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FIRST-PERSON: Asking ‘Why?’ amid the destruction

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–The devastation and destruction that recently ravaged Jackson, Tenn., left most people with lingering questions about the nature of life on earth and God in heaven.

Driving through downtown, walking among those who survived the storms, or simply looking at the pictures in the newspaper or on television causes uncomfortable questions to flood our minds. Downed power lines, destroyed homes, century-old trees snapped into pieces and funeral homes filled with families and friends are images that are almost more graphic than we can bear. Without a doubt, the deepest and most profound question which each of us continues to ask — at least if to no one but ourselves — is the piercing and haunting one-word question, “Why?”

After the trauma of an earlier tornado in Jackson, in 1999, why this? Why now? After the tornado touching down on one of our university campuses last fall, why again? Why so soon? What Jackson has experienced has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Why then have we experienced this three times in just the past four years? Why?

Merely experiencing life is not enough for those who are a part of the human race. All people desire to know the reasons and motivations behind life’s occurrences.

Scientists who observe physical realities seek to understand the nature of such realities as they really are. Sociologists observe different people and groups of people but also evaluate the reasons behind the existence of such cultures. Teachers are motivated not merely by the content which they teach to children but by an understanding of why such an education is important and indeed essential. The question “why?” motivates not just the philosopher, but the businessman, the doctor, the clergy, the social worker and indeed all who live with any semblance of intentionality. Regardless of our profession or socioeconomic status, each of us at our core is a philosopher. We all ask why.

Sitting in church pews during my adolescent years often positioned me perfectly to hear well-intentioned and faithful preachers say that Christians should never question God by asking him why. They said such an approach implies presumption, lack of faith and distrust in God.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. God is not scared of humanity’s authentic questioning. He is not offended by our genuine concerns or our honest lack of understanding in the face of life’s difficulties and tragedies. In fact, real questions on our part reveal an element of trust — a trust that, at the very least, acknowledges that while we ultimately will never know why, God always does. Asking why does imply faith — a faith that God indeed does know why, whether we do or not.

It is OK to ask why. Even Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, in the middle of horrendous despair and death cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Surely if Jesus who lived a perfect life before his heavenly Father felt the liberty to look Him in the face and ask why, then we can too.

No, this side of heaven we will never know the whys behind the recent storms. We will never understand the seemingly purposeless deaths. Nor will we ever be able to make sense of the violent destruction which has been experienced. But we can be confident that it is often through the asking of why that humanity draws closer to the Creator whom we quickly acknowledge but in times like this do not always understand.

And we can grasp with the Apostle Paul that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Brady is minister to the university at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

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  • Todd Brady