When I talk about the power of “why”, I am really meaning the power of thinking. Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, in his bestseller, THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED AND BEYOND, states the following in his chapter called THINKING. “One of the major dilemmas we face both as individuals and as a society is simplistic thinking – or the failure to think at all. It isn’t just a problem, it is the problem. Thinking is perhaps more urgent than anything else because it is the means by which we consider, decide, and act upon everything in our increasingly complex world…With the freedom that we have to think for ourselves, ultimately we must hold ourselves accountable for how and what we think and whether we are using our capacity for thinking to get the most out of life…many people show little interest in contemplation…they rarely stop to think about why they’re going where they’re going, where they really want to go, or how best to plot out and facilitate the journey…we must acknowledge that thinking well is a time-consuming process. We can’t expect instant results. We have to slow down a bit and take the time to contemplate, meditate, even pray. It is the only route to a more meaningful and efficient existence.”
The Bible promotes thinking. For example, “do not think more highly of yourself than you ought, but think so as to have sound judgment.” (Romans 12:3) “Whatever is true…pure…good…think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8) “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) I have learned that when I feel down or depressed, not necessarily clinically, but as a normal part of daily life, if I can change my thinking to positive and true thoughts, my depressed feelings leave and I feel on top again. The Psalmist learned to change what he was thinking when he was down, and he found it to work. “Why are you in despair O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.” (Psalm 42:5) The practice of thinking in ways that the Bible promotes works to change our lives.
If we are to engage the power of thinking we often need a catalyst – something to get the thinking process started. What often starts us thinking is questions. We were created with curious and inquisitive natures. As evidence of this we only need look at the curiosity in children. They are busy getting into everything. Parents are locking places they do not want them to get into, or putting dangerous or precious objects out of reach. When children learn to talk, they can ask lots of questions, especially, the great question of a two year-old; “Why?” Consider also that many discoveries of scientists begin with questions, and those questions have led to better technology, better health, and solutions to many societal problems. Philosophers can seem to us to be “way out there”, but philosophers are good people to have around because they are always asking questions; questions many people do not think to ask, questions that make us think more deeply about life.
God and Jesus often approached people with questions to get them to think. God asked Adam, “Where are you?”, and to Eve He asked, “What is this you have done?” (Genesis 3:9, 13) Jesus asked people, “Who do you say that I am?”, or “What do you think about the Christ?” (Matthew 16:15; 22:42) If Jesus told a story, he would sometimes ask, “What do you think?” (Matthew 21:28) God may ask “why” to get people to think about their lifestyle. (Haggai 1:9) Questions are one way to motivate us to see more than we already see; to enable us think about our world and ourselves so that we can gain helpful knowledge, insights, and understanding. We can have a lot of knowledge, but not always understanding. Understanding has to do with what our knowledge means, or how to use it. Understanding can be missing if we do not include God’s input, because only God’s input furthers our understanding of the most important questions about life. (Proverbs 1:29-33; 2:2-6; 28:5)
I could have called this essay, the power of questions, but I have chosen to focus on the “why” question. “Why” is powerful in many areas. Knowing why things work as they do is what enables us to know how to fix things that become broken. Our health problems can be adequately treated when we know why the problem is there. To ask why can yield some profound insights into life and into ourselves, insights that can lead to significant discovery and beneficial growth toward the kind of world and persons God created us to be. The power of why comes to us when we ask why about many of the things we think or do. Why did I say that? Why did I just act like that? Why am I so angry? Why do I believe as I do? There are many other questions of that sort, which can lead to life-changing insights, but answers do not always come easily. It can be frustrating to ask why and then not be able to come up with an answer. Often, we need to rely on others. Especially, we need to welcome God’s input into the knowledge that we seek. He reveals things we can learn from no other source. (Psalm 139:1-3, 23-24; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1Corinthians 2:14) I think people generally want to understand what life is all about. They want to make sense out of what happens to them. They want an explanation for things that concern them. This becomes evident, especially when we experience bad and painful things that happen to us. At those times we are quick to ask, “Why”? We shall discuss that kind of “why” at the end of this essay.
