Ask God Why? When Is It OK?

Ask God Why? When Is It OK? March 12, 2013

Why? For many Christians, it’s the question we should never ask.

We tend to think we should just shut up and do what God tells us. He is, after all, a consuming fire. We know the whole story of when the earth opened to swallow those who dared to ask too many questions. So we keep our mouths shut, thinking it’s never OK to raise our hands and ask God the ultimate question — why?

There’s some truth to that thought. God is God, and we are not. His authority is non-negotiable. At a deep and fallen level, none of us really like that fact. As Graeme Goldsworthy put it, the fall was us reaching up to wrestle some of God’s authority from Him. We know how that turned out.

So some Christians choose to take the Bud Dry approach. I don’t mean drinking their questions away, although there’s likely too much of that, too. Do you remember the jingle? “Why ask why? Drink Bud Dry.” I confess to not even knowing why Bud needed to be dry in the first place, but that’s the power of advertising.

Far too many Christians default to that position — why ask why? What difference does it make? God will do what he wants? It’s not my problem.

But that simplistic thinking ignores the many instances where God tolerates questioning of himself. The disciples were, perhaps, the most obvious and repeated example.

Why Are We Asking Why?

As with most matters, I think it has more to do with with our heart. “Out of the abundance of our heart, our mouth speaks.” It all depends on why we are asking why.

Here are a few reasons we might be asking the question:

  • Accusing. Every parent has used why in this way. “Why did you do that?” Depending on how we ask this question, we can accuse our children of being brainless morons without actually saying so. And they can, as they get older, give that medicine right back to us. We can do the same with God. In those instances, we really don’t want to know why. We’re just angry at Him [See my post You Don’t Need All the Answers to Stop Being Angry at God]. The Israelites mastered this approach, often with grave, ground-swallowing, catastrophic consequences. They didn’t really want the answer to their question. They just wanted to complain. Likewise, our questions are often just cover for our complaints. [Tweet this!] A couple of examples should suffice:

All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Ex. 17:1-3)

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Num. 14:1-3)

  • Confusing. Sometimes we ask because we’re disillusioned by the way things have turned out. Our walk of faith turns out to not be what we thought it would be.  The problem in such circumstances is not with God but with us. We had begun to write the story for Him. No wonder we get frustrated when He erases our sketches and replaces them with His own designs. We can tell when our question is born of confusion because it is often followed by “But I thought….” It’s not that we are accusing God of anything. Not really. We’ve just confused our ways for His ways. Moses asked why when he felt the same disillusionment after his first attempt to talk to Pharaoh was apparently a complete failure:

The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.” They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; and they said to them, “The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”  (Ex. 5:19-23)

  • Learning. God tells us to ask for wisdom when we lack it. Sometimes, the question we should ask of Him to get wisdom is why? Why have you made me? Why have you placed this person in my life? Why this particular challenge? Nothing wrong with asking God honest questions when we genuinely want to know for the purpose of becoming better FaithWalkers. Just prepare yourself for the answer, because why is a “big boy” question. As God told Job, if you want that kind of wisdom, brace yourself to handle God’s answer.

In what circumstances do you find yourself wanting to ask God why? Leave a comment with a click here to help us all grow with more abundant faith.

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  • Araghast

    The question I’d ask is why does god think he has the right to demand anything of us?
    Why does he seem to think that he can treat us in whatever way he sees fit?
    Why does he think that he can decide our purpose for us?
    And by what reason does he think that we’re to be judged by himself?
    Without any ability to refuse?

    • Thanks for the comment. If you believed that He created you, would that change your questions?

      • Araghast

        It wouldn’t personally. I think of it like this that let us say that I had a child. Because I played a significant part in creating this child;
        Do I get to demand of this child that they grow up and become a geographer?
        Do I get the right to punish the child however I see fit if they didn’t desire or refused to be a geographer?
        Do I have the right to decide the purpose of life for this child?

        If not, then why does god get to do the above and more to dictate to us how the child experiences his life?

        Its something I have been trying to grapple with about christianity for a while: That it seems that at the very core of it all is that we are to be slaves to this god, because we were created purely for the purpose of satisfying god’s will, and that the rest of it god is either indifferent about or hates; the cherry on the cake being that if you don’t or can’t bring yourself to embrace this purpose, if you deviate from this he reserves the right to either shun you away and refuse to associate with you, and at its worst torture you without mercy or remorse.

