Does it really matter where you fell?

By DAVID WHITLOCK

Contributing writer

Struggling for words, Frances appeared puzzled. Speaking to herself as much as to me, she whispered: “I just can’t remember where I fell.”

Then turning her face to me and furrowing her brow, she demanded, “Dr. Whitlock, can you tell me where I fell?”

She had not been out of the long-term care facility for at least a year.

“You had to have fallen here, Ms. Frances,” I tried to console her.

“If I only knew where I fell,” she said, still hoping, I suppose, that her pastor would somehow have the answer, because pastors should know those sorts of things, you know.

It’s true that sometimes bad things happen to us because we are in the wrong. If I repeatedly run traffic lights, it is likely that the accident, and my possible injuries, would be my fault. 

Sometimes we are the ones to blame for our pain.

At the same time, the people I crash into would be innocent. Something bad (the wreck) happened to them because of me.

When we can trace our tragedy to some cause and effect, like that, we feel somewhat relieved, at least in relation to the why of the matter, though the pain and mystery can still weigh heavily there as well. 

“She was killed by a drunk driver,” for example, may answer the immediate question, “why?” A man was over the legal limit and drove irresponsibly.

But that doesn’t address the deeper questions: “Why our daughter? Why then? Why, at all?”

Then there are times when we can’t pinpoint who was to blame. It just happened. 

I wanted to know where my first wife had been “infected” with cancer.

Was it something in the water in Oklahoma? Or was it the oil refineries in south Louisiana? Was she exposed to some chemical where she grew up in Mississippi? 

At last, the oncologist asked me, “If I could tell you, would it really make any difference, at this point?” (She had been diagnosed at stage four. “Stages? How many stages are there?” I had naively asked.)

Knowing where she had “fallen,” greatly mattered to me, at least at the time. 

Beneath the question, “Where did I fall?” is the human desire to know why. This is the question that plaques us: “why?” 

Why do bad things happen to us? 

Job, a perfectly innocent man, wanted to know. His “friends” trotted out the standard answer: cause and effect. Bad stuff happens even to good people when good people do bad stuff. “So, Job, as good as you are, you surely did something wrong somewhere, confess it, and maybe good stuff will come your way.”

Job knew it didn’t ring true.

Within a cloud of unknowing, he professed, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of Yahweh” (Job 1:21). Later in the dialog with his friends, he exclaimed: “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25), and finally, Job began to come to terms with the fact that there is no Jeopardy “right you are” answer to “why?” 

He concluded that before his afflictions, he had known about God, had attempted to defend himself against God, but now, now he “knew” God: “I had heard rumors about you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I take back my words and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5).

Instead of demanding an answer from God, we seek the God who is the answer, and we suddenly find ourselves in his arms, the One who cares for us more than we can understand, in ways we are unable to comprehend, at least in our tiny little minds, floating as we do on this speck of dust in our miniscule corner of the universe that we call, “home.”

It’s in our not knowing where we fell, and not having all the reasons why it happened, that we seem to know God better.

As C.S. Lewis said in his classic work, The Problem of Pain, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” 

So, Frances, I must confess, I don’t know where you fell, or where I did either, for that matter, but I do know our Redeemer lives, and in the falling, it seems we somehow know him better.

Contact David Whitlock, Ph.D., at davidwhitlock.org or visit his website, davidwhitlock.org.