“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’
~ Job 42:4
I remember sitting in my first philosphy class at Indiana University and the professor placed one word on the chalk board and asked us to respond in writing as a midterm grade. The word he wrote was, "Why?"
After writing the word, he looked at us, told us "good luck," and then left the room.
I remember the entire class looking at one another. A few folks chuckled. Of course the "serious" students got right to work. I remember looking out the window. It was a cloudy day as most days are in Indiana, when winter tries to hold on, and dirty piles of last month's snow are left in the shade of the limestone buildings.
For a moment I began to worry about whether my answer would change some poetic course in time. Again I looked around the room, as more of the class was now quietly writing away.
There was no getting around the only answer I could think of at the time. Could it be that easy? Was there some reading I missed that seemed to now be the answer that my fellow sufferers of the question now seemed to be repeating in some answer form?
It's funny how as an older adult now I can think of all kinds of ways to respond to this question, but on that day I felt like the day Job and God got into a discussion following Job's total life-change. The word that Job absolutely had every right to ask was only three letters and now was confronting me as some torment by a professor, who in this case, was the Alpha and Omega when it came to my answer and whether I would pass or fail this test.
I have to admit, I have asked God that question more than once because I am not Job, and if truth be told, I probably ask God that question every time a news headline occurs where something happens that forever changes a person's life, or an entire community.
It is the question that many of us raised on this day 17 years ago when planes became weapons, and buildings tumbled. It also touches our lips when we hear of a friend's untimely death, a poor prognosis, or even when we are told "No," after working so hard towards a goal.
We are not unlike the original creation who wanted to know why a tree of knowledge would bear fruit that the original inhabitants were warned not to eat.
I was bold that day and wrote what was the first answer that came to mind. Could it be really that easy? What might this do to my future in the class? Or for that matter, my next semester in college?
I wrote my answer, and stared across the room as others continued to write.
I tore my paper up and started again. Again I wrote the same thing. I closed my eyes and dropped my pencil. I don't remember thinking anything else, except maybe making a paper airplane out of the paper so it would be easier for the professor to sail it out the window.
I grabbed my things and decided to leave. I left my paper on the desk. I was that dreaded, "first one done."
I didn't look back. I went to the student union and got a sugar cookie from the bakery and a hot cup of coffee to wash it down. I sat and thought about my answer, and began to mount my defense of my answer for when the time would come that I would have to explain, as if I were someone about to defend my actions before God so that I might enter heaven.
The word "Why?" is one that both we and God encounter each day. I'm unsure of a lot of things, but one thing I am aware of is that we live in an imperfect world, and sometimes we are part of that imperfection. The creation that God created to be "good" has been changed by the generations of choices made before we arrived. "God's plan," is filled with ways for us to make our way through these encounters, and remains with us through every moment.
My response that day? "Why not?" I got a C for effort.
I realize that often I don't seem to hear a response when I ask God, "Why?" I feel it is often God waiting for me to ask, "If I do this, will it make a difference?"
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2018
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Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain at Essential Hospice, Webster, Texas, and is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.