        If you have a take on what I said feel free to share it, its something I’d like to get some perspectives for. because it seems to me that if the above is true, it becomes difficult to understand why I or anyone would want to associate with this god; especially when it seems to consider that punishing the innocent to spare the guilty, and genocide are seemily perfectly acceptable actions for this god.

        • But you are not an infinite being and, by playing a “significant part,” you did not create that child. If you had created him or her into a conditional relationship with you in a universe that you created for your purposes, would that change your perpective at all?

          By the way, I appreciate the tone and sincerity of your questioning these issues. The short answer I want to give to your question is — because He is God. But that answer implies an intellectual short-hand on my part that isn’t very helpful to you because I understand what I mean when I use the term “God” and you may likely have a different understanding of that term.

          Do you mind if I respond in more detail to this in a post in the coming days? It lines up with some things I have been thinking of late anyways.

          • Araghast

            Of course. The analogy isn’t a perfect one I admit. I will obviously have to wait and see you flesh out your ideas in the coming days, but to be honest I don’t understand why “Because its god” would justify having dominion over a sentient group of his own devising, but that’ll wait for now.

            To answer the question would be I wouldn’t create a sentient being that could fullfil a conditional relationship with me and then decide that their purpose of existance IS to have that relationship, and then rig it so that they suffer if they don’t.

            I think a better way of summing my current thoughts with the child analogy is that I don’t OWN the child. It’s not MINE. The child is an individual of its own, with its own desires, thoughts, and needs. Instead of owning the child I bear the responsibility of caring for it (a responsability that is undertaken willingly, can be shared, passed onto others and the like). This kind of relationship changes over time as the child matures and starts to take the responsibilities I bore on themselves.

            But when I listen to christains talk about their god, and discuss the bible, It comes accross as a being that doesn’t want us mature at all, wants to keep us as infants incapable and unwilling to shoulder the responsabilities that it has, and like an overprotective or obsessive parent doesn’t want us to grow up capable of living in a world without him.

            At worst it seems like the abrihamic god is a dictator, demanding endless worship and satisfaction of its desires without a care for, and in cases to the detriment to the concerns and problems we face; enforcing its will through fear and intimidation, constant surveilance, rewarding those complicit and punishing the rebellious. This seems rather orwellian to me.

            Just note that I’m not to be counted amongst those who are well versed in the bible itself; I have other books that at the moment are more important for me to read, and I find it more useful to see how others use, deal and interpret it, because that’s what builds a theology and builds a church.

            Also one more question that I would ask is why would god create us to be an inferior sentient being that requires him? why would he not create us as equals to him?

          • Got it. Appreciate your thoughts. One thing to think about in the meantime would be if the God of the Bible exists — recognizing that we are using a term for which we both have different meanings — why would he have to justify anything to anyone?

  • Araghast

    I would appreciate that. I’ll await you to clarify what you meant by “because he is god”, but I don’t see why that gives him carte blanche to act however he see’s fit with us.

    I was trying to make the point that with a child: I don’t OWN the child. Its not MINE; its an individual with its own desires, needs and capacity for thought and development. As a parent, I don’t have ownership of the child, I have the responsibility of caring for the child which it isn’t capable of. its a responsability that is undertaken willingly, but can be shared or passed onto othes. Furthermore as the child matures they begin to assume the responsibility of caring for themselves and for living in the world as their own individual.

    In the same way we have started to advocate that animals should have rights similar to us that perhaps the same could or should be advocated with god (just because we’re not “infinite beings” like he is doesn’t mean we should be beneath moral consideration by him either).

    When I listen to your fellow christians talk about their faith and the bible I get the impression and message that this god doesn’t want us to grow up as independant individuals capable of living free independant lives, but rather keep us as being children, immature and dependant on him.

    Even worse is the impression I get from some that this god is an orwellian dictator: One that cares only that its whims are satisfied, and that human endeavours are beneath him. A dictatorship enforced by the threat of unimaginable punishment and torture, puts us under constant surveilance, ready to punish those who hesistate or refuse to be servile.

    This to me if I did adopt the beleif that this theology was true and accurate would make me much more sympathetic with satan (shock and horror!). I mean if either of the above reflects god’s nature, then maybe satan had a good reason for rebelling… Why would god create us to be inferior rather then equals?

    • Araghast

      whoops, repeat. sorry about that.

    • Quick thought: If God is infinite, anything he created that was finite (and all things that have a starting point are finite) could never be equal to Him. Something to chew on….

      • Araghast

        Why then did god create us finite instead of infinite?
        And why does not being equal in those respects absolve god of treating us with the same level of respect he demands of us?

