When we think of the word “why”, it is usually associated to an experience that, for at least a short time, is unexplained. There is a lingering question that cannot be instantly answered by the person who has encountered the experience. The experience could be a problem, blessing, or unique encounter that ushers in the question of “why”.
In my awareness, the greatest story ever told of a person who had an experience that provoked him to ask “why”, was from the story of Job. The story reveals Job as a faultless man according to the standards of his society. He was well known and honored by all who knew him. As the story goes, he was also honored by God: “…a blameless and upright man..”(Job 1:8). However, as Job’s story progressed, his life became a chaotic experience, and he asked God why. He said: “Why have You made me Your target, so that I am a burden to myself?” (Job 7:20)
Because many of us know the story and outcome of Job, we often try to avoid asking the question of why. However, avoiding why is like trying to avoid gravity while living on earth. It can be avoided longer by some than others, but eventually we all stop to ask why. Sometimes the why question is asked while learning how to solve a concrete math problem, but often, we ask why when we encounter a problem or circumstance that is beyond the ability of our minds to comprehend. In Job’s case, there was no awareness of an evil being that received permission from God to attack his life.
When we ask “why” it is usually when something has happened that is beyond our ability to instantly answer. In searching for the answer, we may look to the past, and/or look to the future. In doing so, we might find the answer which can be at least a relief from feelings of distress. But what if the answer is not found or figured out. This is when the whys can become problems that take the form of anxiety, anger, or depression. We can become very discouraged like Job when he did not get his question answered by God.
Nevertheless, when we avoid coming to our own conclusion, there is a joy that is accompanied with “why”. The question causes us to pause from our daily routines or become more aware of our humanity and dependence on something or someone who is bigger than ourselves. A good math student may acknowledge her limitation and have greater appreciation of her teacher. In Job’s case, he drew closer to God than before, never receiving an explanation to why his life had become so troubled.
There are some answers that may never be revealed in our mortal lifetime. Even so, there is a joy that comes as result of the unanswered questions. I used to enjoy math, not because of instantly knowing the answers to the problems, but the joy was in the process of solving the problems. The why questions cause us to pay more attention to our present and enables us to learn what we would have otherwise missed. There is a joy that comes with the word “why” because it sets us up for growth and a deeper appreciation for life. Jesus said: “…I came so that they would have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Although Job never received the answer to his why questions, his pursuit for answers caused him to grow in his faith and love for God. He resolved that God was good despite the lack of evidence or answers. By asking “why” we can gain a greater awareness. It is while asking the question “why” that we find ourselves on the verge of experiencing greater peace and joy.