Paul Aurandt shares this true story of James Macie. He was an illegitimate child, which is really a foolish idea, for it is the parents that are illegitimate, and not the child, but as is so often the case, the stigma of this followed him for life. The laws of England, in the 18th century, denied him the rights of any ordinary citizen. He was born in 1765, the illegitimate son of a British Duke. He abandoned his mother in France, and then returned to England. James was made a citizen, but with limitations.
He could not enter Parliament.
He could not hold public office.
He could not hold any job under civil service.
He could not enter the army or navy.
He could not be a member of the church of England.
He was bitter at these and other limitations, and when he grew up and became a noted scientist, he could not be knighted, as were his colleagues. The constant rejection by his country led him to reject them. When he died in 1829 he left his wealth to the United States of America. He had never been here, but by willing his fortune to the U.S. he disinherited the country that had disinherited him. He wanted the money used to establish an institution to increase knowledge, and perpetuate his true family name, which was denied him in birth. It was the name Smithson. The result is, we have in our capital the vast storehouse of cultural and scientific accomplishment-The Smithsonian Institution. All of this was a gift from one who was called illegitimate.
God has used so-called illegitimate people all through history. He also uses so-called illegitimate questions to accomplish his will. One of the greatest of all so-called illegitimate questions is the question why? Job in verse 20-21 specializes in this question. In the Revised Standard Version we read it three times.
1. "Why hast thou made me thy mark?"
2. "Why have I become a burden to thee?"
3. "Why doest thou not pardon my transgression?"
Why in the world the idea ever became so wide spread that we are not to question God, is a mystery. The Bible is full of it, and Job is an expert at it. I have had people come in deep distress with a heavy load on their minds, and they will begin, "I know we are not suppose to question why-but," and then they share their burden, which is a questioning of why. My question is, why should we not ask why? Why should this most natural and universal of questions be considered illegitimate? It makes no more sense than the custom of calling and innocent child, illegitimate.
Why should our whys be suppressed? Why is simply a acknowledgment of mystery, and a probe into the darkness for more light. It is the natural response of the child to the unknown.Some unknown poet wrote,
Why muvver, why
Was those poor blackbirds all baked in a pie?
And why did the cow jump right over the moon?
And why did the dish run away with the spoon?
And why must we wait for our wings till we die?
Why muvver, why?
It is foolish to tell a child he is not to ask why, for he will only ask why, and then what will you say? For there is no good reason why we shouldn't ask why, since we do it from childhood to old age.
This is the cry
That echoes through the wilderness of earth,
Through song and sorrow, day of death and birth.
It is the high
Wail of the child with all his life to face,
Man's last dumb question as he reaches space:
This was the question our Lord asked on the cross. "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
Why in the world is the world so full of whys?
Why are tears so frequently torn from people's eyes?
Why in this world of laughter is it someone always cries?
Why in this world of the living is it that everybody dies?
It is not only not wrong to ask why, it is wrong to not to ask why, for to never be puzzled by the mysteries of suffering is to be sinfully indifferent to that which touches all mankind at some point. He who never asks why is dead from his dandruff down. Why is not only a permissible question, it is an indispensable, and there's no basis in the Bible, or in logic, to forbid its use. It is not a illegitimate question, but one that is both legitimate and profitable. We cannot live in the shadow of this twisted question mark, but we must walk under it from time to time, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Our comfort is in the fact that Jesus has already been there, and He leads the way, understanding why we ask why. Every thinking man asks why in the face of terrible tragedy. It may be the why of anger, or the why of frustration, or even the why of mere curiosity, but no mind can be totally devoid of the question why.
Why, is a cry for meaning, and God has so made us that we can handle most anything when there is meaning. The question why does not have its origin in man's sinful rebellious nature. It has its origin in the original image of God, in which man is made. It is a good and a godly question, and can move us in the direction of discovery of the meaning we need for victory. Rob a man of his right to ask why, and you deny his manhood. You reduce him to a mere machine, which is to have no concern about its function or destiny. Man refuses to be a mere machine. He wants to be treated on the level of a person, made in the image of God, and worthy of some answer to life's mysteries. To be sure, questions can be a nuisance, as most parents are aware. Even adults ask many foolish questions. One elevator operator got so tired of people asking him the time, he installed a clock in his elevator. Now everyone asks him, "Is that the correct time?"
The very first question Jesus was asked on this earth, of which we have a record, was in Luke 2:48, where Mary, after three frantic days of searching, finds Jesus in the temple. Her first words are this question: "Son, why have you treated me so?" Jesus responded to that question with, "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" The next verse says they did not understand the explanation. What we see here is that it was perfectly legitimate for Mary to ask why, but the asking is no guarantee you will get an answer that you understand. The answer was there, but it took time and growth in her understanding before it became meaningful.
