But Why, Daddy?
Caveat: My faith has been remarkably shaped by becoming a dad. I now know more about unconditional love, grace, and forgiveness than I ever did before. (Mostly because my kids have to practice them with me!) But the image of God as Father/Parent has come alive for me since I was blessed with my daughters. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
When I was younger my parents used to remark, “I hope you have a child just like you.” When I was an older kid I would retort, “What do you mean? Perfect?” (I was a little precocious!)
But as a kid my favorite word was, “Why?” I was curious about how the world worked and why things were the way they were. “Why is the sky blue?” “Why do birds have to flap their wings, but also can glide?” “Why do I have to go to bed right now?” “Why does that guy standing on the corner look so sad?” There was no end to the questions I had.
My parents are happy to know that my daughter now asks the same question of me. “But why, Daddy?”
To be fair, my questions haven’t changed all that much since I was a child. “Why?” is a question that is never far from my lips. Sometimes it is in response to wonderful things in my life: “Why, God, am I so blessed?” Sometimes it is my cry amid challenge or frustration: “Why does it have to be this way?” Other times it is my cry of desperation: “Why, God, didn’t you answer my prayer? Why didn’t you heal? Why didn’t you intervene? Why?”
As Christians, we are often uncomfortable with questions. We shun ambiguity and want answers, even if they are trite. Sometimes we just want to slap a Band-Aid of “faith” over the questions that come to mind. “If you just had more faith…” “Well, brother, you know that faith is the assurance of things hoped for certainty of things not seen. Just be more certain.” “You’ve just gotta have faith like a child.”
Here’s the thing: telling somebody to “have faith” is simultaneously the wrong and the right response.
Using “faith” as a crutch or a weapon to hold back the questions isn’t helpful; it simply tells us that God doesn’t care to answer, that we aren’t smart enough to know, or that our questions are a lack of faith. The questions make us uncomfortable, but they don’t have the same effect on God. Rather, God welcomes our questions like he welcomes the little children into his midst. “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Those who constantly wonder and question. Those covered with the grime of life. Those.
But faith is often the right response, too. Regardless of what happens in life, we are called to respond with faith, as we see modeled throughout Scripture.
Job stated, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15a, KJV).
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, when facing death for their refusal to worship the emperor as a god, stated, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not…” (Dan. 3:17-18a).
Habakkuk faithfully affirmed, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Hab. 3:17-18).
Jesus prayed that the crucifixion wouldn’t have to happen, but then stated: “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36b).
Countless Psalms are those of disorientation in which the poet cries out to God in anger confusion; but most of these end in a reorientation of trust and an affirmation of God’s goodness.
Faith can be the right or wrong response; it simply depends on our motivation. If it is used to avoid the questions or escape ambiguity, it isn’t a response of faith but of comfort and complacency. If it is used to reaffirm our trust in God even though we don’t understand, it is a response of relationship.
Because my daughters know me, they can trust that I have their best interests in mind. They know that I love them, that I am there for them, that I have time for anything they want to talk about. As a dad, I live in tension with oft-competing desires. I want to keep them safe, to protect and shelter them from all harm. But I also want to help them grow and become the people they will be. I want them to explore, to push themselves, to fall down and get back up, to stand on their own two feet.
Because I love my kids, I sometimes have to let them experience the world with its pain. It is out of love that I have to let go. But they know that I am always there for them, and they can cry and ask why.
God does the same. He is there for us when life is hard, when questions arise, when the world brings pain, heartbreak, and sadness. He is there for us when we cry and ask why.
It is comforting to know that we can ask, “Why, Daddy?” and still have faith!