Enquiring Minds Want to Know
How do you deal with the unknowable, the objectionable, the fearful? When you encounter something that grossly violates your worldview, how do you deal with it?
Some just give up, of course; physically they kill themselves, or mentally and emotionally “check out” from reality by means of alcohol, drugs, or some other form of escapism. But assuming you’re not that type, what do you do?
Take suffering, for example. Because I’m an ordained minister, chaplain, and counselor, I’m sometimes questioned right after a tragedy. That happened again last week, after the deadly tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. Repeatedly, all week, people brought it up, most of them asking “Why did God do it?” or the passive “Why did God allow it to happen?” Others, rather than asking, volunteered their own answer: “God did it because …” What makes them arrive at – and, more significantly, feel the need to announce – their conclusions? Because it is human nature to find some way to harmonize what we experience with what we know (or hope or believe) to be true.
In 1991, 45 years after it was first published, both the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month Club listed Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning as one of the 10 most influential books in American history. In it, Frankl says that a man who knows the “why” for his existence will be able to bear almost any “what” or “how.” Understanding the reasons for struggles and hardships make them easier to bear; conversely, not understanding makes them more difficult. We are impelled to minimize uncertainty and ambiguity because those things, left undealt with, ultimately lead to despair.
The problem is that there are things in life that cannot be harmonized. There are things that defy explanation. Worse, God – who, presumably, could easily clear everything up – steadfastly refuses to do so.
There’s that famous denial to Job’s lament, of course. We’re flatly told the Holy One doesn’t think like we do (Isaiah 55.8f). Not even Jesus the Christ provides any help in this regard:
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them ― do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Like many teachers, sometimes Christ deflected from the stated question to get to what wasn’t being asked. In this passage (Luke 13.1-5) the Lord refuses to comment on brutal dictators or natural disasters – refuses to play what psychiatrist Eric Berne called the “Aint it Awful” game – and instead nails his questioners for their own sinfulness. On another occasion, he shut down one disciple’s rumor-driven curiosity about a fellow disciple with a blunt “If I want such-and-such for him, what business is that of yours?” (John 21.23).
He was smart. He was gifted with tremendous insight into human nature and an individual’s deepest needs. But Christ’s teachings aren’t nearly as important as Christ Himself. He isn’t Moses or Confucius, after all. He’s more than a lawgiver or philosopher. He claimed to be God in the flesh, and as such deserves – yes, expects – that we submit to Him. As much as you want to understand why things happen the way they do, knowing why is less fulfilling and less necessary than you think. Submit to Him, no questions asked.
Or to be more accurate, ask all the questions you want – but whether or not they are answered, trust and obey Him anyway. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “the prince of preachers,”
God is too good to be unkind. He is too wise to be confused. If I cannot trace His hand, I can always trust His heart.