THE GENERAL’S UNANSWERABLE QUESTION

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(April 01, 2021) Robert McQuillan recalls an Easter reflection…

As many know, Maureen and I often relax by watching old movies and TV series. Anyone remember that avant-garde classic cult British series from the 60s The Prisoner?

The late Patrick McGoohan, its creator, played an unnamed secret service agent who for no apparent reason resigns only to be taken captive to a mysterious coastal locale in Wales known as The Village. Here he is technologically interrogated as to his real motive for resigning – with what was then unheard-of equipment.

Consequently the question his inquisitors repeatedly ask is – Why? meaning ‘for what purpose; with what intention, reason, or motive.’

Unanswerable question
Number 6 as he’s referred to – turns the tables in one episode when his interrogators are using The General, an invincible machine regarding any question asked. He requests to type in a one-word question claiming it cannot be answered.

‘Impossible,’ he’s countered, told that there’s no question The General can’t understand, answer.

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But on his one word being inserted the machine abruptly goes haywire, smoke and sparks flying everywhere.

To the inquisitors’ amazement, it totally disintegrates exploding with a great erupting bang.

What was the question that Number 6 then states as being ‘Insoluble to man and machine’? The one unanswerable word – ‘Why?’

Different ‘General’
Some 40 years ago I knew a certain businessman – whose name I can’t disclose – but call the General. Taking me to lunch at a classy restaurant, he insisted on lavishly treating me.

But this was more than a business luncheon… it was his way of thanking me for having gladly stood alongside him for several hours in a private hospital while surgeons preformed a dangerous operation on his wife.

 

As we had paced up and down, I kept encouraging him, assuring him I was inwardly praying for them both. I even stopped him and took the opportunity to hold him tight and pray over him. He’d muttered a quiet, stumbling ‘Amen.’

A long time later, after a surgeon had confirmed the operation had been successful, he confided with me that he’d found it hard to believe she’d come through, that he’d believed he would lose his dear one.

I responded that I just knew God would honour our prayers and guide the medical team, because he’s the God of love who cares deeply for us all.

Similar question
Relaxing after this very enjoyable meal, out-of-the-blue this ‘General’ steered the business conversation to Easter, a few days away.

Very simply I shared the real reason for this celebratory season – that Christians believe Easter to be the most important event in the church calendar, even more than what we call ‘Christmas.’ That we believe the substitutionary death of crucifixion on Calvary was the only way of paying the price for our sins, that anyone who genuinely repented and asked forgiveness is forgiven by God and a privileged person. Briefly I mentioned that prophetic chapter Isaiah 53.

Suddenly, to my surprise, he exploded in wrath and distress.

‘Why?’ he vehemently asked, thumping the table. ‘Why did his Father God allow it? If Jesus were here today, cruelly beaten, wrongly accused and imprisoned, about to be put to death, I’d raise an army and storm that prison and release him. They wouldn’t do to him what they did back then! My own father never allowed me to be betrayed, taken, and held captive. I believe Jesus to a good man, and I would never let him be taken if he were my son!

I was stunned, realising he was serious! What an incredible statement to declare... that he would’ve freed Jesus from his entrapment. You should have seen the look on his face! Later, when I mentioned this outburst to some who knew him they commented that if we were in Europe back in the 40s, he probaly could have done it.

Then he added, quietly, ‘Robert, I know prayer works. I would not be alive, a free man today had it had not been for my father praying and caring for me.’

Intervening father
He went on to tell me of some of his activities in his native country during the dark days of WW2, that he’d been an important leader of a resistance party. ‘One stormy night’ he recalled, ‘a cunning trap had been laid for me. I was to be in a certain place and the enemy was waiting to capture me, interrogate and torture me.’

I was intrigued! He went on, ‘But to their surprise I never showed up… and I learned later that they couldn’t work it out: their trap had been so minutely planned that I wouldn’t know about it until I was taken.’

He leaned over, saying, ‘What really happened was that my dear father had felt to spend the night on his knees praying for me, that I’d be safe. Heavy rain fell suddenly, and it became a stormy night. I could hardly see where I was going through the forest. Suddenly I slipped, tumbling down the hillside into muddy surroundings in which I lay stuck for hours in that heavy downpour, struggling to get out. I finally got free but never made it to the meeting point.’

Smiling now he added, ‘I learned later that the enemy were baffled.’

This general’s ‘Why?’
Then he looked very seriously at me. ‘I believe my father’s caring, and prayers saved me, indeed many times. My father would not have let me be trapped, interrogated and sent to a merciless Calvary!’

