These unanswerable questions plaster themselves like graffiti on my eyelids at the end of a season of loss like none I have ever known.
Grief has become a familiar traveling companion. Tears have left permanent tracks on my face.
Three people I have deeply loved for more years than I can calculate are gone. Death has exerted its temporary hold on them leaving a vacuum in the deepest places of my heart.
Beyond my own pain has been the intolerable hurt of watching my beautiful niece and her sons deal with the inexplicable death of a vibrant husband and father. My friends I call siblings have wrestled with the difficult passing of our father. And most recently, my precious wife and children mourn the immense loss of our beloved “Granny”–a central figure in our house for years.
All in just over three months.
These two questions–“How long?” and “Why?”–are not new simply because they have been concentrated in these dramatic weeks.
They haunted me during my mother’s nearly 13-year battle with Alzheimer’s. They battered my intellect as Dad made silly but painful decisions in his later life. They mocked me through a battle with drug addiction in one dearest to me. They assaulted me in the tragic loss of the lifetime dreams for some I knew well.
But they never screamed so loudly in my heart as in my own days of personal failure and spiritual implosion. These losses were incalculable.
- “How long?” is the question of season. When will I stop hurting? When will I feel normal again? When will this long journey finally end?
- “Why?” is the question of reason. Why did God let this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? Why can I not make sense of it?
I am absolutely convinced these are not the right questions to ask in life’s moments of crisis or chaos. Two simple reasons underscore this belief.
One, I will not be healed by the answers even if I have them. Adding up the equation does not fill the loss, assuage the grief or dissipate the longings that suffering deposits in my soul. I need far more than answers when my world is upside down.
Two, I do not have the capacity to handle the answers even if I were given them. There are certain realities that will make sense only when viewed in hindsight from an eternal point of view. I need a bigger picture than I am able to see when my life shakes at the core.
An old prophet of the Bible, Habakkuk, had exactly these same questions as he viewed the panorama of suffering and loss that enveloped his life.
- “How long?” he asked God as he watched the slow-motion, time-lapsed descent of his beloved country into the abyss of failure and forfeited destiny. Why was it taking so long? Why would God tolerate the injustice of a punishment exceeding crime? It seemed evident that God had lost track of time.
- “Why?” he asked God as he reviewed the methods God was using to realign the purpose and passion in His people. It simply made no sense to use an enemy far worse than backslidden Israel as a rod of correction. It was apparent that God had lost His mind.
The danger of these unanswered and unanswerable questions is this:
…if I spend too much time calculating what is incalculable I will find my view of God skewed and warped by what I cannot figure out.
Safe or shallow answers I dream up leave me with emotional nightmares that have no basis in ultimate reality. Fatalism based on those concocted answers might remove intellectual tension but it leaves me living with lies.
Perspective is a key for me in this season of pain. When I remember that I have only the spot of light called “today” and a speck of history called “life”, I am able to believe beyond what I see and hope beyond what I feel.
Like Habakkuk, if I learn to wait for His answer rather than jump to my conclusion, I will find hope, help and healing are there for the taking.
Part of the purpose of the biographies in the Word of God is to increase my span of experience and scope of understanding by giving me the larger picture of His-story. In this broader view I am driven to the unchanging character of my God rather than the unexplainable changes of my life.
If I attach too firmly to the overblown benefits of the temporary I am robbed of the overarching blessings of the eternal.
So I am trying to learn the lesson Habakkuk did. That God is good in spite of my questions and He is great in the face of my weakness. I can trust Him when I do not understand Him. I can believe in His love even when I cannot believe in His ways.
Only then am I able to say with the old prophet’s conviction, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
When I find that place where acceptance becomes serenity and serenity becomes surrender I will see the results Habakkuk saw: “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:19)
When I boil it down, these two daunting questions are really two sides of the same coin. They are indeed one question…one ultimate question.
A question of trust.