Grammatically speaking, we often classify sentences by structure — simple, compound, complex, compound-complex — to help determine placement of commas, semicolons, conjunctions. A more interesting way of classifying sentences, however, is by purpose: declarative, imperative, exclamatory, interrogative.
The first three varieties all are various forms of statement-making. Declarative sentences simply make statements about the way things are or were or will be. Imperative sentences make statements of command or desire: we use them to tell others what we want or expect them to do. Exclamatory sentences make emotional statements, generally letting others know how we feel about things. But interrogative sentences do not make statements; they make requests.
Sometimes they request information. Sometimes they request action. Sometimes they simply request the concession or acknowledgement of a point (as in the case of rhetorical questions). Their distinguishing feature is the mark of interrogation, more commonly known as the question mark.
Most of us became adept at questions long before we knew that question marks existed, interrogating our tiny worlds as we learned to use language and use our hands and feet.
We learn to ask if people “Will?”, and if we “May?” or if we “Can?” We learn to ask “Who?What?When?Where?How?” and we learn to ask “Why?”
“Why?” We’ve heard intractable children whining it, and, most likely, we ourselves have intractably whined it, though we are not children. We ask it of ourselves, of one another, of God.
When I think of interrogation in general, and of the question “Why?” in particular, I think of the book of Job. If anyone is justified in asking “Why me?” Job certainly is. He lived an upright life, and then God allowed him to be systematically stripped of all that he possessed, leaving him sitting in an ash heap, scraping his oozing sores with a piece of broken pottery. And Job hadn’t done anything wrong.
Job’s friends arrive on consolation-call, except that they aren’t there to console him, but to advise him toward repentance, insisting that it had to be a punishment for something, that Job needs to come clean and ‘fess up. But he steadfastly insists there is nothing to confess. Their argument continues for chapters, but the gist of Job’s speeches seems to be “Why?” “Why was I born?” “Why, when I have been righteous, has this come upon me?” “Why?’
Finally, finally, after 37 chapters, the Lord answers out of a whirlwind, and His answer itself is a whirlwind. A whirlwind of interrogation: “Who? Where were you? What? When? Have you done it? Do you know the way? Can you? Do you know? Who? Who? Do you?
I return here, often and often, and tremble with Job as he ventures one more question: “Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to Thee?”
What, indeed, can one reply to the interrogation of Almighty God?
No matter how large we write our question marks, His — whirlwind-written — are always larger.
©2013 by Stacy Nott