The age of "Why?" and "How?" is upon us.
Records of catastrophe are being smashed. A huge chunk of California is now ablaze with the largest wildfire in the state's history. A year ago we in Houston were on the brink of Hurricane Harvey, the rainiest of Atlantic storms, which would dump twenty-seven trillion gallons of water on my town, with $1.25 billion of devastation, not to mention the incalculable human grief.
"Why?" and "How?" are sparked by mind-scrambling inconsistencies. Hollywood douses society with lavish sexual spectacles, then is aghast when some of its grandees wind up on #MeToo. Passionate people deplore the separation of children from their mothers at the nation's gates, but crusade to the keep the gates open where babies are separated from their mother's wombs. Journalistic titans tutoring on how to interpret current events fall before our eyes like worm-eaten Herod soiling his clothes before a sycophantic audience from Nowheresville.
Astounding tragedies and disappointments break upon us like tsunamis. A couple about to embark on a missions career dies tragically before they can cross the ocean. A Duck-Boat gets swamped and whole families die, several of them committed Christians. Savages slaughter entire communities of Christians in Africa. Pastors are martyred at the front doors of their churches. Faithful people are locked in prisons where they suffer torture and deprivation, and become the pawns of heartless tyrants. Instability in fractured nations cast waves of immigrants surging toward increasingly quivering borders.
Heroes who preach to us, teach us, lead us politically, seem to be exemplars of family leadership, are exposed as moral, ethical, and even spiritual frauds.
Bitterness and doubt crowd into believing hearts and minds. People abandon callings, suppress gifts, and turn away from ministering to a world in pain.
Bible students wonder: Is the Tribulation upon us?
"Tribulation" is thlipsis in Greek. It is the label given the hefty stone rolled over grapes or olives, squeezing out juice or oil.
That's an apt picture of our day. We live in an age of "squeezing" worldwide. It may not be mega-thlipsis (Great Tribulation), but it is a period of immense stress.
Jesus' disciples mulled over such concerns one day as they walk with the Lord through the Temple complex. Jesus' young followers, county boys mostly, are agog at the massive stones composing the mighty structure.
Then Jesus bursts their bubbles.
There will come a time when "not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down." (Matthew 24:1-3)
Now come the questions. "When will these things happen? What will be the sign of Your coming?" Lurking in their souls are the two killer questions: "Why will this happen?" and "How could this possibly occur considering the massive edifice right here before our eyes?"
"Why?" is so often the question of theodicy, the doctrine of evil: "Why, if God is loving, and good, and kind would this bad thing happen to me/us/them?"
"How?" too frequently is the question of skepticism: "How can a man walk on water... open blind eyes... rise from the dead... ascend to heaven?"
"Wow!" is the answer of faith. It is the way of the child. "Wow! A Man walked on water!" or even, "Wow! A dead man came out of a tomb." Jesus said we would not see the Kingdom without being childlike.
"Doubting Thomas" gets it. He goes from "Why?" and "How?" in a split second when He sees the living Jesus, and declares, "My Lord and my God!"
Which is another way of saying, "Wow!"
The word does not come easy in such a time as this. It has to be coaxed from a reluctant will, resisting mind, and roiling emotions. The temptation is to scamper out of Gethsemane with the first of Jesus' disciples.
They—and we—forget what Jesus told them that day at the Temple. All the things Jesus prophesied would happen "are merely the beginning of birth pangs." (Matthew 24:8)
In such a time as this we need to comprehend what God is saying to us in Jesus Christ and the written Word. "Hows?" of scholarly minds are important, and God has grace and mercy for our "Whys?" spoken from broken, confused hearts. But we cannot get to the Spirit-revealed essence of the revealed Word from the "How?" position. "Why, Daddy?" moves the heart of the heavenly Father even more than it does an earthly dad. But we cannot reach true solace while mired in "Why?"
We walk by faith, not by sight. "Wow!" is the way to read the Bible, and walk one's life journey.
I wrote recently that this is not a time for the church to wallow in ambiguity and ambivalence. Instead, we must live in the midst of the "Why?" and "How?" age as "Wow!" people.
Like Dr. Francis Collins, head of the group that unraveled the mysteries of the human genome. As a young medical intern dealing with people nearing death, who might be inclined to ask, "Why?", he could not help but note the hope and peace in those with deep faith in contrast to others. That would be a major factor in him giving his life to Christ.
Years later, after the breakthrough regarding the genome, he wrote that, "for me the experience of sequencing the human genome, and uncovering the most remarkable of texts, was both a stunning scientific achievement and an occasion of worship."