Human suffering is the great gadfly for every philosophy, worldview, religion and person. How each responds to the problem of suffering is emblematic of its spiritual depth and humanity.
Whenever suffering intrudes into our lives, a very personal question quickly surfaces – “why me?” Why is the universe picking on me, hand delivering this misery? It’s not a whiny question to pose but an honest query in the posture of lament, a cry for some rational grounds to the seeming senselessness of suffering. We insist on a justification when everything looks and feels all wrong. Pastor Tim Keller recently wrote a good piece on the question “why me?” (you can read it here), a sound, sensible apologetic for the reality of God amidst human suffering.
But I’m curious about the other side of this question. It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada and it finds me thinking about the flip side of “why me?” which is not “why shouldn’t suffering happen to me” but “why should I experience goodness at all?”
Why do we ask the “why me?” question mostly (only?) when suffering comes? What is the foundational belief that demands a rationale for the suffering we experience? Why aren’t we so insistent for an explanation when the providence of God brings good and life blows sunshine our way? Curious that no one asks “why me” then.
It underscores the basic logic we assume, that the experience of goodness is rational, and therefore expected, whereas suffering is alway posited as senseless. Perhaps it also points out a deep seated desire we carry for shalom as the normal mode of existence, some ingrained gene memory in all of us that harks back to Eden and points forward to what we’re meant to enjoy.
It’s something to wrestle through, especially for Christians who can easily use “blessing” as an evidence of God’s presence. Or the assumption that goodness or blessing any of us experience is evidence of personal moral goodness. Both are patently untrue and tragically bad moves – talk to Job to dispute that one.
So what if we pose the “why me?” question not to our suffering but to our experience of goodness? What if we demand a justification for any instance of well-being and joy?
I wonder if this is a way to prepare ourselves to make sense of the inevitable seasons of suffering – to ask, in times of joy and goodness, “why me?” Why is such senseless goodness lavished on me? What did I do to deserve today? Why should I have been born to parents who fed and read to me, loved and nurtured me? Why might I have the lucky luxury of being born into one of the wealthiest countries on the face of the earth? Why should I enjoy the indulgent choice of what to do and where to work instead being shuffled into indentured servitude? Where is the justification for me having a full belly in a hungry world? Why me that I should be loved so well, by God, by family, and friends? Why the gift of breath? Why so much colour and beauty to be ravished by? Why should I ever get to laugh?
In typically fine form, G.K. Chesterton sums up the posture of both gratitude and sanity (which are inseparable):
Here ends another day, during which I have had eyes, ears, hands and the great world around me. Tomorrow begins another day. Why am I allowed two?