I was walking before dawn in our neighborhood when I came upon the trailer pictured here. It was filled with lumber, paint, and other repair supplies. It was situated near a cemetery on a seldom-traveled gravel road.
I spent the next several minutes trying to determine why it was there and came up with these options:
One: It was put in place overnight so repair personnel could use it later this morning. However, it was placed where anyone who came upon it could steal its contents. Why would its owners take this risk?
Two: It was put there by mistake. The driver realized that this was not the place where its contents would be needed, so he left it there to be retrieved today. But again, why risk its contents in this way?
Three: It was stolen and was being hidden here by the thieves. But the trailer was in clear view of anyone coming by; surely the perpetrators could have found a more effective place to hide it.
Four: The trailer was serving a purpose I cannot determine. This lack of an explanation seemed to be the likeliest explanation.
Then I wondered why I was wondering about this. The contents of the trailer were not relevant to me in any personal way. Our home needs no repairs for which they are suited. I am not aware of any needed repairs on my walking path.
And yet, I wanted to know why the trailer was there. I still do.
This quest for the “why” is what sociologist Peter Berger would have called a “signal of transcendence.” One of the ways in which we are made in God’s image is our capacity for reasoning.
This capacity has obviously led to enormous progress across human history. Asking the “why” is behind most of the inventions that have improved our lives immeasurably.
However, there are times when the “why” impedes the “what.”
God does not always tell us why things happen to us. This can be because our finite and fallen minds cannot comprehend his plans (Isaiah 55:8–9), just as a preschooler probably cannot understand calculus lessons. It can be because sin has blocked our ability to hear his voice and to pray effectively (cf. Isaiah 59:2).
In such cases, continuing to seek the “why” can distract us from the “what.” If I were diagnosed with cancer today and spent all my time and energies seeking to know why God allowed this rather than focusing on what I need to do in response, my distraction could be deadly.
We will not always understand the “why,” but God always shows us the “what” that is our next step in response to the challenges we face. His will is less a floodlight that reveals our destination than a flashlight that reveals our next step. If we’ll take that step, we’ll be in a position to take the step that follows it. And ultimately, our “light” will lead us all the way home (John 8:12).
Is there a “trailer” parked in your neighborhood today?