A two year-old child begins to differentiate himself or herself as an independent being. She learns the power of “No!” He begins to exercise his and her will (or won’t) power. Father says, “How would you like to go to the store with me?” That is what his daughter loves to do, because Daddy always buys her something. Still, she must be independent, so she says, “No!” Mother says they are going to get an ice cream cone. Despite the fact it is exactly what he wants, he feels compelled to say, “No!” Two year-olds find that they are individuals and grow out of that phase.
Four year-olds have a different phase. They are discovering the world filled with things they do not know. They learn that they can acquire information by asking questions. The simple one word question, “Why?” is a powerful elicitor of information. Realizing that the world is complex the four year-old strings together “whys” to expand his or her knowledge.
Driving by a country field a four-year old asks, “Why are the cows in that field?”
“Because the farmer lets them eat grass there.”
Because when they eat grass they produce milk.”
Realizing that an endless stream of “whys” is coming, Daddy tries to cut them off with the ultimate answer, “Because God made them that way.”
Not taking the “final answer” as final, the boy asks, “Why?”
Daddy has several ways to answer. He could cut his son off with an elevated, irritated tone, “Because I said so!” This is wounding to the child’s inquiring mind. Daddy can just let the stream role on until the child gets distracted with something else. Perhaps the best approach is to inform the child that, “Daddy has a limited supply of answers at this time. You can ask your question again at a later time.” This does not stifle the inquisitive mind, but sets acceptable limits to the “streaming whys”.
In God’s economy, many of the concepts we have come to expect just do not apply.
Our minds are those of a materialist. We cannot see God’s spiritual purpose behind his instructions and His acts.
What to us seems senseless has an eternal purpose for God.
“Why?” is the ubiquitous and eternal question.
“Mommy, why did Daddy have to die?”
“Oh, God, why afflicted with Multiple Sclerosis?”
Why do atoms of carbon act in this particular way and not in that way? Why does it have to rain in Seattle all the time? Perhaps more profoundly, “Why am I living at all?”
God built the mind of man to be inquiring. To truly see the world is to wonder. We wonder how it came to be this way and ask why. We wonder, “What would happen if this or that were changed?” so we ask why. We press the borders of revealed reality and question what lies beyond – and why.
We frame the why question to help us understand the world in which we live. Research into why can be as simple as a child pulling apart a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to see why it tastes so good. Looking byond the surface is the way of advancing discovery. Accepting the norm leads to stagnation. The inquiring mind keeps asking why. Why does this work? Why does that notwork?
Children are our best examples of inquiry. They are encountering everything for the first time. They want to know. The God-given urge to know leads them to experiment, to search for answers to questions.
A mother of a creative, exploring child went into the kitchen to fix breakfast. She discovered her daughter lying on the floor wrapped in the girl’s favorite blanket. As she looked closer, she saw yellow all around her daughter. She unwrapped the blanket and discovered her daughter was plastered with mustard. “Why did you do that?”She exclaimed. Her daughter said, “I just wanted to know what it feels like to be a hot dog.”
All the people in the world are looking for answers. They have an inner need for a reasonable explanation. If a policemen pulls you over, often the first question is, why. You want to know his reason for doing so. When your ladder collapses under you, after looking into your injuries, you investigate to find out why.
Why does this business prosper and that business fail? Businessmen go to conferences to learn the why’s and wherefore’s of success in business.
Scientific inquiry has advanced human knowledge exponentially. Through that knowledge, man has gained great control over the world. 50 years ago, weather reports were mostly guesswork. Here in Seattle we joked that whatever the weatherman said we should plan the opposite. Weather predictions now are accurate enough that we can make plans days ahead, relying on their accuracy.
Great advances in society’s well-being and comfort have been the result of asking two questions, “Why?” and “Why not?” Our world has become a more hospitable place due to the improvement that mankind has created. We have developed ways of keeping warm in the cold and Keeping cool in the heat. We have developed clothing that meets a wide variety of climates. We have become so adept at asking why and why not that we have styles of clothing for differing times of day, seasons and activities.
Food production and distribution has enhanced the lives of millions. Famine is much less a regular part of life. When famine does hit a particular area, the answer to “Why?” brings food in bulk to relieve the critical need. We have technology that actually solves the causes of the dearth of food. These answers relieve crises, preserve life and provide for ongoing prevention of famine.
Political inquiry has asked why some economies prosper, while others languish. Why do some nations become rich in basic necessities and even luxuries? Why do other peoples live from crisis to crisis, never having security in subsistence, forgetting any conception of luxury? That answer comes in both natural and man-made ways.
Our world is an enormously complex interweaving of geography, astronomy, ecology and demographics. The African plains are vast, lush grasslands, habitat for numerous herbivores and carnivores largely due to the dung beetle. They collect dung, roll it into a ball, and then lay eggs. The larva in eating their way out of the dung ball break it down into constituent nutrients that more readily assimilate back into the soil to fertilize it, thus significantly contributing to the lush growth.
We know this because someone saw a beetle rolling a ball of dung along and wondered why. Man looked at the stars and wondered why. Galileo used the discovery that curved glass makes things look larger to built a telescope. He discovered that the world and the cosmos work exactly opposite of the way it seems to work by general observation.
Man looked at fire and asked why. That led to boiling water and the discovery of steam power. The next “why” led to development of steam-powered machines. The increased production fueled the Industrial Revolution that gave mankind a leap forward in the favorable conditions for all of mankind. In all of this mankind discovered some of the “why” of fire.
Man looked at material things and asked why. On closer look, he discovered the atom that the Greeks millennia earlier speculated might exist. We discovered exceptional power in the atom. As with fire, that power could lead to great good and great destruction.
In Seminary, we had a visiting Professor who in an aside, (looking back I realize he was asking for help. Unhappily, I was just a lowly student and did not presume to offer it) pointed out that his daughter and her beau were living together. In 1970, that was still an unacceptable relationship. He asked them to get married. They responded, “Why should we get married? It’s just a piece of paper.” The Professor said, “I had no answer.” His failure to give them a satisfactory answer to their why, allowed them to continue to live together illicitly. The real tragedy was that a theologically educated leader, had no answer for that important why.
Man is a gregarious being, happier in groups working together. Man also has independent tendencies as well. People work together in co-operation as long as one’s independence is not seriously threatened. He is willing to compromise his freedom, but not surrender it. The great percentage of mankind is more comfortable living in established society under some (sometimes great) compromise, than living in solitude with no compromise of freedom.
However, compromise is the key. People need to know what compromise is required. They need to know the extent of the compromise. In addition, they need the answer to the ubiquitous question, “WHY?” If the answer
is for the good of society and for your own good, that prompts a further question. “What will be required and to what extent.” Obtaining satisfactory answers, diminishes in importance of the peoples’ concern about compromise.
People are more comfortable if they can see a reason behind something. Unanswered questions bring unease into a person’s life. The things that “go bump in the night” startle us and make us afraid. We do not know why there was that noise in the house. Until we find out why, the fears of a burglar will keep us sleepless.
Answering the “why” of anything, any action, or any person removes much of the worry. Man’s instinct of self-preservation spurs the need to know. Instinctively we are aware that we live in a dangerous world. We also know knowledge gives us power over the world. If we can get answers to the whys in our minds, we have a way to gain control of our lives. Assessment of the future brings security to people. We can better provide for our families and ourselves, because we can plan to avoid trouble.
“Why” leads to knowing and knowing leads to further discovery and further discovery leads to advancement.