It’s not really a question, though, is it? It is an accusation. The person asking has already made a judgment about the event or act and it’s a matter of drawing attention to it. Even God used this phrase against Adam and Eve? Instead of “What?” I think “Look” would be a better addition: “Look what you have done.” Wake up!
Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country of Gilead when Laban overtook him, and Laban and his relatives camped there too. Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? . . . “
Of course, in Laban’s world, everything was about him. His accusation was based on his perceived loss, not of loved ones (despite his saying so), but of his household gods and the good fortune he had had while Jacob was working for him. Laban knew that God was with Jacob and in those twenty years, he had benefited from it. With Jacob’s departure, he feared his losses. And so the phrase gets longer: Look what you have done to me?
When God said, “what have you done?” he was bringing awareness. He alone can do this. When people say it to each other, take care. It’s generally self-motivated.
Perhaps there’s a small hope in the speaker’s mind, that circumstances are not what they seem, a small hope that the beloved one did not really cheat on his/her spouse or get caught with drugs or drunk while driving. Maybe it’s a prayer: please God don’t let it be true.
But, in the end, the answer is already out there. It’s a rhetorical question really. And for that reason, don’t bother. It’s all for effect!
Here’s the really sad part. I hear this question all the time. At least, in my mind. It’s the accuser of course, not God at all. But that’s what I hear when I err. This is a question I must cast aside today. It has no healing and no awareness for me.
Instead, I choose to hear, “What will you do next?”