The ‘why’ questions of life.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was sitting in the living room of a friend’s home talking to his mother. Her son was in the spare room dying from a brain tumor and she wanted to know “why.” He was a great husband, son, and friend. He worked hard. He was loving and kind. “Why is God letting this happen to my son?”

It was a good question and if you can promise to keep this just between us, it made me defensive. Here’s why: I know that God is faithful and true. I know that God is loving and kind. I know that God is not evil. I know that God does not delight in, or cause, the suffering of his children. These are the things I believe and hold true about God. When people ask these questions, my beliefs about God are challenged and I get defensive. What am I supposed to do when someone asks those kinds of questions?

What usually happens is that I catch myself feeling like I need to step up and defend God’s honor. I feel like God needs me to come up with a good answer so he doesn’t look like a cosmic bad guy. I’m not alone on this. Countless books have been written on the subject of suffering and evil and the existence of God. And this isn’t just a Christian problem; other religions have written about suffering and evil, too. Each has their own answer for this “why” question of life.

If you want to do a little research on the subject, ask a bunch of people how a loving God can allow suffering and evil in the world. Go ahead and ask a Nazarene, Baptist, Lutheran, or Catholic the same question. You’re most likely going to find at least as many different answers as the number of people you ask.

I’ve thought and prayed about this a lot and it occurred to me that I don’t need to defend God. I don’t need to have the answers for the questions people ask when they are experiencing the unfairness and pain life can hand out.  That sounds strange, doesn’t it? But I’ve discovered that all I need to do is believe that God is exactly who I believe God to be.

If I truly believe that I am heard when I cry out to God and that God answers prayer, I also need to believe that God can answer those questions better than I can.

When we are drawn together through the inevitable suffering life brings, we need to remember than God is with us right in the middle of it all. We don’t need to answer the questions because God is with us. God is in the tears that we cry and the arms that hold our friends and each other. God is with us and surrounds us. God understands our pain and confusion. God understands our anger and frustration. God understands when we yell, scream, and shout at just how unfair life is and just how unfair God is. Because of this, I’m learning to trust that God is willing and able to answer the “why” questions of life.

So, while these kinds of questions make me defensive, they don’t bother God in the least. The next time you are confronted with the sorrows and injustice of life and want to know why, I hope you will ask God. You don’t have to clean up your language, your attitude, or your emotions. Bring your whole self to God. You can yell, scream, shout, cry, or stomp around. I know that God can take it.

7 thoughts on “The ‘why’ questions of life.

  1. Diane

    I was reading your column in the Citizen paper today and I felt I should comment on it.
    I wonder what you actually told the woman in response to her question. I would’ve told her what I believe. I believe we are put here on earth and the world we live in is not perfect. There are accidents and tragic things happening all the time. We have to get through this life with the help of God and our faith. I do not believe that God is sitting somewhere striking people down or causing suffering because He feels like punishing us. And I would ask her why she never thought to ask that question when tragic things happened to other people.
    A long time ago I had a stillborn baby. I asked, “Why?” Then I heard the answer: “Why not?” After all, I’d had a pretty good life up until then. Why not me after hearing about horrible things happening to other people? Then I said to myself, if this is the worst thing to happen to me, I can handle it. I looked around and saw my loving family and friends. They were healthy and in my life. I gave thanks to God. My next tragic thing happened 20 years later; my nephew died in a car crash. Do I blame God? No, I lean on Him more now than ever. I am a student of His and I’m still in school. I do what I can to help others. In doing so, I make sense of all the bad stuff.
    If you think you’re going to get through life without anything heartbreaking happening, think again. If you want to blame it all on God, then go ahead but it’ll be a long hard road.
    I’ve learned to listen. At times in life when we need Him most, He does speak. I had to learn to listen.

    1. I am glad you have found an answer that brings you peace and makes sense to you.

      We both believe that God speaks to us, even in our pain. We also agree that we need to learn to listen.

      Thank you for your comments, they are appreciated.

  2. The idea I’m wrestling with is one of expressing my feelings to God. Is it okay to be frustrated, angry, or upset? I think it is and I think it is vital to be given permission to express our feelings to God.

    This isn’t about me having answers to life’s questions. It is about giving people permission to seek their answers from God. Perhaps it is knowing that we pour our anger out about our situation and that we know that God listened to us and still loves us.

    Thank you all for your insights and comments.

    1. Terry

      Have you ever seen the movie “The Apostle” with Robert Duvall. I love the movie, but what really struck me is the way he prays. He gets after God and isn’t afraid to yell, question and express anger with God. I think it is so healthy to do that.

  3. Terry

    Dave, this is a tough one for me. The pastor side of me says, when dealing with the theodicy question: be still and know that I Am God and rest in my peace. However, the academic side of me absolutely hates cop out answers such as “God’s way are not our ways” (Isaiah 55:8-9). I love the theodicy question and have researched some of the greats in this field (Augustine, Hick, Oord, Inbody, etc…). While I don’t rest solely in any of their camps at the end of the day I look at the crucified God and know that I cannot be loved anymore than what I am by God. God’s love is far beyond what my parents, wife and children could ever love me and that makes me smile.

  4. Naomi asked me that question one time, and I could tell by her tone of voice and stance that she was waiting for an argument. I just looked at her and said, “I don’t know.” I live the why question. Why does it hurt? Why did my parents hate me? Why do I have doubts? The answer: I don’t know. I just have to trust that one day, I will.

  5. This is a great topic. The idea of defending God. It makes me think of Peter who cut off the soldiers ear, then denied Christ three times just a few hours later. In Peter’s zeal to “protect”, he was blind to the fact that Jesus was prepared for the worst at that time and that He needed to fulfill what was ahead.

    This really illustrates for me how God sees the complete picture and we only see the linear past and present. I am not saying God desires for us to agonize just because he knows the long term outcome. In fact I believe He is right there with us in the pain, in the horror, in the despair. Along with us he also offers peace, hope and compassion.

    The questions you propose are unanswerable… sort of. Black and white pat answers we cannot offer, but a peace that surpasses all understanding is available, which in turn comforts the questioner.

    There is a relatively new song out by Amy Grant that somewhat addresses this subject.


    “God loves a lullaby
    In a mothers tears in the dead of night
    Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.
    God loves a drunkards cry,
    The soldiers plea not to let him die
    Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

    We pour out our miseries
    God just hears a melody
    Beautiful the mess we are
    The honest cries of breaking hearts
    Are better than a Hallelujah

    The woman holding on for life,
    The dying man giving up the fight
    Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes
    The tears of shame for what’s been done,
    The silence when the words won’t come
    Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

    We pour out our miseries
    God just hears a melody
    Beautiful the mess we are
    The honest cries of breaking hearts
    Are better than a Hallelujah

    Better than a church bell ringing,
    Better than a choir singing out,singing out.

    We pour out our miseries
    God just hears a melody
    Beautiful the mess we are
    The honest cries of breaking hearts
    Are better than a Hallelujah”

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