        And I would say that in regards to god justifying his actions 2 things.

        Firstly because this god is doing things that affect us, and can affect us in ways that help and harm us, we should in fact expect a rationale for why he does this; whether its a good rationale or not becomes a subject of further debate.

        Secondly I think that any god worthy, or desiring of my respect should be able and willing to justify its actions. When we don’t hold others (especially those who are holding an authority or status over us) accountable for their actions it paves the way for all kinds of crimes against humanity. History is littered with examples of this kind of power abuse. What I ask is how do we hold god accountable, to ensure that he does not abuse this power over us?

        Why should we question god? because if we don’t, we’re left with nothing but his word that he has our best interests at heart, which does ring hollow when from what I’m aware of, this god has in the past (at least seemingly) condoned human slavery, genocide, and even a human sacrifice.

      • Jennifer

        I often wonder whether God had a starting point. And then I wonder about our own starting points. Do we spring into existence when sperm meets egg? Are we physical bodies only ? Or do we exist in some other form before we are physically conceived? And if we are, indeed, only physical then our building blocks definitely start before we are conceived by our parents. So when do we actually begin?

        • If he had a starting point then he can’t be God. God, by definition, must be infinite, ultimate perfection, — the unmoved mover, if you will — or he can’t be God. If something else preceded him and caused Him to be, then whatever it is must take his place.

          • Araghast

            Why must this being be Infinite and perfect? (And it being perfect is a very debatable manner depending on what actions are attributed to it.)

          • Jennifer

            who defined God. Don’t we restrict God by defining him? And would God be “less” if something else preceded Him or if He came into being somehow? We have used our “fallen” minds to define a being we cannot understand and to say what He “must” be and I am not at all convinced we are capable of doing so. I think we have clues, yes! Though some of them – as pointed out by Araghast – appear contradictory. I really doubt, however, that our human brains can know the exact nature of God. It’s tricky because on the one hand I see folly in the “God can be anything to anyone” position but on the other hand I think there is danger in closing our minds to an expanding understanding of God if we cling too closely to our image of Him.

            As usual I have wandered off your original topic and for that I apologize. I personally think that God must love it when we ask questions. At the very least it shows we are interested 🙂

          • Xavier

            Great point.

            So how do you understand what Matthew calls the “origin, coming into existence” of His Son, Jesus (Mat 1.1, 18-20; cp. Luke 1.35)?

          • The incarnation of the second person of the Triune Godhead? His humanity began, of course, and traced its lineage back through Mary and — by being under Joseph’s authority, through Joseph. But not his divinity. Regretfully, I don’t have time to answer this in all its fullness, but I would point you to the early creeds of the church as expressions with which I agree. Nicene and Athanasian Creeds and The Westminster Confession of Faith as it pertains to the Incarnation. Hope that answers something. Sorry no time for more…

        • Xavier

          Genesis 2.7.

  • Araghast

    That then also raises in interesting question. If we take the above as true, Why would god; creating us for the explicit purpose of having a specific relationship with it, who also then decides he’s going to make people suffer if they don’t do this.

    Then why would he make it so difficult to even understand itself, and decide that the best way to make us understand is through a writings, in an ancient language that was going to go out of use and would not perfectly translate into the hundreds of other languages that would evolve as we progressed? And would not have a means of reliably replicating its content while capturing the original meaning of previous copies for centuries (until the advent of printing presses)?

    I mean most people if they wanted to make their existance known and that they wanted a specific kind of relationship with you seem to have a far better way of making that known then this god.

    • Jennifer

      This question – one that I’ve asked myself – gives me headaches. As one who would have “justifiably” and “in the name of God” been burned at the stake for witchcraft not too long ago (I have a knowledge of herbs), I find it difficult to feel 100% confident in our image of God. The specific relationship God “wants” seems to be changeable and far too tied to issues of human power and control.

      Are we capable, in our current human form of knowing God? Is God restricted to that which we can hear, feel, touch, taste and smell? Or is he something beyond? I am suspecting the latter. It is not a requirement of relationship that two beings are equal or understand each other. Just ask my dog. Or my husband, for that matter (although we are “equal” in some senses, we are by no means the same). I doubt that we would be closer to knowing God if He came to Earth in some dazzling fashion and “proved” that he existed. More of us would probably accept his existence (or, more likely, suspect mass drugging of some kind!). But would our relationship to God change? Would we, having sensed God, be in a deeper relationship with Him? Or would our relationship become one strictly OF the senses and in fact be diminished?

