Why? (1 of 2)

Oregon by Gillham

Oregon by Gillham

What is going on?

Some people take life as it comes, floating in the current of circumstance, not worrying much, rarely making a concerted effort to swim upstream.

I’m not one of those people.

I utter, mutter, or implore “why” more than any other word in my vocabulary. I spend little time drifting and a lot of time kicking. Rather than go with the flow, I tend to push, calculate, ponder, and ask lots of questions. I tend to innovate and improvise. If an impediment can’t be streamlined, I want to know why. But while I’m asking, I’m digging and doggedly working my way through the current. It’s just the way it is. I can no more turn off my questions than I can stop the sun’s arc.

I don’t mean to be difficult, or intimidating with my questions, and I don’t enjoy conflict. I don’t see myself as rebellious. Granted, I’m curious, but my why’s go beyond curious. I want to understand, and when I don’t comprehend, I want to know why.

I don’t know if it is good or bad to ask God, why. I know He tolerates the question. In the famous line from Isaiah, the prophet quotes God saying, “Come now, let’s reason together” (1:18a). If you translate the original Hebrew literally, God is saying, “Come here now, let’s argue, debate, and contest together.”

Clearly, God is not put off by why’s. But whether this makes them okay or not, I’m not certain.

I went through a phase during my third and fourth grade years in school where I didn’t edit my need to know. I asked, “Why” and “What if?” a lot, and I asked about nearly everything.

One Sunday as the family returned from church, I leaned against the cattle trough that we used as a swimming pool and asked, “What if I fell in the tank with my good clothes on?”

My frustrated Mom said, “Like this?” as she pushed me overboard. My cardboard dress shoes were never the same after that.

I’ve wondered: Does God get irritated with my why’s—even though He invites questions and debate? Does He sometimes want to push me overboard, hoping that I will just go with the flow, hoping that when I look at my faded dress shoes I’ll keep my questions to myself?

There is a passage of Scripture in Romans that has occupied my attention for a number of years and a number of reasons. I read it again this morning and this blog is the working out of my reaction.

It is a dangerous thing to put yourself in another person’s shoes when you don’t really know them and can’t ask if you are reading them correctly or not. But nevertheless, I’m going to venture out and put myself in Paul’s shoes.

From Romans 1:8-15 the Apostle writes passionately about his thwarted attempts to get to Rome for a visit. These verses drip with frustration. He is shoving circumstance around, pushing against his limitations, expressing his discontent, and I think you could argue convincingly that he is using some manipulation against God hoping that He will make a way for the Gospel in Rome and beyond to Spain. That’s reasonable enough, isn’t it? Who could be against that?

But, Paul can’t get there, no matter how hard he tries. Instead, he writes a letter. It will be four years before he gets to Rome. The “why question” is evident in Paul’s introductory thoughts.

In retrospect, it is evident why God did not pave the way for Paul to go to Rome. For starters, the systematic theology contained in the biblical book of Romans would not have been written down. How would you like to piece your faith together without the benefit of Romans?

The takeaway could be: God has everything under control. Just trust Him. Relax. It will work out. Stop stressing. It’s just a guess, but I suspect there were those with Paul who gave him this type of counsel.

On the other hand, if Paul didn’t care deeply, if he wasn’t pushing, shoving at life’s current, and trying his best to figure an alternative, then the book of Romans wouldn’t have been written either. Or if it was, it would lack the focus and intensity that we love so much about this great work from Paul’s mind to our hearts.

I doubt Paul ever quit questioning—anything—including God. I figure he kept wanting to know more, understand more, see more. The “why” that rose up regularly in Paul’s thinking propelled him to sophisticate his writing with powerful words and concepts. 

And next, about thirty percent of Paul's ministry life was spent in jail. Why?