Friday, April 08, 2011

Suffering: Problem with "Why Me?" question

A group I am leading is currently journeying through the book of Job. We intend to complete the entire book by the end of the year. Last night, we touch on Job 13-14. In my summary, I highlight the need to ask questions rather than provide answers. One of the most popular questions people in pain and suffering almost always ask is: "WHY ME?"

A) Why the "Why Me?" question is Unhelpful
While understandable, I feel that it is not helpful for 3 reasons. Firstly, "Why me?" tends to focus more on getting answers intellectually without helping the heart. Ok. If a pedestrian is knocked down by a drunk driver, and loses his leg, what good is the question? Will the pedestrian be satisfied with the drunk driver saying:
  • "Oh. Sorry. I just had 2 beers and I didn't know that could knock me out?"
  • "Oops. I must have driven a little too fast."
  • "Oh, I didn't see you coming."
Or will the victim be content with investigators armed with data about the lighting conditions, or the road hazards in the vicinity, or the wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time prognosis? No. The leg is gone. The pain is not.

Secondly, asking "Why me?" creates bitterness. 
  • "I should have stayed home!"
  • "I should have been more careful."
  • "I should have kept my OTHER appointment!"
In this case, there is a tinge of regret in the sufferer's tone. "Why me?" is like a slide to let one glide into the pool of self-pity. It tries to justify oneself that it is not his/her fault. I remember going through a particularly tough moment. Upon hearing the bad news, I punch my chest. I cry out. I complain often saying: "Why me?" The questions opens me to questioning society, people, and even myself. "Why me?" becomes a prison of pitifulness. 

Thirdly, asking 'Why me?' prevents one from entering the state of acceptance. For any recovery to begin, there must be acceptance. It is not easy, but necessary. This week, I am mindful of Andy Andrews's book, 'The Traveler's Gift.' It is a little story about a man named David Ponder, who has to make 7 decisions for life, in order to determine personal success. The struggle toward "Why me?" begins with the following scenario, where David has just been laid off. He does not have the money to pay his mortgage and bills. His daughter needs medical treatment and he does not have insurance for that.
"He was forty-six year old. He had no job. He had no money. He had no purpose." (Andy Andrews, The Traveler's Gift, Nashville: Thomas-Nelson, 2002, 1)
The situation is dire. "Why me?" looms larger and larger until his first encounter with the first life changing decision. "THE BUCK STOPS HERE."

B) The Better Question
David meets a famous character in history, who shows him the way out of his own tangle. By saying "The buck stops here," David tries to get out of self-pity toward self-responsibility. In moments of suffering, one of the things is that silence is often golden. In the case of Job, the best conversation Job has with his friends is when his three buddies mourn with him together in silence. The moment Job opens his mouth in Job 3, the floodgates of criticism, attacks, and hurtful comments start to flow. The friends turn from helping to hurting. If you read the arguments carefully, you will realize that the three friends tend to address the question "Why me?"
  • Elphaz rationalizes about retribution. "As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it." (Job 4:8)
  • Bildad justifies God is not at fault: "Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right?" (Job 8:2)
  • Zophar says Job is to blame. "Surely he recognizes deceitful men; and when he sees evil, does he not take note?" (Job 11:11)
None of the three friends hit the mark. Job is not the cause of his own sufferings. If you read the words of Job, you will sense that the question he is asking is "How Long O LORD?" He accepts his suffering state, and chooses to express his own pain more than seeking answers.
  • "I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil." (Job 3:26)
  • "Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for, that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut me off!" (Job 6:8-9)
  • "Man's days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed." (Job 14:5)
Clearly, Job is not interested in the "Why Me?" question. He yearns for God's voice in a "How long O LORD?" posture. Job understands his own pain, and simply expresses it as it is. He does not try to run away and hide under a multitude of arguments. He chooses to seek God to ask how long is his suffering going to take. 

C) Closing Thoughts
Suffering is perhaps the toughest issue ever for life. It is the single biggest hurdle for atheists to believe that there is a God. The central issue that Buddhism tries to resolve is suffering. Even then, Buddhists are taught that the faster they accept that suffering is a fact of life, the better. The solution for Buddhists is to escape from this world. The Christian Science cult attempts to deal with suffering by thinking it away. Hinduism believes that it is all karma, and one can only hope for a better reincarnation the next time round.  

I am not saying "Why Me?" is not to be asked at all. What I am saying is that it is a question best left to the philosophers and religious people. It should not be asked during moments of suffering simply because it hurts more than it can help. Answers to "Why me?" may help the head, but not the heart.  Someone once said that 10% of life is what happens to you, and 90% is how you respond to it. How insightful. Let me suggest that the "Why me?" question heaps upon the 10% that is already happening to us. "How Long O Lord" is that 90%.

My readers. Asking the right question during moments of suffering can help a person greatly. Avoid the "Why me?" question. If the sufferer asks this, perhaps it is best that you stay silent. In your heart, silently pray to God: "How long O Lord?" 
"I say that trials and tests locate a person. In other words they determine where you are spiritually. They reveal the true condition of your heart. How you react under pressure is how the real you reacts." (John Bevere)
Like a thirsty deer that pants for the water, when we are in moments of suffering, seek not answers to the "Why Me?" trap of self-pity. Seek God to hear his voice. That we may see Him, and find solace and comfort in his loving arms.


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