For many years in my life, I used to say, “If I am blessed and fortunate enough to make it to heaven someday, there sure are a number of challenging questions that I want to ask the Lord. For example, I would like to ask the Lord some really hard questions like these.”
- Why did you create a world where there are natural disasters which cause such devastation like hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes?
- Why do some people seem to float through life so easily while others seem to struggle with problem after problem?
- Why do sweet and innocent children have to suffer from diseases like cancer, muscular dystrophy, leukemia and so forth?
- Why do some people end up with more material goods than they will ever need while some people lack even the most basic of necessities?
- Why do so many people and nations seem to turn instinctively to violence to solve disputes rather than to turn to a peaceful form of reconciliation and resolution?
Of course, I don’t think I am the only person who would like to ask the Lord such questions. I suspect that there may be a rather long line of people wanting to have such a discussion. In fact, if one were to look to our Sacred Scriptures, I think there are a number of biblical figures who would seem to be prime candidates for a similar candid conversation.
Take for example, the prophet Jeremiah. Based on the intensity of his lament in chapter 20 of his prophetic book (verses 7-18), I can imagine him confronting the Lord by asking, “Why did you call me to be your spokesperson and promise me that you would take care of me, only to allow me to become an object of mockery, derision and reproach? I have been faithful to my vocation; why do you let me struggle like that?”
Then, there is the example of St. Peter, particularly in chapter 16 of the Gospel of Matthew (verses 13-23). You may recall that this is the text which begins with Jesus praising the apostle for professing his faith in him as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Yet, later, Jesus lambasts Peter by calling him an obstacle, even using the inflammatory title of Satan, which literally means “the adversary.” All because Peter had the audacity to express his wish that Jesus would not have to undergo rejection and be killed by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes. I can imagine Peter wanting to ask Jesus the question, “Why is it so wrong for me to want to spare you from such suffering?”
Yet, even though these types of questions can come across as combative and confrontational, I don’t think our Lord would be too upset for our raising them. After all, our Lord is the Almighty God, and he certainly would not be intimidated by our attempt at speaking so boldly. Moreover, I think our Lord would realize that our aggressive language is not so much an indication of a lack of respect and honor but primarily an expression of our personal frustration and upset. Most importantly, I would suggest that our Lord might even conclude that our willingness to come to him even with anger is really an act of faith in him. It is an indication that it is our very reverence and trust that brings us to him because we believe that we have nowhere else to turn but to him.
However, it is interesting for me to bring up this topic now, at this time in my personal life. Because, to be honest, I would confess that my penchant for wanting to ask the Lord some hard questions is not as strong as it used to be. As the years have passed, I find myself less and less wanting to ask the Lord questions beginning with the word, “Why?”
For one thing, as the years go by and I become more and more aware of the limits of my intelligence, I am much more humble about the capacity of my ability to understand the profound depth of the answer that the Lord would reveal to me. I certainly cannot imagine the finite parameters of my mind being capable of grasping God’s infinite intelligence and wisdom.
Yet, even beyond a more humble assessment of my comprehension, the real reason that I shy away from my previous fixation on “why?” questions has to do with the fact that such questions often are not necessarily productive. While the acquisition of knowledge most certainly is a noble benefit, what changes come simply from understanding the answer to such a question? How does the situation of those persons whose struggle is at the heart of my hard questions improve at all?
Rather, the word that more readily captures my attention in asking questions these days is not the word “why?” but the word “what?” “What” can I do to help the people who are trying to cope with the apparent injustices of life?
- What can I do to bring aid and relief to those dealing with natural disasters?
- What can I do to offer compassionate care to sick children?
- What can I do to help create a more just order in society so that all people have access to the bounty of prosperity?
- What contribution can I make to foster a more peaceful and conciliatory climate for resolving disputes?
There is in the writings of St. Paul a beautiful prayer and admonition (Romans 11:33-12:2), which I believe can be read as capturing the point which I have been striving to articulate. He invites us to a transformation of mind, which ultimately leads us from “Why?” to “What?”
- What is the will of God we are to pursue?
- What would be good and pleasing and perfect for the children of God who are most in need?
St. Paul even claims that such a pursuit is not only holy and pleasing but ultimately an act of spiritual worship of our merciful God.