Respecting God’s questions makes the eternal difference: “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). “Where is your brother Abel?” (Gen. 4:9). Instead, Cain tried sidestepping, or brushing God aside, with a question of his own: “Am I responsible for Abel?” It was a rather inauspicious beginning to human asking.
Inauspicious, but not inconsequential, as in: “How’s things?” “Do you want fries with that?” Triviality is no prerequisite for human tragedy: “Who is [Yahweh] . . . ?” (Ex. 5:2). “Is it I?” (Matt. 26:25, KJV). “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Major, tragic questions, posed by Egypt’s pharaoh, Jesus’ CFO, Rome’s Judean procurator, all characters of major tragedy destined to become memorials of disgrace, because of arrogance and stupid genius and cowardice: undertaking responsibilities no human need shoulder—playing God in Yahweh’s place; believing human beings can outwit God—by making a profit on the sale of Jesus; seeking to escape an inevitable decision—a decision on the question What shall I do with Jesus?
Last December Paul Young told National Public Radio’s [NPR] All Things Considered that losses “in the face of evil . . . ask some of the best questions—questions about why” “if God is good and powerful, why didn’t God stop this.”1
One example of tragic loss: a parent losing a child. True, parents are not supposed to bury their children. It is a disorder of nature. Young could not know how many would be asking just those questions for just that reason in two weeks’ time. His book, The Shack, that made him famous, is a novel that had sold 18 million copies by the time of his interview. Thirteen days after NPR broadcast his interview, the world heard of Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut: 20 innocents, 6 and 7 years old, slaughtered all at once, shot multiple times one morning at school. Men wept in public; the world groaned (in travail?); mothers and fathers, first responders and first-graders, asked why.
Why? Guns in America? That very day 22 children were attacked by a knife-wielder at another school 8,000 miles away in China. Why? Knives in China? “The formulation of a question,” Karl Marx has optimistically said, “is its solution.”2 How much more horribly, miserably, tragically wrong could Marx be about the particular question he thought he could solve in 1843—the question of the German Jew?
While optimistic—and cynical—American and Chinese, ancient, modern, and postmodern talking heads blunder, flounder, and stumble in the search for constitutional and uniquely national answers, unthinkable evil forces questions we fail to solve again and again, proving Marx and the world of intellect incapable of saving answers. And while we cogitate, legislate, medicate, and fail, God, whom we would sidestep, outwit, avoid, or defy, puts His question: “Why, why, why do you want to die?” (see Eze. 18:31; 33:11).
Marx was so pathetically, wretchedly wrong about humans. He would have been so right if he had been thinking of God. For when God formulates a question, He knows its answer. Why will you die when you can live forever? Why die when you can have Jesus? The question is put for our sake. We need answers because we are creatures. Divine inquiry is different from creaturely questioning. God never asks because He is uninformed. He asks because we need His questions. He asks because His questions can help. He asks so we can get answers. He asks so we can get Jesus. When He asks, we should pay attention. Not try to sidestep, or browbeat, or wash our hands in hope of avoidance; or defy. Respecting God’s questions makes the eternal difference. n