I expect we can all agree that we are living in a pretty messy time of the world. If it were only the CoVid pandemic, that would be enough! However, we add on to that displays of violence and destruction as reactions to dangerous and lethal misconduct by persons we should trust, and then include international conflicts, massive disagreement and strident condemnation by either side of our political aisle, and just the difficulty in attempting to live in peace and relative happiness in an anxiety ridden society – well, it can be seen as pretty much the pits right now. I watched a short video this morning of a little girl – probably 6 years old – who was crying and bemoaning the fact that “everything is shut down!” The ice cream truck is shut down! The waterpark, which is her favorite park to go to – is shut down! Even the playland at McDonalds is shut down! And that’s her favorite restaurant, and it’s boring to just have to stand and wait for the food to come, and how much better it is to be able to go play until the food is ready! Friends – the particulars may change for each of us, but when life is shut down, it makes us feel like crying…
Whenever struggles beset us, or whenever life just seems to messy and out of control, or heartbreaking, we humans of the adult variety tend to race to the most difficult question we can ask or try to answer: the question of “why.” Why is all of this going on? Why is ANY of this going on? Who’s responsible? Who brought these horrible things into my world? Why is this happening to me, and to those I love? Why this illness or death, this violence, these struggles? We recite and reecho the question of why that has circulated in the air for as long as humans have been breathing that air. We read the laments found in the Psalms, or just recount the tragedies that happened in our families of long ago, or our communities. My great-grandparents and my grandparents each had a baby girl named Valeria, and each of the babies died before the age of 5. Why?
As a pastor and a teacher, throughout my career, I was regularly asked the question of why. When I was younger, and certainly much more intelligent than when I was older, I came up with a reason each time for the question. Cause and effect, evil in the world, bad decisions, revenge or avenge, or many more reasons for the why. As I have grown older, however, a different reality has appeared and quietly taken over the other reasons.
I call it the “unanswered why.” It may not be terribly comforting, but the truth, I believe, is that sometimes – sometimes things just happen. Now, as quick as I say that, I have to write the counterpoint that sometimes, things happen indeed because there is evil and bad stuff in this world. People have learned very well how to hate and act violently, and allow wickedness and evil to assume and consume their thoughts and behaviors That’s horrible, and we who know how to love should do all in our power to work to eliminate that way of living.
But sometimes, things just happen. Sometimes there is no maleficent, evil intention. Sometimes there is no inherent bad or even divine punishment that is retribution for the way we have acted. I find nowhere in my Bible nor my faith where God tells me, “I love you and I have saved you for all eternity – but if you act up, I’ll smack you down and make your life a living hell…” Nor do we worship the ancient Greek gods, who by their nature were petulant and preferential and punished and blessed humans as they chose to. That’s not the God who created all things and called them good.
Sometimes, when a cool breeze blows on a hot summer day, we love the wind. Sometimes, though, when a blizzard or a hurricane hits with destructive force or what seems to be punishing power, then we ask why. The only real answer is that there are ends to each spectrum of our existence. Some of them we enjoy and cherish and long for – others bring us only fear, or dread or even a sense of hatred for what is an unfortunately natural part of life. The other day, I was walking up the three short brick steps of our front porch. I’ve done that feat maybe 10,000 times. The other day, however, for some reason, the toe of my sandal clipped the edge of one of the bricks, and I fell. Now, I didn’t break or sprain anything, but I did manage to have the next level of brick shave the top couple of layers of skin off my knee. Why? No reason – I just tripped. Of course, I didn’t ask why I didn’t break anything, or dislocate something – I accepted that as what should be natural, but I did react to the sight of a few drops of blood finding their way out of my body…
You see, sometimes – most of the time – our world is “accidental.” It just happens, whatever “it” is. Did gravity, or the thumb of some prankster deity push me down on the brick? It just happened. For years I have said – mostly to myself, but sometimes to anyone who will listen – it’s not what happens to you that matters, but it’s what we do with what happens to us that makes all the difference. Every one of us at sometime will fall and scrape our knee, or catch a cold or worse, or have something we cherish get broken or ruined. And every one of us will die. However, it’s what we do with that knowledge, those experiences, even that pandemic, and how we act intentionally when something accidentally befalls us, that makes all the difference. Instead of frankly wasting a lot of life asking the unanswered “Why?” perhaps we would be better off asking “What now?” At this point, what shall I choose to do, that will be the better path, the wiser choice, the better response?
When that becomes our first question, it also serves as the last question we truly need to ask.
Word for the day: wackadoodle. This word never means a compliment or something good. A wackadoodle is an eccentric, or some type of fanatic about something. It comes from an older word, “wacky,” or “whacky” which means a fool, or simpleminded. Some also say it means a left-hander (which I personally object to!). Of course, it all comes from the word, “whack,” which is a blow, or strike, usually over the head, perhaps a few too many times. If you are a wackadoodle, you won’t understand anything I’ve written, but you may have a throbbing headache…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.