Why is it when tragedy strikes the first question asked is Why? Why is it when personal affliction hits the first question asked is Why? Why is it when a gunman enters a church, the first question we want answered is why? Why is it when storms hit, the question we want answered is why? Why is it when a child has cancer, we want to ask why? Why do we keep asking why?
One theologian has posited that we keep asking why because
“Our minds crave an answer.
Why do we ask why?
We cannot help but ask why because, made in God’s image, we are moral creatures who cannot grasp or understand the world around us without moral categories. We are moral creatures inhabiting a moral universe and our moral sense of meaning is the faculty most perplexed when overwhelmed by horror and grief.”
While quite frankly I have difficulty digesting such grandiose statements, for him at least, he is summarizing what he sees as the innate desire in humans to ask why in the midst of grief. Another has offered his own opinion on the matter by beginning his best selling book with the following, “There is only one question which really matters: Why do bad things happen to good people?” He then spends 8 chapters attempting to answer this question.
In the book of Job, two parties wrestle with the “why” question in the case of Job’s affliction. Because of this, the book has often been viewed as having the answer to why suffering exists in the world and more broadly why evil exists, sometimes called theodicy. These two parties, Job and his friends, wrestle with the question of why and reach their own conclusions. The latter, as has been stated before, concluded that the answer to why God afflicts must be directly related to sin. Broadly this is true. As a result of the fall in the Garden of Eden, sin entered the world and in this way all affliction is the product of sin.
However, specifically, as in the case of Job, this is not true, at least not necessarily. Job was afflicted, but there was no direct correlation with sin, either hidden or open, that was the direct cause. In the case of Job, his wrestling with the why of his own affliction left him questioning the justice, wisdom, and ultimately the goodness of God. Job’s conclusion, or answer to the why question, was that God arbitrarily afflicts both the righteous and the unrighteous for no apparent reason. Conversely, He also blesses the unrighteous.
With the arrival of Elihu into the verbal fray at chapter 32, we have yet a third party arriving to address the question why. For the first time, the knot of this tangled difficulty begins to be loosened somewhat as he provides at least some reasons, unmentioned previously, for why God afflicts.
However, as Yahweh appears on the scene in chapter 38, the question, or rather the answer, to “why” never even remotely comes up. For essentially 37 chapters, and in reality who knows how much actual time had elapsed, we have been waiting for an answer to the question of why Job was allowed to be afflicted, if he was righteous. Extrapolating this question from the context to our present reading of the book, and we may say that we too, along with Job, often find ourselves waiting for an answer to the question “why?”. Why does God afflict? Why does suffering happen? Why are there disasters, disease, and death? Surely God must answer our interrogations because of our perplexity, grief, and moral creatureliness, as the theologian cited above stated. Right?
Absolutely not! In fact, God’s first address to Job is, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? “ God’s answer to the why question begins with a who question, specifically, who are you to ask why. The answer to Job ‘s inquisition in simple terms is also the answer that the Apostle Paul gives in Romans 9 for those who like to question the Almighty, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?'” Romans 9:20 Contrary to the two views from the theologian and author above in our introduction, we don’t ask why because we are moral agents looking for moral categories in a moral universe. We demand answers to why because we are immoral creatures living in a fallen world who have failed to come to terms with the WHO. In order for Job, and by necessary consequence us, to answer rightly this question of “who” we must see ourselves in light of Who God is.
This is precisely how God answers Job in His four chapter long rebuke. God, fully aware of the questions that have been levied against His character responds, not by self-justifying His wisdom for why He has chosen to act in a particular way, but answers by reestablishing in the minds of His hearers WHO it is that is acting. The why matters very little, contrary to the author cited above. In fact, as finite, sinful creatures we would rarely be satisfied with the why even if God should condescend to answer it. Instead, as God in His majestic wisdom knows, most often our question of why is due to our failure to properly recognize the WHO. This WHO in the book of Job begins with God as Creator.
Building upon this, God establishes Himself as Sustainer of all that He has created. Far from being a cosmic clock-winder that simply starts up creation and is hands off the daily operation, God informs Job that it is He that sustains creation. In doing so, God also highlights several of His attributes, namely His sovereignty, wisdom, goodness, justice, and most certainly His freedom. Perhaps it is this last attribute that causes the most consternation among those who experience affliction or witness calamity in general because it firmly asserts that God is God and we are not, therefore He is free to do as He pleases and answers to no one.
The answer to the why question begins with a “who”, namely who are we to ask such a question. This who necessarily drives us to ask WHO God is and provides clarity for us to view ourselves as finite creatures and God as infinite Creator. When affliction strikes, and it will, or when calamity happens again, and it will, may we be less prone to ask why and more prone to seek the WHO falling on our faces before the Almighty in recognition of His supreme wisdom to order the creation as He sees fit. Let us then rest in His justice and goodness knowing well that He has divine freedom to do as He pleases. Will not the Judge of all the earth do right? Most Assuredly this is so.