He sat back, shrugging his shoulders, then vehemently asked again, ‘Why? Why did God allow his Son to suffer so?’

Suddenly I saw this general in a different light. Here was a man whose father had regularly prayed for him – he went on to credit other escapes from entrapments to his dad’s prayers to God. He told me that he believed Jesus had been a good man… but he couldn’t understand why God let him suffer.

I realised this was a religious thing – he hadn’t grasped the truth that Jesus is more than a mere good man, and God’s Son, he’s our Saviour! That it takes faith and trust to accept that God the Father loved us sinners so much that, although it broke his heart, he freely – willingly – gave his Son to redeem us, thus saving us from paying the penalty of sin… eternal death.

Knowing about God is different from knowing God! The personal relationship with God through Jesus was missing – he just couldn’t grasp the scriptural reason why Jesus had to be dealt with so viciously and crucified. I went on share something I hadn’t mentioned.

Christ’s why?
Actually, Jesus himself had asked a ‘Why?’!

Matthew 29:47, for example, tells of him crying out in his hour of need ‘Why?’ to his Father… his God, as he titled the one who could – and would save him.

And believing he was not deserted, in an incredible act of faith and trust in his Father, Jesus moved on, as it were, and willingly committed himself – and his eternal future – to God and ‘cried out again in a loud voice, he yielded up his spirit’ (v 50ESV).

Matthew Henry writes: ‘This was a sign, that, after all his pains and fatigues, his life was whole in him, and nature strong Christ, just before he expired, spoke like a man in his full strength, to show that his life was not forced from him, but was freely delivered by him into his Father’s hands, as his own act and deed.

Easter is not just about what Jesus went through before his death but that the Father gloriously rescued him from the prison of the grave… and the resurrected him from the dead, the greatest of all historical events.

But my friend just couldn’t see it by faith; how God the Father had cared for his Son – the first born of the dead (Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15,18; Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 1:5) – and thus for us, his church (Hebrews 12:23).

Leaving that restaurant we sat in his expensive car for over an hour as I endeavoured to lead him into an understanding of this wonderful mystery – that Jesus as the Christ, the messiah, had to die to redeem us! That it was a truth one has to accept by faith.

Eventually the general drove me to my office, where outside I prayed for him that a revelation of Christ and the real purpose of Easter. Sadly, as we parted, he echoed again what to him was unanswerable – that ‘Why?’ My heart was heavy. I had to leave it with God!

Why?
Afterwards it came to me afresh that everyone who by faith has accepted the glorious revelation that Jesus is our Saviour, that his horrible but substitutionary death on Calvary was the only way of paying the price for our sins, is so privileged.

What a wonderful event the real story of Easter is – not about chocolate eggs and bunny rabbits but about the greatest friend anyone can ever have, who willingly gave his life for all on Calvary’s cross, died and gloriously rose again… because he trusted God.

Oh what love Jesus had for us. God’s salvation makes us free people – as various scriptures proclaim, and many true-to-the-Bible churches will meaningfully declare this Easter!  

May we take whatever opportunities come up over Easter to share our faith with any who ask ‘Why?’ understanding that only the Holy Spirit can miraculously get through to them that they need a revelation of Jesus’ substitutionary death. That it’s all about faith and trust!

The real Easter is an amazing event engineered by such a caring Father God… and a caring obedient Son. No earthly general or army could have stopped it occurring: It had to happen to fulfil the promise of John 3:16, the answer to that Why?

Message Bible reads, ‘This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.’

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Dr Robert and Maureen McQuillan’s links are OnlinerConnect@gmail.com and Facebook (Scriptures mainly NIV/all emphases in this Onliner ours. Appreciated images/pics: various general sources). Links: George Forbes’ The-John-316-Twelve-Goldmine-Treasures / Carol Round’s  Jesus-is-Alive  / Jim McClure’s Resurrection-Reflections / Brian Bell’s David-and-his-Giants  
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2 comments

  1. I am old enough to remember that TV series and I remember some words of an old gospel song (it will not come as a surprise) ‘Why did they nail him to Calvary’s tree….why tell me why was he there?’ It goes on to say ‘Jesus the debt of my sin fully paid, he paid the ransom for me.

  2. I, too, even though I have an intimate, loving relationship with Jesus, have a hard time wrapping my mind around HIS bloody, cruel sacrifice on the cross. I often wonder, ‘Was there no other way to redeem mankind after the fall from grace in the Garden?’ No.

    Why? Because he loves us so much… so, so much!

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