      • Araghast

        For me it would enable me to first actually have such a relationship in the first place. If we have no means of sensing or percieving god through our senses then how does one even establish that such a being exists to have the relationship with in the first place?

        Sure, equality is not a requirement for a relationship; but it is needed for a mutually beneficial and happy relationship to an extent. Sure you and your dog are not the same; but you treat them with the respect as you would a member of your family (you look after them, give them the same consideration in moral aspects, and empathise with them to a similar extent as you would with another human being).

        One of the most important points of contention I have when I examine christianity is what kind of relationship does this god ask of me? Is it one that holds respect for my decisions, independance and personal autonomy? Is it a relationship that enables me to grow and develop as my own individual without constraint or is it a relationship that controls, restricts and damns non conformity?

        Is god offering a relationship of mutuality (where both make contributions that improve the standing of both)?
        Or is god offering a parasitic relationship (gods desires and needs are to be satisfied to the apathy or detriment of my own)?

        Does god want me to be my own man? Or does he want me to be a slave for jesus?

        • Jennifer

          I can see your point about feeling the need to sense or perceive God in order to make Him “real”. I grew up in a largely secular household and a God wasn’t particularly on my radar. I’ve had to grow into Him based on little more than heeding a strong call from within. And I feel the ground I am standing on is both rock solid and completely shaky at the same time. Agh.

          The question you raise about what KIND of relationship God is asking of you is one that I, too, wonder about. A relationship of submission to the authority of God – with eternal punishment for those who don’t “obey” – is definitely damning of non-conformity. Then I start to wonder…. If God gave us free will, and wants us to come to him of our free will, but does not want us to question His will and requires on pain of damnation that we obey him, how do we get from point “A” to point “B”. This probably poses very little trouble for those that already have an unquestioning faith in God. For me, however, it is proving to be a troubling question. On the other hand, I know that there are natural laws that we ignore to our peril and start to wonder if God’s laws have consequences of this sort as opposed to the wrathfully and punishing God kind. In other words: we have great personal freedom within certain natural constraints (such as the law of gravity). Might we also have great personal freedom within God’s laws?

          Endless questions. I thank you for your thoughts.

          • Araghast

            Hopefully it won’t require blind faith. I’ve had enough experience with that such gambles are just not worth taking in the first place.

            And that maybe the core issue that Bill will face in responding to me. Because if it comes down to having faith then he’ll have pretty much erected an insurmountable obsticle for me. I just can’t offer such blind, unquestioning trust. I’ve seen the ups and downs, and I can’t find any benefit that outweighs the cost one pays for faith.

          • Would you give some thought as to what would you say is your ultimate voice of authority? In other words, to what do you appeal to as having the decisive word on such matters?

        • Jennifer

          My problem with blind faith lies partially in the question of which God to believe in. Even if I determine that it makes no sense for our Universe to exist without God, why should I have faith in the Christian God as opposed, for instance, to the hundreds (?) of manifestations of the one Hindu God? Although I have not seen God directly I can see Him in his effects – sort of like experiencing the effects of gravity without being able to see gravity itself. So in a way I can see Him. I have also felt him, but I’m sure that neuroscientists could have a field day with that one. Since neither God nor an absense of God seems to be difinitively provable we can say that an amount of blind faith is required for either belief. I personally “see” a belief in God more clearly than I can see a belief in his absense, but I am definitely not at the point where I can accept the Bible as literal truth.

          I hope Bill can answer your questions in a much more satisfactory way.

          • Araghast

            Blind faith would only be required when one states a personal certainty in either outcome, when said outcome is untestable (which is what makes something unprovable) If it can be tested faith is no longer required.

            Its interesting you mention gravity, because I recall in the book of joshua (10:5- 12 if memory is correct) where god is helping the israelites slaughter an army through the use of rocks. It then gets mentioned that he then keeps the sun still.

            For this to happen to earths perspective it would require either that the earth stop in its rotation, both accross its axis and its rotation around the sun, or that the sun then spin arround the earth fast enough that from our perspective that it didn’t move.

            I’ve yet to look at the second case, but in the first one if that happened it would have wiped out humanity for sure. The reason for this is that in this act god is depleting the earth of all its momentum. However we would retain ours; which is going to involve traveling at about 30km per second, essentially flinging half of humanity off the planet in mere seconds with the rest slamming into the earth and getting splatted near instantly.

            And all of that just to kill a few human beings who looked at Joshua funny.
            But then again if we’re going to suspend disbeleif in the earth being halted in an instant it wouldn’t be much of a stretch for god to do the same for earths creatures. Though if god really wanted Joshua to win easily it would have been even simpler to allow their enemies to retain their motion, and die in mere moments leaving the israelites without a scratch.

