It’s a predicament faced by every clergyperson: A member of the congregation comes to you in pain -- psychological, relational, sometimes physical, always spiritual -- and asks, “Why?”

Why is this happening? What did I do to deserve this? Why am I suffering?

Long ago a very wise clergywoman told me that it’s the worst question a believer (or nonbeliever, for that matter) can ask, because there is no answer. Or at least there is no answer that adequately soothes the pain.

“If you ask that question, you end up getting your butt kicked every time,” she told me.

In my experience, she’s right. Asking “why” can lead to a brutal cycle of unanswered questions, one more confounding than the next.

A new film from the brotherly writing/directing/producing team of Joel and Ethan Coen tackles the “why” question head-on and in an explicitly religious context. “A Serious Man” debuted at the Toronto Film Festival and hits theaters nationwide Oct. 2. It follows the misadventures of Larry Gopnik (film newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg), a physics professor in 1967’s St. Louis Park, Minn. -- the academic Jewish suburb of Minneapolis where the Coen brothers were reared -- in the weeks leading up to and after his son’s bar mitzvah. (That was about time Joel Coen, the elder brother, became a bar mitzvah.)

Gopnik is a decent fellow with a serene, if suburban, life. That is, until his wife stuns him by asking for a divorce and revealing that she’s grown “close” to Sy Abelman (Woody Allen alumnus Fred Melamed), a faux-pious, bloviating fellow professor.

A series of seemingly minor mishaps that have life-altering results leave Gopnik feeling like a modern-day Job and questioning the nature of God and the meaning of suffering.

“What did I do?” Gopnik asks aloud. “I didn’t do anything!”

He turns to three rabbis from his synagogue with his questions. Here’s one particularly powerful (and powerfully funny) exchange:

Rabbi: The answer! Sure! We all want the answer! But Hashem doesn’t owe us the answer, Larry. Hashem doesn’t owe us anything. The obligation runs the other way.

Gopnik: Why does he make us feel the questions if he’s not gonna give us any answers?

Rabbi: He hasn’t told me.

There is no quid pro quo when it comes to the Almighty, the filmmakers seem to be saying. “Why?” is the wrong question.

“A Serious Man,” the Coens’ 14th feature-length film since their debut with “Blood Simple” in 1984, wrestles with these serious spiritual and existential questions while resisting the urge to tie them up with a neat answer. The film’s ending no doubt will leave many audience members scratching their heads. As it should.

The film was greeted with critical acclaim at the Toronto Film Festival, where I saw it, and there’s early Oscar buzz -- all of it wholly deserved. The film is brilliant and hilarious, heartbreaking and maddening. It is also the most overtly religious of the Coens’ films and the most self-referential, if not autobiographical.

The Coens are virtuoso filmmakers, perhaps the most enduring and enigmatic of my generation. And “A Serious Man” is only the most recent of their journeys into the dark (and darkly funny) night of the soul.

There is a reason why Coen fans tend to be passionately so. Among the disparate themes and styles of their films, spiritual searches are -- to borrow a line from their most indelible character, Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski -- what really ties the room together.

One astute critic has dubbed the Coen brothers “secular theologians” whose cinematic oeuvre is “the most sneakily moralistic in modern American cinema.” I couldn’t agree more.

Biblical truths run rampant throughout the Coens’ 25-year career, from cult favorites such as “Raising Arizona,” “The Big Lebowski” and “O, Brother Where Art Thou?” to their 2007 Academy Award-winning dark-night-of-the-soul drama “No Country for Old Men.”

The sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons. The love of money is the root of all evil. Love conquers all -- even death. And that’s just in “Fargo.”

“Film is the language of this new generation,” my friend Lee Strobel, author of “The Case for Christ,” told me recently. “It’s the way in which they communicate.” The Coens are beautifully articulate speakers of this language, making films rich with meaning -- much of it hidden just beneath the surface -- gems of spiritual and existential insight waiting to be excavated.

There is a moral order to the worlds the Coens create. Whether the story is a farcical crime caper or an American Gothic tale of betrayal, there always are consequences to the characters’ actions, for better or for worse. Bad guys are punished and the decent are rewarded for their innate goodness, though beware the viewer who assumes it will be easy to discern which is which. Sins come to light; lies and deception are revealed for what they are. It may even happen occasionally that the hand of God intervenes to restore order from chaos.

While the Coen brothers’ work rarely reflects a traditional Judeo-Christian worldview, Christians and Jews -- and Buddhists and Taoists and folks of no faith tradition at all -- should, and I would argue must, take seriously their grappling with moral and ethical questions, as well as their invitation for their audience to do likewise.