Feb 23, 2018

Why Lutherans Are Like Two-year-olds

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?”

The Christian ought especially to be curious about theological matters, which are inherently imbued with deep meaning (though we are terribly apt to forget this!). Thus, we should wonder about all aspects of the Church and the Christian life: Why does the pastor kneel and bow at certain points in the Divine Service? Why do we sing all these hard, ten-verse hymns instead of the melodic, short ones? Why do we have three Scripture readings each Sunday? Why do we follow a liturgy? Why do we baptize babies? Why is confirmation necessary? Why does the way we live our lives matter if we are not saved by works? Why isn’t everyone saved?

Of course, sometimes we must be content with the authority’s trumping answer “because I said so,” or rather, “because God said so.” The two-year-old and the curious adult alike will find that whys eventually reach a limit beyond which we are not allowed answers. This is a harder lesson for us grown-ups to learn than it is for toddlers. We find it particularly difficult to be content with God’s answer to our favorite why questions: Why me? Why do I have to suffer X? To this, most often our Heavenly Father answers only with the truth that sin causes suffering, and also with the promise that He will work through that suffering for our good. This “because I said so” answer should not embitter us or discourage us from asking why; rather, it should drive us to return to the more important whys.

Why would Christ humble Himself to take on human flesh and become obedient unto death, even death on a cross? We know the answer but, like young children, we should find comfort in reciting the story we know over and over.

“I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sin, from death, and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”

No matter what unexplained suffering we endure, it pales in comparison with the suffering of Christ. When we look upon Him, we are moved to change our Why me? to Why Him? And when we hear His promises of undeserved mercy that rescue us from eternal punishment, we cannot help but bow in overwhelmed humility and ask in an entirely different sense Why me, O Lord?

Be curious about the world, and you will find your life among your neighbors deepening in meaning. Be curious about the faith, and you will find your life before God deepening in fear, love, and trust of Him. And when your curiosity reaches the boundary beyond which no answer is given, throw yourself upon Christ’s mercy, delve into the promises of His Word, and rest secure in the comfort that your Heavenly Father knows all even when His fatherly love stops our whys with the firm and tender answer, “Trust Me, dear child, because I said so.”  


Heather is a pastor's wife in rural Illinois, prior to which she was a teacher in a classical Lutheran school in Wyoming and spent time in the Washington, D.C. area working on a master's degree in English.  She has an abiding love for reading, baking, deep intellectual conversations, and persistent Lutheran matchmakers.

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