Why?!? Why me? Why them? Why now?
Sometimes I think those are some of the most honest questions of faith. When the world does not make sense, when things do not seem fair there is a part of us that turns to God and asks “WHY?”.
I find myself asking those questions a lot lately. Like at least once a week in response to a news story. After all in April alone we have had: a bus crash in Saskatchewan, a chemical weapon attack in Syria, a bombing attack on weapons facilities in Syria, the van massacre in Toronto. And there are ongoing tragedies that we almost forget to notice anymore (teen suicides in First Nations communities. Murder and Missing Indigenous Women, the opioid crisis...)
If God is good and God is in charge (both assertions that come from Scripture and from our faith tradition) then why do tragedies still happen? And how do we react?
We ask why both at the “how could this have happened, what circumstances led to it” level and also in our search for meaning. Faith can not help us understand how two vehicles can be in the same intersection at the same time, or how a young man can have his assault rifle confiscated twice and still get it back to shoot up a Waffle House. But faith can, we hope and trust, help us deal with the questions of meaning. After all it has been trying to do so for millenia. People have long been wrestling with the whys of tragedy (both accidental and intentional).
Faith pushes us to ask why a whole sub-population of our society feels so isolated and alone and hurt that they see mass murder as an option. Faith pushes us to ask where God is as young people are taken from their families too soon. Faith pushes us to ask if anyone is in charge to prevent these things from happening. Unfortunately faith has yet to help us find any easy answers, some might say faith has yet to help us find any satisfactory answers.
[Excursus: The formal theological name for these sorts of discussions is theodicy. On my shelf are two books by Biblical Scholar Bart Ehrman who has named that the inability to find a satisfactory answer to questions of theodicy are what led him away from Christian faith. These questions about why evil and tragedy exist/happen are make or break for some people.]
The library we call Scripture contains many stories of people wrestling with tragedy. A prime example is the book of Job. Job has his life destroyed, his ‘friends’ ask what he did wrong to have this happen and Job insists this is not just. In the process the book of Job pushes us to look at questions of why (and the answers given are not great – I have always felt that the story of Job is one where God does not come off as a very positive character). Harold Kushner used the book of Job as a resource in writing his book When Bad things Happen to Good People, a book I first read almost 30 years ago and intend to read again this month.
Because I think these why questions are so important I am planning that we will spend the month of June (and the first two weeks of July) looking at the book of Job in worship and sermon. I want us to explore what we believe about tragedy and about God’s role in allowing/causing/witnessing tragedy and evil in the world. [I suspect that by mid-June I may be wondering why I took on such heavy questions.]
What do you think? When you have nothing to say but as why what answers come to your mind? Let’s explore them together.