The days were dark. The city was in tumult; the enemy was at the gate. Defeat, the daily diet of Israel since the Judges, was being tasted again and its bitterness was too great to measure. Four thousand soldiers, the elite of the city, lay strewn as corpses on the battlefield. As the remnants of the army filtered back into the city, the leaders asked the inevitable question: “Why has Jehovah smitten us today before the Philistines?” (1Sam 4:3, JND). Contrary to what some might think, “Why?” is a good question to ask. When faced with trial, trouble, temptation, or loss, there is nothing wrong with asking the Lord why it has happened.
But good questions do not always lead to good answers. 1 Samuel 4 is significant for the lack of repentance and prayer. Unlike the days of Joshua at Ai, there is no confession before God or humbling of selves. Unlike the tragic scene at the end of Judges when the tribes went to war against Benjamin, there is no weeping and fasting before God. The elders, those paragons of wisdom and expediency, had the answer right at their fingertips. All would be solved by the ark. So the talisman is carted out to battle. The rest, pardon the triteness, is history.
Inquiring of God, the inevitable “Why?” which comes from our lips, is not evil, a sign of failure, or a lapse of faith. The first to raise the question of “Why” was Rebekah in Genesis 25:22. God graciously answered her petition and explained. But at times God does not answer immediately. The question was asked in one form or another by Moses (Exo 5:22; 32:11), Gideon (Judg 6:13), David (Psa 10:1), Asaph (Psa 74:1), and by the disciples on numerous occasions (Matt 13:10; 17:19).
The question is straightforward; the answers are complex. At times, especially when dealing with tragedy, there may not be an answer; or at least, there may not be an answer which we can give. God Himself is always the answer. The danger of superficial answers is great. The danger of unscriptural answers, as evidenced by Job’s friends, is even greater.
But in facing our famine conditions, the bleeding of assemblies as we experience loss, our dearth in the gospel, and our lack of growth, the question of “Why?” screams for an answer. To some, the answers are obvious: just a few more rules and regulations, read a few more chapters a day, and pray for a few more minutes. Certainly, no one would demean the value of reading and praying; but observing rituals does not merit blessing. From Scripture we learn what we are in all our weakness and failure; but we learn as well all that God is in His grace and sufficiency. This casts us upon God alone from Whom we seek the answers for our needs. We do need to examine the issue and cry to God for answers. But, to paraphrase another, “Let it begin with me.”
So, ask the “Why?” question. But be sure to get the right answer.