2016-05-12

Article courtesy of Light University Online, the #1 Online School for Biblical Counseling, Life Coaching & Crisis Response Training

There are grandmas. And then, there are Me-maws. I had a Me-maw.

As a boy I went to her house often. Special moments were Sunday’s after church when my family got together and turned the peaceful ambience of her home into playful chaos. My sister and I wrestled and nitpicked. Dad and I whipped each other with wet towels we had used to dry the dishes. The real fun was seeing who would end up with the bright orange, “Special $.99” sticker from the chip bag, on their back. After lunch, we napped, played cards, or watched football.

I lived every kid’s dream of being loved.

Me-maw—she personified love. She did anything to help my sister and me mature into respectable adults. We spent many nights over at her house cooking, creating and playing with homemade toys, and romping around in the huge sand piles situated at the block company next to her home. She taught me that to have little was just enough.

Then, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Because I wanted Me-maw to live longer I walked a fine line between denial and faith—denying the permanence of the disease on the one hand, and blaming it on my faith that God would heal her on the other. In my mind, I believed. Yet in my heart, I’m not sure how much I did. I know I wanted to, and I told others I believed it, particularly my family. They looked to me for the answers. Saying I had faith at least made me appear emotionally healthy and spiritually strong. It was my way of talking myself into believing.

But deep down, I was struggling. And nobody knew it but me. I couldn’t blame God because that would be un-Christian. “This surely isn’t God’s fault,” I told myself. “Why would God take the one person who holds our family together? Why does a woman as faithful and loving as Me-maw have to suffer like this?”

I didn’t understand.

As people helpers we sit across from the faint of heart. Men and women who struggle with a crisis of faith and ask us for the answers to their most perilous question: “Why would God allow this to happen?” “If God truly loves me why would He take my dad?” “My house?” “My job?” “If He truly cares, why? Why, God?

It’s the age-old question. Job asked it. A lot.

Jesus asked it just before breathing His last breathe on the cross; “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

When we find ourselves stuck in the gap between the way we think life ought to be and the way it really is, it’s easy to doubt God’s presence in our lives. He feels distant. We feel alone. Even Jesus felt forsaken. In the Greek text, the word forsaken literally means that Jesus felt abandoned by His Father, yet He called out to Him in His pain. We do the same. We question God’s purpose. His plan. Even His character.

So do our clients. And it is our job—not to provide an answer, God forbid we be so presumptuous—but to sit and walk with them in the midst of the terror and confusion of their questions. It is our job to help them go deeper and farther into God—into the One who knows what to reveal to them—than they have ever gone before.

Since Me-maw died more than two years ago, I’ve been called on as a counselor, crisis responder, and friend, to help hurting people answer the “why” in their lives. As I wrestle with God about the sufferings in my own life, I’ve learned three things about why.

I Cannot Fake It. One of the biggest challenges I faced in my time with Me-maw in her last days was her understanding of suffering. Her ability to put her well-being in Someone else she could trust and who she thought had her best interest challenged my own faith. Although she was the one suffering, I was questioning, “Do I really trust God is looking out for me?”

Too many of us walk around with a pseudo faith—faith a mile wide and an inch deep. We live in denial and maintain a false intimacy with God. We say He is there for us. And to some degree we believe He’s looking out for us, as long as all is well. But when we hit a crisis, our religious behaviors and super-spiritual clichés are not enough to get us through the fire.

As I lay beside Me-maw crying the weekend before she died, she looked at me with one message: Do not sorrow as those who have no hope. Instead, she said, “Be joyful.” I knew in that moment she was further along in her understanding of how God works in the midst of suffering than I was. For the sake of the person God calls me to help—I am now challenged to settle this question in my own heart.

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.

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