The Israelites came into the wilderness of Zin. Now there was no water for the [people], so they quarreled with Moses and said, “Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to bring us to this wretched place?” – Numbers 20:1-5 (NRSV, abridged) 

They don’t ask, “Where can we find water?” 

They don’t ask, “How can we source enough water for our people and our livestock?” 

They ask, “Why are we here?” 

A question of purpose overtakes the need for outcomes. Their desperation for action shows up as a question of meaning.  

“Why?” can be a discouraging question, the kind that spins relentlessly and consumes the soul for lack of an answer. “Why?” can also be an uplifting question, the kind that invites aspiration and the invigoration of a good soul-searching. “Why?” is rarely a neutral question. Even the innocent curiosity of “Why?” lends itself to judgment. (Answer a child’s “Why?” with “Because.” and see if the questioner is satisfied. Or explain why the sky is blue and notice whether awe is sparked or deflated.) 

“Why?” is a question by which we can be lost or found, drawn close or cast into the wild. 

God doesn’t answer the people’s “Why?” Neither does Moses. Neither does Aaron. Instead, the unasked question of “How?” is answered, with Moses striking a rock until water pours out of it. The action of how draws the people to a wellspring of holy relief. The how demonstrates God’s why.  

The people’s “Why?” isn’t answered, but in God’s why, they are comforted. 

Prayer: For every question I ask and every answer I seek, O God, show me your love. 

cross-posted on the Daily Devotional

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