On Suffering and Asking Who, What, and Where—Not Necessarily Why
In the blog post “The Right and Wrong Questions to Ask When You Get Cancer,” I shared how David Sunday (pastor of Grace Community Bible Church) encouraged his wife, Kate—in light of the diagnosis of advanced cancer in her body—to focus not on the questions of “Why me?” but rather upon “Who is God?” “What does He want to teach us?” and “How can we glorify him in this?”
In response some commenters suggested that this was wrong-headed, and that it it biblically permissible to ask “Why?”
I am not suggesting that it is sinful to ask God “Why?” questions. I have appreciated Michael Card’s teaching in A Sacred Sorrow and I’m grateful for the psalms of lament.
Nor am I advocating a stoic form of passive resignation. Our friends know—and the Lord knows—that we have shed many tears of sorrow in the last three weeks. We are crying out to God for the gift of healing. I am so thankful to have a God who hears our brokenhearted cries and who sympathizes with us with all His heart in the midst of our fear and sorrow.
I do believe that focusing on “Why?” questions can lead to confusion and despair if we demand answers from God that He has not promised to give us. Instead, by God’s grace, and with the Holy Spirit’s help, we want to focus on the “Who?, What?, and How?” questions—for these questions can lead us deeper into the character of God as we pour out the grief and sorrow of our hearts to Him. When I spoke those words to my wife in the hospital room, I was thinking of the book of Job. Job did ask “Why?” questions and he is not condemned for doing so; but I don’t recall God directly answering Job’s “Why?” questions. Instead, the Lord redirected Job’s focus to Who God is. That, ultimately, is where we hope to settle our hearts: Be still and know that I am God.
Embedded in the Why? questions can be the seeds of unbelief or anger against God. God does not usually answer our why questions with the answers our flesh is demanding.
But he does give us abundant reasons to sustain our hope. And those reasons are usually a more direct answer to the Who, What, & How questions. In other words, “I gave you this thorn in the flesh to exalt my strength.” This tells me something about who God is, what God is doing in my life, and how God intends to use me for his glory. It doesn’t necessarily answer the questions we tend to ask, like: Why me (out of all the people on the earth)? Why this particular trial? Why now (as opposed to ten years from now when my kids are grown up)?, etc. . .
Please do remember to pray for this family, even as they teach us much in the midst of this great trial.