When I was first in the hospital being diagnosed with a cruel and constant pain disorder, I had no idea what was in front of me. No idea what the journey ahead would look like. But I knew one thing for sure: God would carry me through it. Because He's always faithful, He's always sovereign, He's always loving, and He's always good.
So, I didn't ask, "Why?"
Instead, I determined myself to ask, "Who?"
God, show me who You are. When the road is too painful to walk. When I can't keep up. When nothing is turning out how I hoped it might...God, draw me into Your heart. Show me more of You.
"I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken," (Psalm 16:8).
There's always a but.
But, twenty months after that diagnosis, something in my heart shifted. I closed my eyes. The mountains in front of me suddenly felt far too tall to climb. And I cried out to God--so desperately longing for those mountains to disappear. I begged Him for something different. For something that I could choose. For something that I could walk through independently.
Why, God? Why this? Why can't it end?
And I sort of expected to be chastised for asking, "Why?"
I've always felt a pressure not to question God at all. I've assumed that any "Why?" that I could put before the Lord would mean doubt and maybe even defiance on my part.
But then I re-read the book of Job. Job's first words felt so much like the ones that had naturally come to me back at the beginning.
His children were all killed and he lost everything he owned. And his first response was to tear his clothes, worship God, and say,
"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised," (Job 1:21).
In chapter 2, he says to his wife, "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (verse 10).
Flash forward to Philippians 4 and pair Job's words with Paul's when he says that he has learned the secret of being content in every situation because of the strength that comes through Christ. It sure sounds to me like my only response to trouble should be to praise the Lord without any questions about what is happening.
As Job's suffering increased, however, Job began to plead for a "Why?" (and still we see that in his questioning, he remained faithful to God).
I realized, as I read, that God isn't telling us not to ever ask Him why things are happening.
In fact, the word "Why" shows up over 500 times throughout the Bible. And many times, it's in the form of a question directed toward God. People are feeling forgotten. People are feeling forsaken. People are feeling alone and accused and afraid. Even Jesus, when He hung on the cross for us, asked His Father, "Why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). Sometimes God gives a clear answer. Other times, He simply says, "I am."
He is so gracious to listen to us. To hold us. To keep on carrying us.
He listens. He hears. He cares.
Jesus tells us that we need to have faith like little children (Matthew 18:3). Have you ever thought about what that really means?
One of the most quintessential things about children is their curiosity. It's the fact that they ask, "Why?" And they ask it again. And again. And again.
They want to understand. They crave knowledge. They are hungry to learn.
My pastor, David Whiting, is doing an incredible parenting series right now. On Sunday, he talked about how important it is for us to be intentionally teaching our children the "Why?" behind the things we want them to do (i.e. Why should we love others? Because God loved us first (1 John 4:19).
Understanding the "Why" shapes their hearts instead of just their actions.
NOTE: This does not mean that they get to demand a "Why?" as a prerequisite to obedience, or that it would be alright for them to kick and scream when they don't get their way. My wonderful friend, Cassie, is going to share more about that piece here on the blog tomorrow.
If God wants us to have child-like faith, then it looks to me like He's willing to entertain our questions and our pleas for understanding, because He wants to shape our hearts.
Nothing He does (or allows to happen) is without a purpose. In everything, He's working for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Every circumstance is an opportunity for us to grow in our faith and our character, and it's an opportunity for us to trust God and to give Him glory.
But, if God wants us to have the faith of little children, then we also have to understand a few things:
1. Asking "Why?" can absolutely be appropriate and necessary and good. It allows us to gain understanding. It causes us to open our ears and our hearts to listen to God.
2. Placement of the "Why?" matters. In the same way that it is not obedient for a child to demand to know "Why?" as a prerequisite to obeying their parents in the moment, God still expects us to be obedient to Him. The obedience comes first. We can ask Him "Why?" along the way.
3. We need to look to the Bible for our answers when we ask God a question. God isn't going to give us an answer that is an exception to anything He has already said in His Word. It's also the place where we learn the most about who He is--His character, His heart, His faithfulness, His ways.
4. Sometimes, God's answer to our "Why?" will be that we don't need to understand. Sometimes, God's answer will be, "Because I AM." And we need to learn to be content with that (Philippians 4:11-13). To praise God for who He is, no matter what is going on in our lives. To keep our eyes on Him (2 Corinthians 4:18). To trust, also like little children, that He is worth following because He is God and He has a plan and He will be glorified.
How about you...
- Do you have a "Why?" that you want to ask God?
- Have you felt like you're not allowed to ask, "Why?"
- What do you think about God's willingness to listen to our questions?
- What is underneath your, "Why?" Do you actually want understanding?
- Would you be content if God's answer was, "Because I AM"?
One of my favorite songs is Kristene DiMarco's version of "It Is Well." It says, "Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You...Through it all, through it all, it is well..." And it all will be well, because He is. But that doesn't mean that we can't ask Him for more understanding while we wait on that. While we wait on Him.
Gracious God, I want to know Your thoughts and Your ways. I know that they're higher than mine. So much higher than mine (Isaiah 55). But I want to know You. Beautiful Lord, help me to understand. And help me to be content in tough circumstances, knowing that You are mine and I am Yours and You WILL be glorified.
I'm so thankful that God is so gentle and kind. That He truly wants to hear us cry out to Him.
Every "Why?" can turn into worship if we open up our hands while we ask.
"Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my savior and my God," (Psalm 42:11).
Do you ever wonder, "Why..." God asks us to "rejoice always" (Philippians 4:4)?
Take the Joy Challenge! This all-in-one Bible study and devotional journal came out of my journey through pain.
It's all about redefining joy, focusing, facing giants, and understanding perseverance. It's what emerged from underneath my desperate need to CHOOSE to walk in the joy that comes from knowing and following Jesus, even when I didn't have working legs to stand on.
It answers why joy doesn't depend at all on our circumstances.
Could you use some joy in your life?