Some people think they need to find the right answers. Others understand that it's even more important to ask the right questions.
In the movie "Jurassic Park," scientists use DNA from fossils to bring dinosaurs to life on an island, with the intention of opening a theme park with the dinosaurs as the main attraction. In one scene, Dr. Ian Malcolm is chiding those who brought the whole idea to life. He suggests that someone had asked the wrong question regarding the whole project of bringing dinosaurs to life. He challenges the masterminds behind the project with the statement: "(Y)our scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could. They didn't stop to think if they should."
How much of the "progress" of our world is doing things that we could rather than things that we should? And is that really progress at all?
On a more humorous note, Bill Cosby wondered aloud why people ask the questions they do. "Why is there air?" Well, of course, Mr. Cosby concludes, even a kid knows that the answer is "to blow up volleyballs and basketballs."
The current economic situation has wreaked havoc on the lives of thousands of people. Like every disaster of its sort, someone eventually gets around to asking the "why" question. It's a natural question to ask. We like to have someone to point a finger of blame at. Or at least have some way to bring understanding into an apparently meaningless event.
"Why do bad things happen to good people?"
"Why is there evil if God is the eternal source of all and if God is good and omnipotent - all-powerful?"
These are piercing questions and lead to wonderful and enlightening debate and discussion. There's just one problem with these age-old questions. They don't have an easy answer. At least I haven't heard one.
There are, however, great books that explore the subject well. Here are a couple:
In the introduction to Rabbi Harold Kushner's "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," he writes, "This is not an abstract book about God and theology ... This is a very personal book, written by someone who believes in God and in the goodness of the world; someone who has spent most of his life trying to help other people believe and was compelled by a personal tragedy to rethink everything he had been taught about God and God's ways." His book proceeds to do just that.
The book of Job in the Hebrew Scriptures explores the question of why bad things happen to good people and, ultimately, does not provide a definitive answer. Rather, Job is humbled into the realization that such questions are beyond him.
These are "God-sized" questions. It's not that humans can't explore them. We can and we do. But, ultimately, our best answers are hollow or shallow to such deep questions.
I propose that we redirect our energy to asking the right questions. We tend to ask "why" at times of disaster?
"Why did this have to happen?"
"Why didn't my financial advisor warn me?"
"Why did I put all my financial eggs in one basket?"
Some people prefer to ask "who?"
"Who is to blame for what happened?"
"Who is at fault for the slow and inadequate response to this huge disaster?"
Unfortunately, the "who" question is not very constructive either.
When these questions lead to better decisions and judgments next time, let's ask them. But when we've massaged all the good we can out of those difficult questions, let's keep asking, but let's change the question.
Instead of "why" or "who," what if we asked, "what now?"
"What are we going to do now that we are facing this particular difficulty or hardship in life?"
"What ways can we get involved now that will make a difference to those hurting?"
It seems to me that this new question is a much easier one to find an answer to because each of us answers it with our lives and actions. The old questions immobilize us. This new question empowers us to make a difference. Let's start asking the right question. Let's join God in bringing good even out of bad situations - it's called hope.
Nate Steury is the pastor of St. Mark's Church in Indialantic, where he lives with his wife and four children. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org