29th Nov 2011
Article contributed by: Agape (North America)
From the editor: We have our reader Agape who sent in a wonderful commentary article to be posted on Faithful Thoughts. this article was written with reference to our earlier blog post “Don’t Ask God WHY?” dated 28th Nov 2011 by Pastor Joshua.
BEFORE WE ASK WHY
The immensely popular blog “Faithful Thoughts” has posted Pastor Joshua’s recent blog post (see “Don’t ask God WHY?”, posted on 28/11/11) of an issue that’s interesting to Christians, I thought I should make some preliminary remarks concerning what, it seems to me, to be a curious but interesting subject.
1. Many people have often asked about something in the form of the question ‘Why?’ without properly understanding *why* they do so in the first place. This is an important observation. In asking “Why?” we may think that we are inquiring into the *causes* behind a certain event when more often than not we are actually searching for *reasons* to justify the occurrence of that event. Confusion arises when we fail to distinguish between ’cause’ and ‘reason’. Let me try to clarify this distinction. We say that X *causes* Y insofar as X is a *sufficient condition* for Y; for example, if it rains the ground becomes wet. This means that whenever it rains I can be certain that the ground *will* be wet; however, this does *not* mean that the ground will be wet *only if* it rains, since there are many different ways to make the ground wet, such as someone splashing water over it, or in the case of unexpected flooding. Hence, in ordinary language we say that the rain is *a cause* (though not the only one) of the ground being wet; it is a *cause* because the rain somehow *makes* the ground wet. In other words, there is a *change* in the physical condition of the ground.
On the other hand, to give a *reason* for something being the case is rather different. We imagine that a boy may pose to his parents the question: “Why can’t I go to the amusement park?”, to which he may receive the following reply: “Because Daddy is feeling unwell today.” Here the reason is *because* Daddy is sick. In this context X is a *reason* for Y insofar as X provides a *justification* for Y being such-and-such; the fact that Daddy is feeling unwell *justifies* the parents’ refusal to bring their kid to the amusement park.
2. It is at this point where we can discern an important factor that distinguishes ’cause’ from ‘reason’. To say that the rain is a ’cause’ of the ground being wet is to *imply* the event of raining; in other words, it is *true* that if it is raining, the ground will become wet. But as far as giving reasons are concerned, there need not be any consideration at all about truth. Although the boy might be told that he could not go to the amusement park because Daddy is feeling unwell, the question as to whether Daddy is truly unwell is *irrelevant* to the matter. For it might, after all, turn out to be just an *excuse* (the real reason could be due to something else that the boy may never know).
Thus to identify a cause is, presumably, to identify something as true, while to give a reason is to simply justify an event or an action as right or permissible without necessarily being true.
3. So what is the point of the above illustration? My point is that even in everyday situations we are often confused about what is it we are really asking for when we ask “Why?” The issue becomes much more complex when the religious believer is prompted by his suffering to ask “Why is God allowing all these to happen to me?” — But does he really know what he is asking about? Is he inquiring into the *cause* of his suffering, or is he trying to find *reasons* to justify his own explanations as to why he is suffering? It seems to me that in either case he is bound to end up in a meaningless chase. For how should he, as a finite and mortal human being, ever know the cause of his suffering from God’s perspective? Surely God’s ways are infinitely higher than our ways. And if he should seek reasons to justify why he is suffering (e.g. due to divine punishment, necessary trials, etc.) then he is in effect only deceiving himself, for he will never know whether or not those reasons are true. Furthermore, any reason that he gives is necessarily given from a *subjective* viewpoint; he could very well be blinded by his own prejudices and assumptions.
4. Does this mean that we as Christians can never ask “Why?” pertaining to our lives and the things happening around us? No, there is actually a sensible way to do so, provided that we are capable of seeing ourselves as limited beings in the presence of an awesome God. Instead of asking “Why am I suffering?” from a self-centered perspective, we should be asking “Why is there suffering in the world?” from a Christ-centered life, so that we may be moved beyond mere reflection to care for the less unfortunate, and to love our neighbours just as God has loved us. For Christ has said: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt. 25:40)
5. Thus, when the Christian asks “Why?” he ought not ask for the cause or the reason behind what has happened, but can only ask it as if he is standing in the sheer *wonder* of divine sovereignty, fully surrendering himself to God in the hope that one day, all things shall be made new in His sight.
I wish you all peace in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Aspiring Theologian