Tag Archives: Questions

Dealing With Life’s Most Persistent Question: Part 12 – The Top 10 Most Persistent Questions

Mt St Helens 7-9-11 PSYou don’t know what you don’t know. And you will never know exactly how another person feels or the depth of their personal suffering. I’ve spent almost 40 years of my life as a pastor and counselor. During those years I’ve empathetically listened as people have poured out their hearts and told me their stories. Some are horrific, catastrophic, or tragic beyond belief. All are filled with emotions from violent anger to shocked bewilderment. While the people and stories are all unique, the questions articulated remain very similar and all are a variation of what I’ve been calling life’s most persistent question, “Why?”

“God wants to build character in our lives,” I once mused to a young father with three children who was mourning the loss of his wife from cancer.

“I don’t need any more character,” he shouted at me. “I need my wife back!”

Ouch! His explosion reminded me of the then-recent eruption of Mt. St. Helens (pictured above almost 35 years after the explosion).  I was a young pastor and just trying to make sense myself out of his tragic circumstances. Parroting what I truly believed, but without any comprehension of his own incredible grief, my words, that were intended to soothe and answer, simply applied salt to his wounded heart. I’ve learned a few things about suffering myself since then and would never make such a statement under similar circumstances today.

Based upon many such encounters with grieving souls, I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 most persistent questions. Much has been written about them, and I seriously doubt what I might say will shed any additional light on the topic. But by their very nature, they persistently remain the questions that cross generational, societal, and geographical boundaries. They are universal questions, asked by all people in all places at all times. And in one way or another, they are also questions considered by the ancients and recorded in the pages of the Bible.

While there are personalized versions of every one of these, the general questions are universal.  And when asked in a real-life situation, every one of them are typically accompanied by a pretext. For example, “If God is all powerful, why doesn’t God prevent tragedy?” or “God answers prayers for other people, why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Here are my top 10:

10.   Why would a loving God send someone to hell?

9.     Why doesn’t God prevent corrupt leaders from coming into power?

8.     Why doesn’t God put an end to all suffering?

7.    Why does God allow innocent children to be victimized and harmed?

6.    Why doesn’t God heal everyone who asks?

5.    Why doesn’t God prevent tragedy?

4.    Why does God allow evil?

3.    Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?

2.    Why do evil people prosper?

1.    Why do the righteous suffer?

Before you quickly attempt to provide pat answers to these questions, consider the fact that these questions are consistently universal and ubiquitous—they appear everywhere at all times. If our philosophical and theological answers were adequate to explain the human condition on a level beyond the intellect, wouldn’t people stop asking them, and have stopped doing so years ago?

And please remember that they are posed in the midst of great turmoil of soul and spirit, typically generated by circumstances that have destroyed the fabric of human decency and order. They are not questions that inquire or call for a philosophical or even theological dialogue, although that sometimes occurs and may be profitable. No, these questions are more like a rhetorical shotgun blast, an interrogation generated by an internal explosion of angst and turmoil of the soul—triggered by external circumstances beyond our control.

These are questions that at the same time demand an answer, while not really expecting any single answer to sufficiently explain the catastrophe of a broken life and heart. So, how do we respond? How should we respond? And what do you think about the questions themselves? Are there other questions you would add to the top 10? I’d love to hear what you think, and I’ll share my thoughts in a later post. I will tell you this, Mt. St. Helens is proof that time may bring beauty out of the most explosive of circumstances. It takes time, but time alone does not heal all wounds. Ultimately, only Jesus does that.

Dealing With Life’s Most Persistent Question: Part 8

Sunset rolling farm fields Portrait along Hwy 90 near Ritzville WA 4-29-15On the Emmaus Road, late afternoon shadows lengthened as Cleopas and his buddy were walking along and asking questions—probably rhetorical questions. They may or may not have expected answers, but they needed to ask the questions. Their questions represent the dilemmas many of us face in the journey of life:

  •  “What are we going to do now? What is going to happen to us?”
  • “If He did rise from the dead, how did he do it?”
  •  “Why did this happen to a good guy like Jesus? He didn’t deserve to suffer like that.”

The Bible says “they communed together and reasoned…” (Luke 24:15, kjv). The Greek word for “reasoned” is suzeteo and means “make a thorough investigation.” These guys wanted to know what was going on. They were posing the questions of suffering that everybody asks at one time or another.

First, we want to know “What happened?” or “How did this happen?” This is the quest for details. We want to understand fully the whole story. Like hearing the news of a friend’s sudden death, we want to understand how it happened. Was it an accident or a sudden illness? We want to know who, what, when, and where. Details of information will be passed back and forth to satisfy our need to know.

Second, “Why did this happen?” This is a more profound question, and one that consistently persists. Once we know how, we want to know why. The “why” questions are always the most difficult, indeed they are life’s most persistent questions. They often defy solution. We search for reasons. Like Cleopas and his buddy, we investigate and seek answers, even though they often can’t be found in the here and now.

  • “Why did Jesus return to Jerusalem if He knew people wanted to kill him?”
  • “Why did Peter deny Jesus?”
  • “Why did Judas betray Jesus and then kill himself?”
  • “Why didn’t Jesus stop the people who were killing him?”
  •  “Why didn’t we all stick together?”

When we are troubled, it is helpful to remember that Jesus walks with us on our journey of life. He is never distant or far away. While these disciples were walking along and trying to figure things out, Jesus drew near to them. During troubled times we may think God is a million miles away. Panic sets in when we feel abandoned. We don’t usually make good decisions when we are in a state of panic or fear. And fear makes a poor lens for viewing life. It distorts reality and magnifies problems. It makes God appear to be far away while trouble appears to be next door.

