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What is the Question?

Finding answers in life seems to be one of the many great human conditions. We are curious creatures, we are always seeking to extend our knowledge and to explore boundaries further. Those boundaries may be geographical as they once were a few hundred years back, or just technological, chemical, biological, or cosmological. Something about being human drives us to find more answers.

What I want to know is what exactly are we trying to answer? What is it that keeps us searching for more?

It seems as though this insatiable drive to discover and explore is driven by the question ‘Why?‘. Why is the question that drives us. When we see something we don’t understand we ask Why, and it begins with simple observations: Why does the sun rise and set everyone day? Why do the stars move in the night sky with seasonal variation and repetition? Why does gravity always go down? Why are plants green? … why?..

As we have answered these questions, our hunger hasnt stopped, still we need to know why: Why are there electrons, protons and neutrons in an atom? Why do photons have properties of both waves AND particles? Why does DNA do what it does to produce life?

So we continue to discover and learn, and still we ask Why? We are driven to know, to learn, and to explore.

.. But sometimes we take this question to other areas in life, and the why question doesnt actually give us the answer we were looking for.

Why did I lose my job? Why has the house sale fallen through? Why do politicians lie? Why can’t we all just agree on the same thing? Why is their evil in the world? Why did he/she break up with me? …or in my case:

Why do I have cancer?…

… and this is where the fallacy begins…

We like to ask why, it’s in our blood, but we are also good at taking one approach in life and universally applying it to all situations. Just because why helped us discover a heliocentric solar system, doesn’t mean that its going to help me come to terms with the fact I have cancer. In fact, the answer to the question is entirely unfulfilling, it leads me nowhere and leaves me empty. If nothing else, the question ‘why do I have cancer?’ makes me want to wallow in self pity feeling sorry for myself and wishing the solar system was more Jared-centric rather than heliocentric.

…It’s a self defeating question…

I’ve learnt that a different question gives me different answers, answers that are more fulfilling…


How can I use my circumstances to encourage others? How can I give God the glory even when times are dark? How can I be the answer to someone elses needs that are greater than my own?

Why leads me to a dead end, How, on the other hand, creates opportunity; Why is unproductive, where How is productive; Why is meaningless, How gives my situation meaning, it creates purpose from something that is otherwise purposeless; Why is all about myself, How is all about God, and all about others; Why brings no fulfilment, How brings fulfilment to both myself and to those around me.

How has brought me closer to God…

I need to add, for those of faith, that this applies to how we pray as well. Rather than asking God why, we should be asking how.

Asking Why will never produce the answer we are looking for….

Asking How opens up the world to hopes and dreams and potential, even when circumstances might be bleak…


Thanks for Listening.

  1. Jared
    December 2, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    *Addendum – The answer to my question ‘Why do I have cancer?’ is this: I have been diagnosed with hyperplastic polyposis syndrome, a newly described syndrome that seems to be a pre-malignant condition. It’s genetic, but complex genetic (i.e. mendelian lines of inheritance don’t really work). Wow!… I am absolutely NO better off for knowing that!…. Good thing that Why is not the question i’m asking huh!

  2. December 7, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Impressed (as in still letting your words absorb) on the HOW versus the why…. Great read. Joi has directed me to your blog via her Oodlies đŸ™‚

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