We should ask why, but we should also be patient, and recognize that the answer may not be easy to comprehend. Therefore, there is a need for patience and persistence in pursuing the answer until a foundation of meaning is established. Job is famous for his patience. He kept on asking why, and never gave up until he got a response from the silent heavens. The answer he got to his particular whys was that they were based on his ignorance of what was happening. God was not punishing him as a sinner. He was not chastising him as a disobedient saint. Job asked why don't you forgive me? The answer he got from God was, "I can't forgive you if you have not offended me. There is nothing to forgive." So Job's questions were natural, but they had no real answer, because they were based on a total misunderstanding of what was going on.
So often our whys our whys of ignorance and misunderstanding. We are like the little boy being taken to surgery who cries out, "Why don't you stop them?" to his father. The little guy in tears, and full of fears, cannot understand why his dad does not deliver him, for he does not know that what is happening is for his good, and dad is allowing it because he loves him. Job's whys were in this category. He did not know that God was not down on him, but so proud of him, he knew he could demonstrate to all the universe a loyalty that could not be crushed by suffering. Job was being highly honored, but he thought he was being hotly hated. We do not know how many of our whys fall into this category, but doubtless there are many. It is the great hope of the ages that one day the senseless will make sense.
Meanwhile, our whys will continue, and they will be like Job's whys. Job wanted to know why things were as they were, and why things that could be, were not. In other words, why is evil so evident, and why is good so often hidden? These two whys cover the vast majority, if not all, of the whys of men, and we want to focus on each of them. First-
I. THE WHY OF PRESENCE. verse 20.
Why am I the target of all the arrows of affliction? Job is being very personal. It is not the philosophical question of why so much suffering in the world, but why me? Orlo Strunk tells of rushing his wife to the hospital with a ruptured appendix. Right across the hall was a woman who kept crying out, "Oh, why me Lord? Why me?" These groans kept up for hours, and made everybody nervous. Some patients closed their doors, and others complained. Here was a woman who had become so obsessed with the question why, she became a neurotic who spread her gloom to everyone else. Most do not get so obsessed, but most who suffer deeply do ask the question, why me?
Even if we do not suffer personally, we still cannot escape the reality of suffering all about us. The news is full of stories that make us ask why. Why should Christians come home from church, and be killed at the hands of intruders? Why should such a lovely Christian girl suffer rape? Why should a concert pianist lose his hands in an accident? Why should a bus load of children parish? Why should a missionary be killed on his way to the mission field? Not a day goes by without reason to ask why. Why are there so many things present in this world that are miserable and evil?
During a scene in Eugene O'Neill's play, All God's Chillun Got Wings, one character asks another, "Will God forgive me?" The response is, "Maybe God can forgive you for what you have done to me, and maybe He can forgive me for what I have done to you, but I don't see how God can forgive Himself." This was his way of asking, why does God allow the presence of so much evil in the world? Why the starving children? Why the cruel murder of masses by bloodthirsty tyrants? Why the earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and multiplied forms of suffering? Many a doctor has vowed to take the cancer cell before the throne of God, and ask why? This is not the cry of the blasphemer only, it is the cry of the believer. It floods the heart and mind of the son, as well as the skeptic; the devout, as well as the doubter; the redeemed, as well as the rebellious. Many who feel it is wrong to ask these whys need to see how common they are in the Word of God.
1. For 7 years the Israelites were at the mercy of the Midianites. They would come and destroy their crops and treat them like slaves. Gideon, a great man of God, said in Judges 6:13, "If the Lord is with us, why then has all this befallen us?" God did not say to bypass that skeptic, who dares to question my providence. Instead, he chose this man to be the one to set Israel free. The man with enough gumption to ask why is the man with enough motivation to do something about it.
2. In Ex. 5:22 Moses cries out, "O Lord, why hast thou done evil to this people? Why didst thou ever send me?" Did God move on from this questioner to find somebody more docile? No, He chose Moses to lead his people out of their bondage. God did not chose a yes man, one who says all is well, and I can accept everything that is. Instead, He chose a why man, one who could ask why is everything so rotten, and why is there no relief? A why man is ready for action to change what is wrong. A man who does not wonder why, is not likely to be part of the answer.
We don't have the time to examine the many whys of the Bible, but we do want to focus on the fact that Jesus was, in His humanity, also a why man. I found 21 places in the New Testament where Jesus asked the question why. He asked, "Why do men reject the best? Why are men so materialistic? Why do we worry so? Why are we so critical and fearful? Why do we put God to the test? Why are we so skeptical and doubtful? Why don't we use our heads? Why don't we believe? Why the injustice? Why am I forsaken?" For anyone to say it is not right to ask why is to question the sinlessness of our Savior.
