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  • Writer's pictureKaren Pennington

"Who" is Better than "Why"

Updated: Aug 31, 2022

"I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted."

-Job 42:2 (NRSV)

I learned the difference between salsa and ketchup while on a missions trip to Mexico City as a young adult. It was a hot and painful lesson. Before visiting the Mexican McDonald's on that fateful day, I thought that salsa was the correct Spanish word for ketchup. When I asked for the salsa to put on my hamburger, the employee pointed to the condiment bar, upon which every condiment included the words salsa. This only reinforced my false understanding.

I knew that "salsa caliente," "salsa de pico," and "salsa de jalapeño" all included words for hot things. So I went with the "salsa de arbol (tree salsa)," thinking to myself "How hot can a tree be?" Several taste buds died in the tongue fire that occurred that day. It took about five gallons of water and a half of eternity for me to be able to properly feel my tongue again.

It turns out that if I wanted ketchup for my hamburger, what I really needed to do was ask for ketchup (the word sounds the same in Spanish and English), which they held behind the counter for those who asked. I hadn't gotten what I needed, because I had asked for the wrong thing.

Sometimes we also fail to find the answers we need because we are asking the wrong questions.

For example, everyone who is reading this post is either mourning some sort of profound loss, has already experienced that kind of pain, or will at some point be deeply in mourning (perhaps a bit of all three for some people).

When we try to process the loss by focusing mainly on the question of "why," we will always come up lacking. That is partly because in the face of inscrutable tragedy, there is often no good explanation, at least not on this side of eternity. And while it is understandable for those in mourning to try and wrap their brains around the purpose and meaning of the tragedy, ultimately "why" is not the right question to ask, because no "because" answer can lead to true healing.

Even God's faithful servant Job asked that question of why in the face of unthinkable tragedy. In one day, really in a matter of moments, Job was informed of two human attacks and two acts of God that completely wiped out the entirety of his fortune (which was incredibly large) and all of his 10 children. Soon after this he was struck with leprous sores over his entire body, which would have simultaneously destroyed what was left of his honorable standing in the community, as people would assume this all came as a punishment from God.

This left Job with his friends, his wife and his integrity. His friends (who were wise companions until they opened up their mouths) all questioned his integrity, and his wife got mad at him for holding on to it rather than just cursing God and dying.

Job never cursed God, but he did have a question for him. Over and over again that word "why" came out of his mouth as he sought to make sense of the whirlwind of tragedy that had just overtaken him.

God never answered Job's inquiry, but God gave him a better question: who. It was the focus on WHO God is, rather than the what and why of the things that God does, that brought true clarity and healing to Job's life.

Eventually Job's family and fortune were restored twofold. But more importantly, Job learned to focus on something more important than external blessings as a source of his peace.

Sometimes God answers our questions about the details. I like those times. But whether or not we have the answers we want, those who surrender their lives and understandings to Christ always have the option of choosing that peace that passes understanding, in knowing the WHO, the God whose mercy and power far exceed what our mind can comprehend.

Question: Would you rather tireless search for unreachable answers or rest in the peace the passes understanding?

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