By Heather Smith
Why is truly the basic human question. Only beings with reason can ask it. Animals don’t care. In fact, we might say the curiosity to know why is the defining characteristic between animals and humans. Animals act upon instinct. Humans act upon reason. Thus, when we as humans do not care to understand the whys of life, we make ourselves, in a way, more like animals than proper human beings. The person who ceases to wonder why limits life to the shallow pleasures and pains of the moment, lapping up the fun when times are good and whining with discontent when things get unpleasant.
We needn’t look far to see such painfully limited lives. The world is full of them. So is the Church. Individualism has taught us to follow our desires rather than our reason. Secularism has instructed us that there is no meaning beyond this life. Pragmatism has indoctrinated us to do whatever works—never mind why. The innate human impulse to ask why (which we all possessed in abundance as two-year-olds) has been trained out of us by the idols of our age. We no longer trust that the world is a rational place worth trying to understand. Our culture is in a crisis of apathy and ignorance, and we must not imagine that we are completely immune to this epidemic.
The good news is that the cure is quite simple: Ask why. Look at the world and wonder about anything and everything, as many times a day as possible. Why is this potluck dish made of marshmallows, pudding, and fruit considered a salad? Why does the word salad look so much like salary? Why do my children study social studies but not history in school? Why do I want my children to be educated, anyway? Why is this television show so popular? Why does it not bother anyone that it contains so many openly immoral characters? Why is the sunset especially vibrant this evening? Why have I not noticed the sunset in so long? Why is the world filled with so much fury and so little contentment? Why do I believe my life can be different?
Keep asking enough whys and you are certain to discover that all questions ultimately lead to God. It could not be any other way. Since why is a quest for meaning, it must lead us to God, who is the source of all meaning. Hence the quintessential Lutheran question: “What does this mean?”