We need to be aware that why questions are often threatening to people. When directed to our personal lives they can make us feel defensive, or like we want to avoid the issue. It is like some who will not go to the doctor for fear of what they will find out. They would rather not know, even die, than to face the emotional pain of dealing with ill news and all it may involve. Or, it is like married persons who will not enter into a discussion about their marriage because it will likely bring up matters he or she does not want to talk about. They fear having to face the turmoil that discussing upsetting issues may create. Best leave things as they are, even though it may result in an unhappy marriage, or possibly the loss of the marriage. Back to quoting Mr. Peck’s book, he says, “But why would someone choose not to think deeply? Why would someone choose to think only simplistically, superficially, and reflexively? The answer is…we have a preference for avoiding pain. Thinking deeply is often more painful than thinking shallowly…”. I think Mr. Peck has a valid point about some kinds of deeper thinking being painful. The Bible makes the same observation. (Ecclesiastes 1:18) Often, we do not like to face our thoughts, as they may remind us of failures, wrongs, unfulfilled dreams, or whatever. Perhaps that is the reason some “why” questions are made light of, or ignored. (John 3:19-20) But without such insight people may not be able to move past their crippled thoughts and behaviors; instead they could progress into deeper depression, anxiety, guilt, fear, or avoidance. The fact is that self-assessment can produce helpful self-understanding which can improve our total mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Answers to why questions about ourselves can reveal where we are, help us solidify why we believe and act as we do, and lead to new directions in living. The Bible is very clear on the matter of doing occasional self-assessments. As believers in Christ we are encouraged to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. (2 Corinthians 13:5) We are also encouraged to examine and probe our ways, and if we are errant, we are encouraged to return to the ways of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:40) “Why” is a powerful tool for helpful self-discovery.
Actually, fears of self-discovery are unfounded if Jesus is allowed to enter the situation. Having to deal with the why of things is good if it pushes us to realize our need for a savior who can rescue us from self-destructive patterns. He answers many of our problems and needs. He is the answer to our fears. He often reassured his followers by saying, “Do not fear.” (Matthew 10:28, 31; Luke 5:10; 8:50; 12:32) He is the answer to our guilt. He said, “I have authority to forgive sins.” (Mark 2:10) He is the answer to our doubts. He said, “Believe me; if not, believe because of the works that I do. (John 14:10) He is the answer to our emotional pain. He said, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Because we live in a world of evil, both within and without, Jesus does not promise a pain free life. But Jesus does promise a way through and into a new existence of His making. He gives us the hope we need to persevere in our trials because there is coming a day of restoration of all things to which we can look forward with joy. (Acts 3:19) With His light we can face whatever the darkness. He said, “I am the light of the world, the one who follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Let us examine a few of Jesus’ why questions and see what we can discover. There are many why questions that Jesus asks. It would be interesting to think how we might answer them. (1) Why are you afraid? (Mark 4:40) Fear is common to all of us. The disciples of Jesus are caught in a life-threatening storm at sea and are letting their fears take over instead of facing the situation courageously. In so doing, they are acting cowardly or timidly. Jesus asks them, “why?” After all, He is right there with them. If they were to answer this question for themselves, they would come to see that they still lacked faith in Jesus because they have not yet fully understood who He is. Like those disciples, we too often lack faith, but we can let our life-threatening situations become teachers of where we stand in our relationship with Jesus. What knowledge and understanding do we have of Him and how can we grow to the point where we face our trials with the confidence that no matter what happens, with Jesus at our side, all will be okay? It may take us awhile to trust and have confidence in Him so that our fears are dispelled, but to get there is our objective, and true faith in Him is the way to experience peace within. (2) Why did you doubt? (Matthew 14:31) At Peter’s request, he was commanded by Jesus to walk to Him on the stormy sea. Peter was doing what Jesus said, but he took his eyes off Jesus, started to sink, and became afraid for his life. Jesus rescued him, and then asked him why he doubted. We too may doubt amidst things Jesus commands us to be doing. They may not be working out, but we need to keep trusting Him. If Jesus gives us something to do and promises a certain outcome, we have no good reason to doubt it. Jesus also asked why doubt in Luke 24:38 when his followers did not believe that He actually rose bodily from the dead, and yet He had told them this would happen. (Luke 24:44-46) Paul asked unbelieving people a similar question, “Why is it considered incredible among you if God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8) What would your answer be? If God has promised bodily resurrection, why would you doubt it? (3) Why do you not understand what I am saying? If I speak truth, why do you not believe me? (John 8:46) In this conversation with unbelieving people, Jesus does not leave it to them to figure out the answer; He gives them the answer. They do not believe because they are not godly people and have no interest in hearing what he says. I