“Why” Is Not a Four-Letter Word

In Candid Christianity: The Blog, Tough Questions by Antwuan Malone

Challenge everything.

Those two words became my motto in my young twenties. I was cynical and skeptical. I didn’t know the real reason I served as a deacon, or lead a choir ministry, or taught in bible classes and afternoon services. And I needed to know why. It was a necessary time in my life. A chance to really grab hold of this Jesus-thing. And I’d determined that if the Bible did not direct me to answers, it wasn’t big enough to rule my life.

It’s funny typing that now: “my life.” As a product of Western civilization, I’d come to think of my life as, well, mine. And I’d come to expect certain things… like justice, fair play, comfort, and most of all, logic.

Last week I made my first trip out of the country to Honduras, then came back and enjoyed the spoils of a somewhat lavish wedding for a very good friend. The contrast between the two ways of life — of the average middle-income American and the modest living of Honduran coffee farmers– is striking. When you visit a country that has little, like Honduras, it’s easy to feel the desire to carve a pathway to western civilization “normal.” But I came away asking something different. What does the Honduran see as “normal?” Where do they feel cheated? At what point does the Honduran ask, “Why?”

At the wedding, the preacher quoted a writer who encourages his readers to ask questions, and I smiled. I love questions.

But then he went on to basically say, “But don’t ask why.” And I thought, “Huh?” I couldn’t disagree more. Asking why (and what, how, when, where, etc…) was very instrumental to my spiritual growth in those years I was searching for my spiritual identity in my early twenties. Now, someone is saying that asking “why” is like stepping out of bounds. No way. Asking why is what drove me into my Bible more to peek behind the black curtains of traditional interpretation and American Church culture to find the excellent, and often relieving, truths hiding underneath.

Without “why,” the cross makes no sense. Without “why,” death still has its sting! Without why, the trouble and trials of life are often too hard to bear.

Why is not a four-letter word that Christians should run from at all cost. It often highlights the very path to understanding, trust, and even faith. In many cases, it is after asking “why” that we begin our true journey towards really experiencing God for ourselves. It is a very important question, and frankly, I think more people should ask it. Not less.

Rhetorical Questioning

I realize the danger of asking why as well. I mentioned the contrast between the wedding environment and the Honduran community to highlight the differences of perspective that lead to our questions. An American living in Honduras has a different “normal” setting than does the average Honduran. Americans expect clean water, nice neighborhoods, close places to buy groceries, medicine, and clothing. We expect a certain level of comfort. Should we suddenly have to live our lives the way Hondurans do, we’d feel robbed of life. We’d feel mistreated, unaccounted for, worth less. Suddenly, we’d begin asking “why,” not because we really want to know what God is doing, but because we really want Him to change what’s happened.

In this way, our asking God why is not about understanding, it’s about comfort.

This is the sort of “why” that is dangerous. Because our asking is a sort of passive aggressive way of pouting to God that things have not gone our way. In a sense, it’s a rhetorical question, meant to communicate our displeasure rather than our desire for true understanding. When a two year old asks why he can’t have candy before dinner, he doesn’t really care to know the reasons. He’s simply hoping his parent will reconsider. Begin explaining and he’ll lose interest rather quickly.

The times when rhetorical “whys” are most likely to be asked are upon hearing tragic news. Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, Cancer, heartbreak,  the death of loved ones. In these moments, though we may be asking why, most are not interested in God’s real plan. They are simply wishing things were different. No answer will truly soothe the personal loss and, frankly, the sense of entitlement toward our comfort and desires, because we really don’t want to understand, we want it to be different. We’re asking “Why are you doing this to me?” A personal question that implies God should consider our feelings as his primary motive when he sets things in motion. And in the same way, when God begins offering the explanations (through his word and his people), then we become disinterested just like the two year old.

A Real Question

At some point, we do tell that two year old why candy is not allowed before dinner, but it’s probably not while they are two. As parents, we know what information our kids are mature enough to handle, and what they are not quite ready to hear. I believe God is similar. And while I don’t think he will always give an account to us for the purpose behind his actions, I have seen many cases in my own life when the answer to my “why” came only after I’d lived a bit longer.

See, if we really want to know why, if we really want to understand the purpose behind things, we have to take our desires completely out of it. We’ve got to be ready to hear what we don’t want to hear. We have to be ready for God to shows us a different perspective — one not based on our feelings as the center of our world. In essence, we have to come to God already trusting that He knows what he’s doing. Only then, after we have truly sought the perspective of God, can we begin to grasp the real answers to the “whys” of life. Sometimes, God can show us those perspectives, but many times he cannot. Job never knew why. And had God tried to explain it, Job would have walked away just as clueless.

So I guess the moral of this piece is simple. Asking “why” is awesome. Do it as much as you can. But also, remember to sacrifice your desires in your asking for understanding. If you do, peace and hope await. If not, you’ll burn with the “unfair” of life, and find yourself stagnant — like a two-year old throwing a fit in a grocery story. We’ve all seen that happen, and it’s not pretty.

When did you last ask God “why” about something? Did he answer?

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.