Examining the Question of Why

Question of the Ages

The question of Why has hounded humanity since creation. Why did You allow this to happen, Lord? Why don't You hear my prayers, Lord? Why her and not me? Why do sinful people prosper while I suffer?

Not too long ago, I had my own questions while reading an issue of Voice of the Martyrs newsletter. One account told of two young women in Burma who were warned by Buddhists against preaching the Gospel. However, in their zeal for God and love for their fellow villagers, they continued to evangelize. For their efforts, they were attacked by Burmese soldiers, raped, and murdered.

This prompted me to ask some Why questions: Lord, they were doing the work You called them to do? Couldn't you have prevented this tragedy, especially to two so young? Then I added, And what about me, Lord? I possess not a shred of their zeal and courage, and yet you have permitted me to exist practically unscathed for 63-plus years. Why? I don't get it.

Many of us don't get it, but we'd like to. Can we obtain clarity on the question of Why? Let's look at a particular biblical personality who asked Why, and see what we can learn.

Habakkuk's Torment

Habakkuk, author of the 3-chapter book of the same name, was a prophet to Israel's Southern Kingdom of Judah a nation awash in iniquity, and he poured his heart out to God over it:

How long, LORD, have I called for help, And You do not hear? I cry out to You, Violence! Yet You do not save. Why do You make me see disaster, And make me look at destitution? Yes, devastation and violence are before me; Strife exists and contention arises. Therefore the Law is ignored, And justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore justice comes out confused. (Habakkuk 1:2-4).

This is the cry of a righteous man sickened by the sin he is surrounded by, something many of us can empathize with. Though Habakkuk only employed the word why once, it precisely characterizes his fervent plea.

God's Shocking Reply

If Habakkuk was seeking comfort, He was about to be disappointed. In essence, God's reply was that He was going to summon the powerful and ruthless Babylonians to wreak havoc upon Judah. Habakkuk was stunned; yes Judah was bad, but the Babylonians were far worse.

Habakkuk counters: Are You not from time everlasting, LORD, my God, my Holy One? We will not die. You, LORD, have appointed them to deliver judgment; And You, O Rock, have destined them to punish (v. 12).

Basically, Habakkuk is saying: Did I just hear you correctly, Lord? You are God, right? You realize that Israel is your people, right? You understand that the Babylonians are butchers, right? You realize that they can wipe us off the face of the earth, right? You have this situation under control, right? Why are You doing this?

The Question of Why Answered – Not Really

Throughout Chapter 2, the Lord replies to His devastated messenger that He knows exactly with whom He is dealing. Of the Babylonians, God, in essence, says: Yes, Habakkuk, I know all about them. They are arrogant and boastful, greedy and violent, and will let nothing stand in their way. So far, they have been successful in their pursuits, and will be for a time to come.

But, the Lord assures Habakkuk, He will not endure the Babylonians for long; He will do to Babylon as it has done to its victims. God guarantees Habakkuk that nothing Babylon does escapes His view, and it will not go unpunished. Yes, Babylon is God's chosen vessel for a time, but its time will end. And ultimately, God will redeem Israel.

God has revealed to Habakkuk His might and sovereignty, and the prophet is overwhelmed. He cannot help but to respond euphorically, devoting all of Chapter 3 to expressing his elation. And yet, in all of Habakkuk's jubilation, God never answered the question of Why! God never explained to Habakkuk why He did what He did. He simply affirmed His sovereignty to the prophet, and it was sufficient.

Our Solace

God did not answer the question of Why to Habakkuk, and He rarely answers the question of Why to us. God is not accountable to His Creation; He is the infinite God of all power, wisdom, and knowledge, and He will do as He pleases. He does what He wants according to His perfect will, and according to His nature, which is righteous, holy, loving, longsuffering, merciful, and perfect.

Despite this, God grants us comfort, something to help ease the distress of our hearts, minds, and spirits. No, we don't know why young women doing God's work are raped and murdered while evil men live long, happy, and contented lives. After all, God has clearly told us: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways … For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

But in His time, God's eternal plan will come to perfect fruition. Martyrs brutally slain are now worshiping in glory at Jesus' feet. One day, we will be doing the same – regardless of our fate in this life.

In the meantime, God gives us His peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). No, God has not seen fit to give us the answer to Why, but He has blessed us with His peace, and this peace is our solace. He also has promised us a glorious and wondrous future, and this too heartens on.

And when that glorious time comes, there will be no more reason to ask God Why?

David Ettinger is a writer/editor at Zion's Hope, Inc., and has written for Zion's Fire magazine since its inception in 1990.