have experienced this many times in talking with people about spiritual things, it seems to go right over their heads, like their mind is elsewhere. (2Corinthians 4:4; 1 Corinthians 2:14) (4) Why do you call me Lord and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46) Ouch! This question requires some careful thinking on our part. Some people call Him Lord as an expression of their belief in the existence of a benevolent God. Their belief includes praying to Him at certain times when they need Him to help them with a problem, but their belief in Jesus as Lord is not in their thinking. Their relationship with God has nothing to do with knowing Him personally in such as way that they consider Him their Master, whose words they wish to obey and practice. But, for believers who claim to know God personally, it is also a difficult question. Jesus says that He wants us to learn to practice His teachings, and if we do, our lives will be able to withstand inevitable life-threatening events. (Matthew 28:20; 7:24-25) There are times when we do not want to do something He says, or we come short in our attempts. How do we handle our failures? Rather than feel guilty and fall away, or drop out and disappear because we don’t want to face people who may have been counting on us, it’s best to confess our lapse and simply get back on track. It might be helpful to honestly attempt to answer this question for ourselves to see exactly where we stand in our relationship with Christ as Lord. Maybe we have never settled the question of His Lordship and we only commit when it is convenient. (5) "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3) This question is about judging other people. We do need to make judgments about people in order to make proper decisions about our relationships with them; what to participate in and what to avoid. But the judgments here being questioned are about putting people down and demeaning their worth as individuals who are created in the image of God. There may be many reasons why we see others’ faults without seeing our own and it would be well worth the effort to think about it. (6) Why do you seek to kill me? (John 7:19) The persons to whom Jesus addressed this question thought he was crazy. “Who is seeking to kill you”, they asked. People do not outright confess to wanting to kill Jesus, yet in their beliefs and ways of living, they would be rid of Jesus rather than to submit to His commands. For example, many people seek to eliminate Jesus as the God to whom they must answer for how they live their lives. If you are one who does not follow Jesus, what are your true reasons? (7) In light of Jesus words, “Why do you call me good, no one is good but God alone”, (Mark 10:18) here are two fun questions for you to think about and try to figure out: Do you consider yourself a good person? If so, why? Secondly, why can you do good things if no one is good but God?
We are now ready to discuss that other kind of why we mentioned earlier, the kind we have when things go very badly. When Jesus was suffering execution on a Roman cross he cried out to God, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) It is a common human cry by most people who suffer traumatic loss. Somehow, we humans have a belief that life is supposed to work out for good. We get attached to people we love and when we lose them in untimely manners - by accident, murder, natural catastrophe, or whatever; we feel deep emotional pain that causes us to complain to God with an outcry of “why”. Our search for a satisfactory answer is elusive; we hear nothing in response, only silence. “Why’s” in these situations are mostly screams of frustration, pain, or anger. In many cases we expected our prayers for protection or healing to be answered, but they were not. My friends and I prayed for a baby with leukemia to be spared, but the baby died. Many years ago five missionaries were killed by people they tried to love. Their families knew these efforts were dangerous and they prayed for God to protect them, but it was not to be. When we experience such loss, how do we keep faith in God; how can we continue believing in goodness? I remember a concept I learned from Elisabeth Elliot, the wife of one of those five missionaries, in her reflections titled, “On asking God Why”. She struggled with “why” when her husband was killed. Eventually, she concluded that there is no answer from God as to why He allows evils to prevail over good, but she did come forth with a mature conclusion in the face of her tragedy. There is only one safe place to be; it is the place where Jesus was when he suffered his own cruel death; loving God and faithfully doing His will. John the apostle said it in one of his letters to believers. He said, “the world is passing away…faith is the victory…and those who do the will of God will abide forever.” (1 John 5:4; 2:17) Jesus lived in an evil world and it seemed that any good done in this world would never prevail. But by his example of committing his life to God, and doing God’s good will, day in and day out, he was in the safest place he could be, for God always rewards those who do His will, whether in this life or the next. To this day, Jesus is still reaping the joyful benefits of his voluntary sufferings – and so shall we if we remain faithful to the end. (Revelation 2:10-11, 26-28; Matthew 24:13) But to give up on a lifestyle of faithful love and obedience to God in doing good would only result in evil being the victor instead of faith and goodness. In other words, doing God’s will is the safest place to be, even in a world of uncertainty and evil, a world that makes no sense to us. Maintaining such an attitude and way of life in the midst of evils is a result of having hope in God’s promises; knowing that such hope will never disappoint us. To live with hope in goodness winning out is to be able to persevere the why’s of painful tragedies.
The power of why – try asking why more often and following it to its often surprising destinations.