"Why, Why, Why?"
“What should I have for lunch?” This query is often the most distressing of my day. I come home open the refrigerator, rummage around for a moment, close the refrigerator and open the pantry door. This little ritual happens a number of times before I usually end up grabbing a frozen meal and popping it into the microwave. (Yes, the lunch of champions.) I pull out the steaming plate and let it cool down a bit on the counter before digging in.
Now, suppose one of my daughters were to see the steam coming from the meal and asked, “Dad, why does the food get hot?” This question could be answered in at least two ways. I could explain that the microwaves produced by the machine cause the water molecules in the food to move against one another rapidly, and this friction causes heat, which then warms up the food. That would be an accurate description of how a microwave works. However, I could also answer, “The food gets hot because I'm hungry.”
Question: “Which answer is correct?” Actually, both answers are correct. One answer focuses on the function of a microwave, the “how” it works. While the second answer focuses on the purpose of a microwave, the “why” it works. It is important to make this distinction, no matter how slight you may think it is, because we often give “how” answers to “why” questions, not realizing the mistake.
This is easily recognizable when one considers those who hold to a merely materialistic, naturalistic worldview. Claiming that science has given all the answers, those who hold to this way of thinking believe that because we can understand “how” some things work in the world, we know “why” it works. However, these are two very different ways of knowing.
For example, we have discovered that because of the gravitational pull of the Sun, the Earth remains in orbit. Knowing how the Earth stays in orbit is not the same as knowing why the Earth stays in orbit. In fact, the “why” question leaves the realm of scientific inquiry and enters into the fields of philosophy and theology. Yet we continue to ask “why” questions. Yes, it is important and good to know “how”, but we still long to know “why”.
Our need to know “why” comes from an innate desire for life to have purpose. I believe all people have a natural longing, a craving for our lives to have meaning. We look at the world around us and we know this can’t be all there is to it. We don’t want life to be simply about growing, working, having kids, paying taxes, and then dying. Sure, we may have some fun along the way, but is that really all there is to it? No matter what we do, it all just ends in death! If that is all there is, then life is kind of depressing, huh?
You see, this is not something that is only Christians desire. This built-in desire for meaning and purpose, desire to know “why” not simply “how” is something that people from all worldviews struggle with. English writer Jeanette Winterson, a woman who is not a Christian, writes, “We cannot simply eat, sleep, hunt, and reproduce -- we are meaning-seeking creatures. We seem to need higher purpose, some point to our lives -- money and leisure, social progress, are just not enough.” I agree with Winterson; people are meaning-seeking creatures. This is why the insights of how things works that we glean from studying the natural world are simply not enough. Science can describe function, how something works, but can never give us meaning, why something works.
This is not a modern human longing. Even in ancient times, people wanted purpose in life. An entire book in the Bible deals with this very search for meaning. The book of Ecclesiastes opens with the well-known refrain “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity (1:2).” Likewise, the book closes with the same refrain (12:8).The body of the book, then, is intended to explain why this slogan is important to the author. The slogan is not slowly introduced after a series of arguments, but acts as a shake-up, a wake-up call for the reader, as he is thrust into the midst of this quest for meaning in life.
You see, Solomon sought meaning in so many areas, and yet meaning eluded him. He explains how he desired to find true meaning in seeking after wisdom (1:13), hedonistic pleasures (2:1), and wealth (2:8); yet in these pursuits, he finds meaning to be lacking. Therefore, he concludes that life is vain, life is futile. “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (2:11).
Thomas Schreiner explains how Solomon’s experience had the opposite effect than what he had hoped for; pleasure did not remove the feeling of emptiness in life. In fact, Schreiner explains, “The absurdity of life was even more evident, for, after satisfying every desire of the heart, it was plain to him that pleasure does not remove the ennui (dissatisfaction) of life.” Instead of finding all of life’s meaning and fulfillment in the natural world, Solomon slowly learns to be content in life with God at the center.
Yes, I said it! I do not believe that you will ever find the meaning in life apart from the God of the Bible. I do not believe you will ever find your purpose or calling in life apart from a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Writing about his own struggles with this search for meaning around the year 387 AD, Augustine confesses to God, “Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” I make this same confession. I too want my life to have meaning and purpose. I want to be able to ask the “why” questions. I have come to understand that this is only possible through Christ. Why, why, why? Come to Christ and you will see (Psalm 34:8).