I learned a long time ago to stop asking questions of others if I don’t want to hear their answers. At least that’s the case most of the time, with most people. It’s definitely a different story when it comes to God; despite my best efforts to predict and control my circumstances, He always seems to answer in the most unexpected ways. Sometimes His responses takes my breath away with how wondrous they are; others, they can stop me in my tracks with how much they seem to wound. He’s hard for us all to comprehend. Mostly, it seems my questions have to do with the problem of pain, essentially asking why I and others must suffer. Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias points out that only a Western worldview would allow this question. Isn’t it funny that we frequently question why we deserve to suffer, but rarely consider why a just God has freely given us so much love and grace and beauty?
Just maybe, I’m trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. Still, I can’t seem to stop wondering why things happen as they do. Why are we all living our lives as if we’re trying to tip the scales in our favor, when we have to know that’s not the way it works? Maybe, as Norah Jones sang, “I’m looking for an answer to a question I can’t name”. Author Marilynne Robinson reflects on this too:
“Things happen for reasons that are hidden from us, utterly hidden for as long as we think they must proceed from what has come before, our guilt or our deserving, rather than coming to us from a future that God in his freedom offers to us… My meaning here is that you really can’t account for what happens by what has happened in the past, as you understand it anyway, which may be very different from the past itself. If there is such a thing….Of course misfortunes have opened the way to blessings you would never have thought to hope for, that you would not have been ready to understand as blessings if they had come to you in your youth, when you were uninjured, innocent. The future always finds us changed. So then it is part of the providence of God, as I see it, that blessing or happiness can have very different meanings from one time to another. This is not to say that joy is a compensation for loss, but that each of them, joy and loss, exists in its own right and must be recognized for what it is. Sorrow is very real, and loss feels very final to us. Life on earth is difficult and grave, and marvelous. Our experience is fragmentary. Its parts don’t add up. They don’t even belong in the same calculation. Nothing makes sense until we understand that experience does not accumulate like money, or memory, or like years and frailties. Instead it is presented to us by a God who is not under any obligation to the past except in His eternal, freely given constancy. Because I don’t mean to suggest that experience is random or accidental, you see. When I say that much the greater part of our existence is unknowable by us because it rests with God, who is unknowable, I acknowledge His grace in allowing us to feel that we know any slightest part of it” (Lila, Farrar, Straus and Giroux; pp. 222-223).
Perhaps it’s natural I don’t understand God’s working, when there’s so much about Him that simply can’t be known yet, and so much of what we do know defies understanding. I’m a spectator in a parade, and He’s the grand marshal, looking at His creation from a view up above. As C.S. Lewis says of his character Aslan, and in so doing describes and untamable God: “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” Who could worship a god that was at our level, that didn’t defy our logic? What can we do but stand in awe? As Chris Tomlin sings, it’s good He’s “Indescribable”:
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing God
All powerful, untamable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God”.