I Cannot Answer the Question.I have asked why many times throughout my life. My parents divorced when I was ten. My dad developed congestive heart failure three years later—and leukemia just last year. My best friend was killed in a car accident the day before he planned to visit me. Me-maw died of cancer at age 67.
If I knew why each of those events happened, I still wouldn’t be satisfied. Comfort doesn’t come with explanations; it comes from the promises of God. And not once did God answer the why’s of Job. Nor did He answer the why of Jesus. What both of them realized at the end of their lives was that compared to the presence of God, the why didn’t matter.
Ask What, Not Why.Finally, as I prepared this article I discussed theological accuracy with a friend. She said her Sunday school teacher would rebuke her and the other children if they had a case of the snivels or were otherwise ill. He told them the reason they were sick was because of the sin in their lives, and that they needed to repent. There’s no doubt this attitude pervades the church today.
Jesus confronted it. In John 9:2 the disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Did they think the man sinned in the womb?
Jesus responded, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (verse 3, italics mine). The Greek word “that” in this sentence could be translated, “For what purpose.”
Because that didn’t pertain to this circumstance alone, Jesus told the disciples, "You're asking the wrong question. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here” (John 9:3-4, The Message).
Instead of asking “Why am I suffering,” I have found I need to ask a different question: “For what purpose can God’s work be carried out in the midst of what I am going through?” Reframing the question in this way makes me a part of God’s plan and saves me from self-pity. It helps me grow from a child to a man—to become spiritually mature. Rather than feeling like a victim, I feel I’ve joined as a participant in life to help redeem what was lost. Asking for what purpose also saves me from the pain of the moment and gives me a future to embrace.
When we learn to answer the what, we can effectively “join…in suffering for the Gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:8-9, NIV). For, in truth, suffering ultimately calls our lives into question, not God’s.