Oftentimes when we are suffering, we search for a “why.” Why are we, or someone we love, suffering? Why would God allow this, even direct it to happen, when He can see how much I’m hurting? These are all questions I have asked in my own life, and I’m sure some of you all who are reading have asked them too. In some situations, we begin to discern a reason why something happened: to advance the reach of the Gospel, to knock down our idols, or for a host of other reasons. However, we do not always get a “why.” We are not guaranteed a rationale behind our suffering.
Jesus does give us a promise that we will suffer in this fallen world in John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” He never promises us an explanation for our suffering, except that He is working all things together for good (Romans 8:28).
I do not claim to be an expert on suffering, but I have witnessed the suffering of family members close to me. My maternal grandmother spent the last ten years of her life paralyzed from the neck down as a result of a car wreck. Our family learned to shoulder her medical care and the trauma that many members of the family were experiencing due to the wreck, and to her condition.
My paternal grandfather was diagnosed with something similar to dementia or Parkinson’s close to the end of his life. In a hallucination caused by the disease, he shot and killed my paternal grandmother, believing her to be an intruder. Should this have happened? Our gut reaction is to say absolutely not. However, we live in a world that is broken and ravaged by sin. Does the Lord allow painful things to happen to us while we are here on earth? Yes. They are part of His plan, no matter how out of the blue they may seem. Let’s recall the story of Joseph–he concludes that even though his brothers intended to hurt him, the Lord used his situation for good. Joseph saw part of the “why” in his story. That’s all well and good, but what about an example of someone who didn’t get an explanation?
When we talk about suffering in the Bible, Job is typically one of the first books that comes to mind. Job loses his children, his health, and the approval of his wife and friends, all in a very short time, and God seems to be allowing it. In all of this, there is one thing that the Lord never takes from Job–relationship with Him. Job’s faith remains intact despite his circumstances, and the Lord does not forsake him. He questions God and expresses his hurt, and God listens. Then He reminds Job forcefully that Job is not in charge–Job did not create the world from nothing, and he cannot see the greater plan. In reminding him of this, God is letting Job know that He does see the greater plan. Job’s pain is valid, and God mourns our pain because He sympathizes (remember Jesus weeping at the tomb of Lazarus). The Lord draws near to Job in his hurt and questioning; He does not abandon him to face the pain of the world alone, but instead sustains him and holds Job through it all.
That’s the promise here. We will suffer, yes, and experience pain and the effects of the Fall here on earth. But through it all, the Lord will sustain and carry us. The things that happen to us are part of His will, even when we can’t see it. Sometimes we have to wrestle with that. I certainly did–I was angry with the Lord for allowing my grandparents to suffer, and for allowing me to lose three grandparents before I graduated high school. It seemed completely senseless and cruel. Some days it still does. I have not received a “why.”
The Lord has shown me in studying Scripture that my story and the stories of my grandparents have the power to proclaim His glory in the midst of suffering. My maternal grandmother’s story reached many people, and that is a beautiful thing that came out of her suffering. However, my paternal grandparents’ story ended in tragedy. My grandmother was dead, and my grandfather died shortly after that in the hospital, never conscious of what he had done. That was a mercy, and I see the provision and protection of the Lord in that. That being said, I still do not see a reason why these things happened. Job didn’t get an answer either, but we have both learned to trust and to rest on the Lord for our sustenance in suffering.