The Unanswerable Question
- November 16, 2017
- Beth Gianopulos
A few years ago, a massive storm ripped through our neighborhood. After the winds and rain subsided, my kids wanted to check on a birds’ nest in our yard. I knew that something was wrong when I saw my toddlers crouched on the ground under the tree. While three baby birds were safe and secure in the nest, one baby bird had fallen from the tree and died in the storm.
As my then 2 and 4 year old stared at the baby bird, lamenting its death, they asked me, “Can God bring the bird back to life? Will God bring it back to life?”
I was always taught that God is all powerful. If God is all powerful, then God can bring a dead bird back to life. However, the much more difficult question for me was, “Will God bring the baby bird back to life?” Unless God decided to perform a miracle in my front yard, I knew that the baby bird’s life had ended before it had a chance to live. The even bigger question that followed was, “Why? If God can bring a bird back to life, why wouldn’t he?”
I have thought about that baby bird often over the past months. I have helplessly stood by as friends, family, and members of the community have suffered deep and terrible losses. I have seen families lose children to illness and suicide. I have heard stories of abuse and the loss of innocence. I have seen families ripped apart.
Through all of the pain and heartache, the constant refrain in my head is, “Why?” Why is there so much pain? Why is there so much loss? Why, despite all of my best efforts to be good, do bad things still happen to me and to those that I love? I have no answers, and the answers that should give me comfort only lead to more questions.
My soul longs to know why. Because if I could just understand why, then maybe I could control some of the chaos in my life. If I could understand why, then maybe I could prevent something bad from happening. If I could understand why, then maybe I could protect myself and the people I love from more pain.
A few weeks ago, when I was overwhelmed by all of the “whys”, I went for a run. As I ran, I attempted to process the pain and sadness that I was feeling. Instead of feeling better, I became overwhelmed by the unexplainable mystery of it all. I desperately tried to push the fear away, but I knew that my panic was quickly overwhelming me. My chest tightened and I gulped for air. As tears streamed down my face, I crouched on the side of the road and shook as loud, ugly sobs racked my body. Waves of fear, despair and hopelessness crashed over me, and I wondered if I would always be trapped in this state of panic and despair.
I needed something in the world to make sense. I needed to know that somewhere, there was meaning and purpose in the chaos.
When I arrived home, a small package had arrived in the mail. When I opened it, I immediately recognized the handwriting of my mentor, Father Bob. Father Bob had died three years ago, and when I struggled with the “why”, I longed for his wisdom and reassurance. Father Bob’s widow had chosen that day and time to send a package to me. She said, “I could not give you the wise stories you wish you had written down, but I can give you these words that were meaningful to him. These sayings were taped to the back of a door…. I know that they will be meaningful to you, too.”
The package was full of quotes about the mystery of life and the search for meaning and purpose. For a moment, as I held his words in my hand, I was connected to him. Death physically separated us, but love is not limited by this physical world. Even though the chaos of the world still swirled around me, I knew that the timing of the arrival of this gift was not a coincidence. I didn’t have answers to all of the “whys”, but for that moment, I felt peace.
The pain and heartache of loss are so intense because the love we glimpse in deep, meaningful relationships is so deep, pure, and life-changing. When a parent experiences the unconditional love and adoration of a child, when a child feels the intensity of a caregiver’s love, when a spouse loves you despite your flaws, or when a friend loves you and sees you in ways that you never knew were possible – you are forever changed. Love breaks us so that it can transform us.
1 Corinthians 14:33 says, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” The world may feel like it is spinning out of control, but God still brings peace in the most unexpected ways. Even though I may never know “why,” I know that when all else fades away, the love that is slowly transforming me remains (1 Corinthians 13:13).