            Realistically we’re probably looking at a case of very poor time keeping, or just getting very riled up that they weren’t paying attention. I wouldn’t know whether the reference to large hailstones would be plausible since I don’t know whether hailstones would occur in that part of the middle east, let alone what damage the largest hailstones of today would do.

            Its a funny scenario as a physical problem. But as an ethical (or spiritual, whatever that means) of a perfect god its very problematic (in my view).

  • Xavier

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my question.
    Your response sounded a bit Catholic to me, we should hold to Creedal traditions as opposed to what the scriptures say. But what about the Jewish-Christian creed of the Shema which Jesus reaffirms and commands in Mar 12.29? Are you saying this is a trinitarian creed?

  • Xavier

    Has the “system” has done away with Jesus?

    This in the Word Biblical Commentary (leading commentary authority on NT):
    “Jesus’ affirmation of the Shema [Mark 12:29, agreeing with a Jew] is neither remarkable nor specifically Christian” (Craig Evans, Mark, p. 261).

    Please note and react to the horrifying dismissal of the teaching of Jesus to the status of non-Christian! What is the Church up to? Jesus said that the Shema is the most fundamental of all commands and it is basis of the worship of the one True God.

    Did Jesus affirm the council of Nicea with his absolutely clear affirmation of the Shema as the right definition of God?

    I thought Luke and Matthew clearly describe the coming into existence of the SON of God (Matt. 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35).

    “For this reason precisely he will be called Son of God” and “what is begotten in her is from holy spirit.”

    Is the Son of GOD merely the assumed “humanity” of Jesus? Did Mary take in personality from OUTSIDE!
    That is what gnostics taught!

    What word in the NT corresponds to the very abstract idea of “humanity”?

    Don’t forget that official orthodoxy to which people claim allegiance believes that Jesus was “MAN but not A MAN.”

  • Araghast

    To respond to your question regarding the Ultimate voice of authority, I understand what you are getting at, I myself have a perspective on this.

    If god had a physical form we would be capable of quantifying its properties: its height for instance.

    Now obviously evaluating the morality of gods actions (dropping the matter of whether it actually existed and behaved as described) would be a tricky matter if you put it in binary terms of good and evil (since one would need to decide what principles determine it). As such I avoid using such a method.

    But what is much easier to break it down and evaluate them to a spectrum of properties. examples of such would be to evaluate actions based on whether they were compassionate, rushed, callous, rational/irrational. and so on. Its easier to evaluate behaviour along these lines because such these properties have specific definitions that can be aggreed upon.

    From this perspective I can look at the behaviour motivated by faith, break it down into this spectrum to then make judgements on them.

    From that point I can then decide on what actions I wish to take in order to better persue my goals, desires and needs.

    The blunt answer to your question of what my ultimate authority is: for me, it would be myself. I take the helm in my life (the captain of the ship 🙂 ) for as long as I am capable and willing to. There maybe times (like there have been in the past) where I may wish or require others to assist me. This decision of allowing others to have influence on steering my life is an important one that won’t be taken lightly. Faith in this context could be measured or observed as the amount of influence and control one is willing to concede in the direction your life, due to the amount of trust one puts in this. This faith could be informed by experience, reason and emotion. Or it can be uninformed faith (which would be the blind faith i refer to, albeit more refined way of putting it).

    If you are seeking to form a more detailed response to all the things we’re talking about (in a blog post/pm or whatever), I would appreciate it if you could talk about how your faith in the god you percieve in the bible is informed, and to what extent you deem it appropriate to let this god influence your life.

    • Thank you. A clarifying and authentic response. I appreciate your suggestions for the posts. It looks as if it could be several now :).

      • Araghast

        Go for it if you think you got the material to work with.

  • Araghast

    Also, Quick question that comes up; which is more important to god? Our free will, or our conformity to his will? and if the former, why decide to make conformity a hobsons choice that inflicts suffering if we don’t choose how he wants to?

    • Thanks. Haven’t forgotten you.This is another question worth a book, let alone a post. I’ll work my responses in as I can…. Thanks for the patience.

      • Araghast

        Hello there, I was just wondering if you had made any progress to responding to me, or if you had something new to say about what we talked about.

        • Thanks for checking in. Just back in the country. Will get back on it.

          • Araghast

            Hello there. Just checking in to see if you’ve cracked the enigma yet.