substance except for sugar which will rot your spiritual teeth and produce spiritual flab.
I think we need to learn that sometimes, the why questions have no really good answer. I don’t know why a young mother dies of cancer. I don’t know why a long anticipated child is still born. I don’t know why a loved father has a heart attack. I get asked why about those situations because as a pastor, people assume I have an answer to their why that will help them. But I don’t have answers–and I refuse to fake it by using one of the canned, overly-sweet non-answers that some have tried to pretend actually say something of substance.
When I am asked that question, my response is to say I don’t know. I am willing and able to agree that it isn’t fair. I agree that is shouldn’t be. I admit to my own pain and anger in the situation. For some, that probably is proof that I am not a very good pastor–but since I don’t claim to be a good pastor most of the time, such proof really doesn’t matter.
What I can do and work at doing in these situations is offer what I can–the presence of God. Sometimes, that presence of God is mediated through me. Sometimes, it is shown through a simply prayer that confesses our need of God’s help, even as we are angry at him. Sometimes, it can be through letting people vent their frustration, hurt and fear in a safe place.
I don’t know the answer to all the whys, especially the big whys of life. Sure, maybe I will know them when we all get to heaven. But here and now, I still ask why, knowing that I won’t get a satisfactory answer. But I do know that God is present and at work–it may not answer why but it does make a difference to me and to many others.
May the peace of God be with you.