“Why did God make mosquitoes?”
Any six-year-old can show an important truth about yourself: you have an innate yearning to understand your purpose. As far as I can tell, mosquitos don’t have such questions. They seem to get right to it. But the greatest minds in philosophy continue to wrestle with three classic questions: Why is there something rather than nothing? What are we here for? Where are we headed? The urge of why begins to challenge us before we can tie our shoes.
When you’re young, wonder drives this urge. Chesterton said, “Fairy tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green.” Our intuition to wonder suggests something essential about being human. As Shakespeare said, “There are more things in heaven and Earth…than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” We live in an enchanted world.
But it also is a fallen world, and at some point pain, not wonder, can drive this urge of why. “Why me… this…now?” Without soothing answers, certain questions can fester as wounds. As a result, some people medicate them with all kinds of things including denial and vacant optimism.
Faith can be coopted into this kind of avoidance. But healthy faith, rather than escaping reality, can provide a reservoir of courage to deal well with the big questions.
Here are a few lessons I learned fielding questions over the years…
Questions Get Filed
Everyone’s question box is stuffed full of the same stack of difficult issues. When life draws one of these out, some people drop them into a manilla folder. The hand-written label on the tab reads, “Things I’ll ask God someday.” But for other people, the same questions leave a bitter taste in their mouths like a cold, sobering swing of yesterday’s coffee. The tab on their file reads, “God, you owe me.” With this record of life’s hard knocks they build a case to justify self-centeredness, self-pity, and self-indulgence.
How you file your questions will shape your view of God. And that will influence your view of everything else. We do the same thing with people, making even small assumptions that shape the relationship. For example, imagine someone answering you with a curt reply. What you do with it can have a marked affect upon how you relate from then on.
So too with God. Our assumptions are part of a subterranean layer of thinking and feeling we all have. That layer shapes the landscape of all the issues we see above ground. Questions get filed.
Questions Get Personal
Our questions are not just intellectual. If they were, then they’d have no influence—we would feel no fire as we stoke or extinguish them. Time and again, when engaged by someone with difficult questions, I see ideas linked to deep emotion and a personal investment. Heart questions need an ear to listen more than a mouth that will talk back.
After Madalyn Murray O’Hare died (a famous atheist from last century), her diary became public, which included this most poignant question: “Will somebody somewhere please love me?”
When you peel back the layers of our big questions, what you find is the state of someone’s relationship to God. The word relationship is key, because again, more than ideas about God are on the line. We are relational creatures, so it follows that we have a relational Creator.
Questions Get a Life
If you were to peel back layers under some people’s productivity, you would find a lot of disquiet about the big questions. The motivation of such people can be strong but unhealthy. At some point, their accomplishments betray the transactional deal with life they have made. As Thomas Merton pictured it, they have climbed a ladder of success leaning against the wrong wall. If we are made by God for God, then working only for ourselves, no matter what ding we leave in the universe, will be unfulfilling.
The subterranean layer of questions we all have is simply a hunger. The fact of that hunger tells us something central about ourselves: we were made for meaning. If the universe has no ultimate meaning, how could it produce creatures capable of figuring that out?
“He has also set eternity in the human heart….” (Eccl. 3:11).