excerpt from “Radical Perceptions” by Graham Cooke
“Why me?” “Why this?” “Why now?” “Why?!” Often this type of question can come out of shock, anger, self pity and bewilderment. We seek meaning, purpose and significance. This particular question “why?” can deliver none of the answers that would be most helpful. It’s the question that will leave us trapped in our own grief and misery. It prevents us from moving on. It creates an inertia in our soul and we remain stuck in a moment in time, unable to extricate our emotions. I have seen those moments of grief become despair, self pity, anger, resentment and bitterness. The heart is overwhelmed and we disappear into ourselves and lose the life we could have enjoyed.
I adored my brother Ian. He died in 1975, at age 26. He was walking to work on an icy canal path one freezing winter morning in the north of England. He slipped on a patch of ice, fell on his head, became unconscious, slid into the water, and drowned. He left a young wife and two small daughters. My heart seemed to freeze in my chest. Our whole family was locked in a grief so despairing we were speechless, adrift in shock. I have never known such awful silence. The “why” question was on all our lips, reducing our capacity to think, squeezing our hearts with its iron grip, numbing us from any other emotion, robbing us of life and purpose.
An answer never came. Some people still ask that same question. They are stuck in the present–past. Life eventually moved on and they moved with it, but a part of their heart is stuck in that moment. “Everything works together for good…” (Romans 8:28). God does not engineer bad circumstances so that He can produce good, like a rabbit out of a hat. Rather, He knows that on days life has a capacity to be awful and terrible. In those moments He works within us, around us and often through us to bring about some form of release and blessing. Goodness is part of His Truth, His Nature, His Persona.
Traveling north for the funeral I felt too numb even to pray. A scripture was doing the rounds in my head, like a toy train on a loop track. “Rejoice always, in everything give thanks, this is the will of God” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). When we cannot pray without ceasing, it’s because we have not given thanks enough. I worshipped the whole way home, six hours on two trains and a bus journey to the house of my childhood. I walked into a room frozen with grief, the icicles of despair hanging in the atmosphere, eyes red from crying, family members stumbling around, impotent in their own tragedy. That night I had a dream. Short, simple, and powerful. It was two men walking up a hill. I could see their backs, not their faces. The whole landscape was a riot of color. Flowers of every shade of brightness grew profusely. It was a warm, sunny day; the sky a perfect blue. The two men were laughing, pulling and pushing on one another. Two friends sharing something hilarious. I wanted to run to catch up with them and share in their moment. At the top of the hill one of the men stopped and turned. Jesus looked at me with that slow gentle smile of His that lights up His whole face. I smiled back. The other man turned and it was my brother. Ian grinned at me in that same, mischievous grin that I knew so well. My heart felt like it was coming out of my chest. We looked at each other and… he winked. With that wink of his eye, strength came back into me.
The next morning I told my family the dream. No one spoke afterwards, but the icicles of despair began to thaw. We grieved, and we held onto one another. We laughed too, at memories of him. In some mysterious way life came back to us from the dead. My mother became a Christian as a result of that dream. Family members, still pre-Christian, remember the dream to this day.
The “why” question never gets answered because it’s the wrong question. It’s often an invalid question that makes an invalid of those who pursue it. Mostly it stems from or introduces us to victim thinking.
We are in Christ and no matter what occurs in life, we cannot look for an answer outside of our placement. The two best questions to ask are found in the account of the Day of Pentecost. “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12) and, “What shall we do?” (2:37). As believers we must always ask questions in line with our identity. More than wanting answers, we must seek Presence. The Comforter is the only One who can help us. In His Presence I get to ask my favorite question of all, “Lord, what is it that you want to be for me now, that you couldn’t be at any other time?”
That question has always been answered.