II. THE WHY OF ABSENCE.
Job is not only bothered by what is, but by what isn't. Why does God not pardon my offenses, and forgive my sin? Life could be better and we know it, so this provokes many whys. The more you know of the goodness and grace of God, the more you ask why, when that goodness and grace seem to be absent. Geddes MacGreger points out in his book, The Sense Of Absence: The atheist cannot sense the absence of God. This is an experience for believers only. In other words, a believer will have more whys than the non-believer. A man who does not believe in God has no reason to ask why. If there is no God, and no purpose to life, then there is no reason to ask why. Why shouldn't life be a hodge podge of meaningless and chaotic tragedy if it is all a colossal accident in the first place. The unbeliever has no basis for asking why. It is the believer who has the basis, for he feels deprived of what he knows is good.
It is the one who has had love who is most aware of its absence. Only those who have seen can sense the absence of light. Those born blind do not sense it, for they have never known it. You cannot miss what you never had. MacGreger wrote, "Only where there is a very distinctive and powerful awareness of God can there be an excruciating sense of absence. What this means for Job is that his very closeness to God, before his suffering began, is the cause for the depths of his sense of God's absence.
The paradox is this: The greater your nearness to God, the greater will be your suffering in his absence. Only the greatest saints feel the pangs of God's absence. No one but Jesus could plummet to the depths of his why, on the cross, "My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me". This was the ultimate why of absence, for in that why we see Jesus baring our hell. Hell is the absence of God, and Jesus was there. When we say it was hell on earth, that is a legitimate way of describing the deep sense of God's absence. Job went through hell on earth, for he felt it deeply. The point is, it is all right for the believer to ask why. Something is wrong with a believer who does not ask why when he feels the absence of God. Job is a perfect example of how a believer should feel.
It is only the atheist and unbeliever who should never ask why, for they do not know God, and so cannot feel his absence. Why implies a meaningful and purposeful universe, and so if God is eliminated, then you also eliminate meaning, and so have no basis for asking why. Paul makes it clear in II Cor. 5 that the absence of God is a part of our Christian experience. It is in fact a necessity for there to be a distinction between this life, and our life with God in heaven. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord Paul says. And to be present in the body is to be absent from the Lord. What Paul is saying is that there can be no perfect communion with God in this life, for body life makes it impossible. In the body we only get a taste of God's presence. That means the body also forces us to taste His absence. Paul did not enjoy the absence of God, and that is why he says he would rather be absent from the body, and at home with the Lord.
Paul did not know why he had to go through so much suffering, and he felt deeply the absence of God, but he was a victorious sufferer, for like Job, he never lost faith in the goodness of God. His aim was to please God no matter what, and that is also why Job is a hero. His whys were the legitimate whys of one who knew there had to be an answer, and he never gave up until he found it. There is even a touch of humor as we read the closing lines of this chapter. Job says please hurry God and forgive me, for if you wait much longer you'll come and find out you went too far, and I will be gone.
We see Job's whys are the whys of the believer. He is serious in his questioning of God, but he was also serious in his loyalty to God. His faith is illustrated by these words found on a wall in Cologne after World War II.
I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining;
I believe in love, even when I feel it not;
I believe in God, even when He is silent.
Job does not offend God with his whys. Instead, he makes God proud of him, because of his patience and persistence inspite of having no answer to his whys. C.S. Lewis in Screwtape Letters has Satan warning one of his demonic servants about the facts of life in the great warfare of good and evil. He says, "Do not be deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys." Satan gains no victory when the saint ask why. He only wins when the saint ceases to seek for an answer, or ceases to live in obedience to God till he has all the answers.
All through history the saints of God have cried out with Job and Jesus, why? Vance Havner is a modern example. He has gone through great grief in his later years as a servant of God. One of his heaviest burdens has been his Job's friends. Listen to his testimony. "Whoever thinks he has the ways of God conveniently tabulated, analyzed, and correlated with convenient, glib answers to ease every question from aching hearts has not been far in the maze of mystery we call life and death. At this writing I never knew less how to explain the ways of Providence but I never had more confidence in God." He also said, "We cannot always trace God's hand, but we can always trust His heart." You have the right to ask why, if you are determined to be faithful even without the answer.
Whys are not only to be asked, but to be answered. God asks His own whys. "Why will ye die and not live." Jesus asks, "Why will ye not believe and follow me?" "Why will you not trust me and receive abundant and eternal life?" If you have not received all that God wants you to have in Christ, the question God has for you is, why?