“What are we doing here?”
The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing by. A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the Lord. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat. He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance. A voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?” –1 Kings 19:11-13
The sermon from the Third Sunday in Lent challenged the notion that questioning the Bible is taboo since questioning God is exemplified throughout it, from Job to the Psalms to Jesus. It recalled for me a time that I see in hindsight as one of the most formative moments of my faith life.
It was the summer after my 6th grade year when Price Malone was killed in a four-wheeler accident.
Price was a preppy kid who lived in my neighborhood, but we were never friends. I just admired him from afar. The girls loved him. The guys wanted to be him. Even the teachers thought the world of him. So, when I saw Price sporting loafers with no socks, I immediately ditched my Zips. We were just kids, but I looked at him with an adoration that believed this guy Price was bound for greatness.
One morning that summer I woke up and went into the kitchen. My parents had the newspaper spread out on the counter. I never usually paid it any mind, but this morning I did a double take. Price’s yearbook picture was on it. The story said that he had been in a four-wheeler accident on a Texas beach. Price had jumped a sand hill and lost control of the four-wheeler. It fell on him and killed him.
I never knew Price, and I had no connection to him, save through some of the clothes I’d selected to follow his example. But when I read this news, I was furious. Right there in that kitchen on that summer morning, something took hold of me that I can’t adequately put into words. I just started asking, “Why?”
And then it became an interrogation aimed at the Most High: “Why did this have to happen? Why did Price have to die? He didn’t do anything to anybody. He was just a kid! Why is he gone now? Why? God, why? Why?!?”
I was alone in the house at that time (my parents and my brothers were out running errands), but I didn’t feel alone; because, eventually, I heard something that brought me peace. It wasn’t a clearly articulated voice; more of a palpable presence that enveloped and consoled me. I understood it then as God speaking to me in a way that I could understand for the first time in my life. I see it now as the voice of that holiness speaking to me in a still, small voice that calmed me with redirected questions for my lament: “And what will you do with this rage and this grief? Where are these legitimate emotions coming from? What has brought you to this bubbling over moment of crying out to me? And where will you go from here?”
It felt good to get it out, to yell my questions of ‘why’ to God. I had been raised in the church. I’d learned Bible verses and how to pray. I’d sung hymns and gone to worship services. But aside from those things giving me a sense of security, I was just going through the motions. God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Church, my faith—these were things I merely accepted…that is until the day I yelled out to God, “Why?” And, kind of like the Holy One speaking to Elijah in a still, small voice, God answered me as She answers all of us at various times and in various ways: “Well, what are you doing here?”
We are halfway through the Season of Lent, a time of introspective questioning and curious self-contemplation about our discipleship with Christ, our relationships with one another and the earth we share, and even our very existence in these peculiar times. Keep the questions coming, even if those questions cause you to lose your composure and yell at the top of your lungs; because it is in those moments of coming to end of ourselves that God redirects us with quiet questions that have the power to reorient us toward peace, comfort us in everlasting love, center us in peace, and lead us in paths of righteousness for His namesake.