The How and the Why

Donald Miller is always thought-provoking, and this recent post from his blog is no exception:
I’m not a big fan of the “there are only two kinds of people” breakdown of humanity, and yet in the past few years, I’ve found myself wondering if, well, there are only two kinds of people. I’m not talking about people who either like Neil Diamond or don’t, I’m talking about How and Why thinkers. Let me explain:

We all live life asking questions, questions about how to get ahead, how to make life more meaningful, questions about how to survive or help people survive. The question how is an American question, and it rests on the presupposition that we know what life is really about.

Some friends and I were walking down the street in Vancouver, BC last week and I stopped our group and asked them to look around and count the ads that they noticed. We were downtown in a major shopping district, and even though we could see for blocks, we found only two billboards or posters advertising stuff. If we’d been across the border in the states, we’d have counted, perhaps, hundreds. The difference was striking.

Advertising is part of the reason we have become a how culture. Commercials make us think we need things, and then the dominant question (thus the story we end up living) is about how we get what we think we are missing, so we wake up every morning wondering how we are going to get ahead, how we are going to get paid and so forth.

The problem Christians face is the Bible is not attempting to answer how questions. And if it is, it’s a terribly written book and not practical in any way in terms of addressing how to succeed, how to get married, how to be more sexy, how to lose weight, how to organize your finances or how to build a business. Instead, the Bible is a why book. The Bible is answering much larger questions: Why do we exist, why do we not feel loved, why is there pain in the world, why has God left us and so forth. Are there exceptions? Sure. The Proverbs has some wisdom on how to live, and there are other examples, but they are few.

So the question is, are you trying to answer small questions with your life or big questions? If you are trying to answer small questions (how do I turn earth into heaven because there is no greater epic for me) then the Bible fails. But if you are trying to answer larger questions (all of this will someday go away, and life is short, so what is really important in light of this) then the Bible is a book for you.

American culture is a how culture. We ask almost exclusively how questions, because our commercialized culture is not interested in why. If we really started asking why questions, our entire economy would collapse, and honestly, we wouldn’t care because once we answered the why questions, we wouldn’t want all that stuff in the first place.

So what does the Bible say to the Average American? Among other things, it says this: You are asking the wrong questions.
I agree, I think, but only to a point. I agree that American culture (and Americans, in general) is obsessed with "How" and relatively unconcerned with "Why." But I agree much less that the Bible is not attempting to answer how questions. I think it often is....but in ways we're not accustomed to. It doesn't offer many how-to checklists and step-by-step instructions. Those are in there, but they're not very frequent or prominent. The Bible's answers to "how" are usually far more subtle, even ironic...but also impactful. Consider 1 Corinthians 10, where we are told that many of the historical and biographical accounts are offered to us as examples. Sure, they're more in the category of "how NOT to" set our hearts on evil things, etc. But "how NOT to" does answer the question, "How?"

Still, I think Miller's basic point is apt. In fact, I might take it even further. The Bible seems less concerned with "how" than "why"....and far MORE concerned with "Who" (or "Whom," if you like).

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