Jesus is as close as the mention of his name. The Bible is full of promises about God’s nearness and comfort during our times of sorrow and grief. The journey may get rough at times, but Jesus will strengthen our faith as we recognize his presence and trust the promises of Scripture:

  • God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
  • God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. (Acts 17:27)
  • For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, nkjv)
  • … surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
  • Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9, nkjv)

Never forget:  Jesus is bigger than your questions, and as close as the mention of his name.

Resurrection: Signs of Spring

Resurrection - Signs of SpringI saw it this morning, a lone neighborhood rhododendron protesting the stark dormant landscape by unfurling its pink and ivory petals. Against all odds on this dark and rainy day, it victoriously displayed the inevitable triumph of resurrection. Though all outward circumstances indicate winter still maintains its frigid clutch on the landscape, the rebellious rhodie down the street courageously emerged to reveal its delicate beauty, despite the cold. And despite the biting wind and rain, I watched famished bumble bees, laden with pollen, battle one another for the sweet nourishment it offered them following months of impoverished hunger.

As I write this afternoon, another late winter squall fiercely peppers my window with raindrops like bullets from a machine gun. Although the official announcement of spring  is only a few days away, today the coming of spring seems a long way off–except for the memory of this morning’s lone rhododendron. Like a brave sentinel, it boldly maintains its post within enemy territory.First Rhodie lower res large 3-16-13 Petal by petal it unfolds to reveal a spectacle so gloriously un-winter like that I threw caution to the wind and rain, jumping at the chance for a photograph. In the face of possible damage to camera or equipment, I gladly took the risk in exchange for a permanent reminder that winter does not last forever. Knowing the unpredictability of our Pacific Northwest weather, spring may not truly arrive for a couple of months. In the meantime, the photo is a vivid reminder of spring’s inevitability.

Last week another photo opportunity reminded me of the same principle as I captured a shot of a rose bush with emerging leaves next to dead and decaying blossoms from last season, alongside a bright red rose hip (top photo). That rose hip, like the emerging leaves, serves as a reminder of life. For some reason, possibly having something to do with our bumblebee friends, that particular blossom was pollenated. So unlike its dead neighboring blossoms, it has become pregnant with seeds, and grown fatter over the winter months. Unless pruned by the gardener, it will soon open to scatter its seeds, spreading life. Death and life. Winter and spring. We can’t have one without the other.

During this holy season in the weeks leading up to Easter, we are reminded of resurrection hope in the midst of challenging, wintery circumstances. Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also” (John 14:19). But before a resurrection, there had to be a death. The sunshine of Palm Sunday gave way to the wintery shadows of the Holy Week. The weather changed when the passionate crowds turned icy in their fickle rejection of the King they had warmly welcomed days earlier. And the entire world seemed captured by winter’s frigid, dark embrace, culminating with the seemingly not good crucifixion on Good Friday.

Can you imagine the questions peppering the minds of Jesus’ followers? They had no familiarity with machine guns or bullets, yet the questions must have relentlessly pounded at the window of their souls. Mary no doubt was reminded of Simeon’s ominous prophecy given years earlier, “a sword will pierce your heart” (Luke 2:35). She wondered, “Why my son? Why now?”

For the disciples, the last three years were re-lived, revealing persistent questions. “Where are the miracles now? Why are we powerless to do something? Why doesn’t God do something?” Where was the glorious revelation of the Heavenly Father, like the voice they heard at Jesus’ transfiguration? Why was His booming voice, “This is my beloved Son,” silent on that day? Why did darkness cover the face of the earth, like the dark questions brooding in their hearts and minds, enveloping their hopes and dreams in disappointment and fear? Why only shadowed silence?

“Why?” always takes precedence as the most persistent of all questions when things go awry. And it persistently remains the most troublesome question. Why did Jesus cry out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Forsaken by God – that seems the conclusion when winter covers the landscape and winter’s chill seems permanent. For the disciples it must have generated even more questions. Had God forsaken them? Is that what they had signed up for, given the last three years of their lives for, to be forsaken by God?

During times of winter questioning, it is best to remember the words spoken in an earlier season. The words of explanation, words of comfort, words of hope, spoken to give us perspective on the days ahead when our gardens are currently overflowing and beauty abounds. To remember, we must listen in the first place. What had Jesus told them earlier that would have explained these tragic circumstances? What has He told you, that might sustain and offer hope during a bleak winter storm? What did you learn in the light that you must remember in the dark?

Virtually every birth comes at a painful price. Whether the birth of a human child, or the birth of a dream, birth pains are part of the deal. So why do we endure it? That question trumps the question of pain and suffering. Why does the rose scatter its seeds in the spring? Why does the gardener plant tender young plants into cold soil on a dark and rainy day? Why did Jesus go to the cross? Because of the hope. The hope of new life, eternal life. The hope of something better. The hope of an entire landscape filled with warmth and beauty. The promise of a bountiful harvest.

Thus Jesus went to the cross. He endured the winter of suffering, so we can enjoy the spring of resurrection. That doesn’t mean we won’t have struggles here, or questions. It does mean we can courageously rise above them, like the rebellious rhododendron down the street. And maybe we can provide sweet sustenance to nurture a famished friend. Signs of spring are all around us. Sometimes you must search for them, or create them yourself, but they are there. Hope springs eternal. And eternal life brings hope. ©2013 Don Detrick