All of us have looked at a situation and asked, “Why?” It might be about something relatively insignificant: “Why does our favorite sports team always seem to lose?” Or it might be about something more vital: “Why is our world in such a state?” But the “Why?” question therapists tend to hear more often than not is, “Why did this awful thing happen to me, my family, my spouse?” And, “Why do bad things continue to happen to me even after I do everything right?” Such questions pain us as therapists especially since there is often not a proper answer.

No Easy Answers

Reasons for why something happened do not change the fact that an awful thing did occur.

All therapists encounter this questions, but for Christian therapists, it is easy to go on tangents about God’s nature and the difference between his active and passive will when our patients look at us in desperation and plead for an answer. But in reality, we do individuals a disservice when we attempt to provide such answers. As one of my mentors told me, even if we could provide the answer to this question of why for our patients, they most likely would not be satisfied. For example, if you have lost your spouse and were given a grand reason as to why they died at that particular time, it would be surprising if you were satisfied with such an answer seeing as your spouse is still gone. Reasons for why something happened do not change the fact that an awful thing did occur.

Some Christian therapists may also over-spiritualize problems which their patients bring to them. As C. S. Lewis notes in his wonderful work A Grief Observed: “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.” Giving answers like “you will see your family or children in heaven” may be theologically true, but it never fulfills the traumatic hole within a person’s psyche after a grievous loss. In the same way, explaining that the reason for a person’s pain is due to the Fall in the Garden of Eden also falls into the same category as noted above. Thus, giving standard spiritual answers falls into my mentor’s caution about providing answers to those who ask why their sufferings occur.

The Best Answer is Often No Answer

Human beings desire to be seen and not just given solutions.

What, then, is the appropriate response not just for therapists but also for anyone when their friends and family are faced with the unanswerable question of why? In short, empathy and a genuine human encounter are the antidotes to this impossible situation. Those patients I have worked with who find themselves in such situations have told me time and again that those who sought to provide them with a listening ear and their mere consistent presence did more for them than anyone who tried to solve their problems. In fact, the neuropsychiatrist Daniel Siegel’s work with interpersonal neurobiology has clearly indicated that relationships in themselves are healing, and simple advice-giving can prevent such relational experiences to occur. Therefore, the solution to the question of why lies in the idea that human beings desire to be seen and not just given solutions.

The question as to why things happen is one of the most eluding inquiries in existence. As Americans, we are taught from an early age that when faced with problems, we quickly solve them. We are told to not accept the idea that problems are unsolvable. In some ways, this disposition is good in that it helped us send men and women into space and make medical and scientific advances. However, such tactics fail us when we are faced with the grayer areas of human existence. In such cases, we must accept the unacceptable: there is no solution and no clear answer to some problems. In those cases, we should provide empathy and our company to those who find themselves in such predicaments. We should always remember from Scripture that God is more than a God who hears us, he is the God who sees us.