Help, I’m asking the question I’m not supposed to ask.

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20131129-104201.jpg“Dear Bronwyn,
I’ve been in the church long enough to know I’m not supposed to be asking this question. I feel a HUGE amount of guilt about it, but I have to ask: “Why?” Life is ridiculously hard sometimes. Why doesn’t God save us and bring us home to him? Why doesn’t he just get us out of here? He can do it. He is able. He already knows the end of the story (who will come to him or not) – so why doesn’t he just make it happen? I know I shouldn’t be asking this question, but my soul is crying out for an answer, and every pastor I hear speak on this seems to be giving a cop out answer. I’m not asking why bad things happen – I know we live in a fallen world. I am asking why we have to live here in the first place when it’s so awful. My non-believing friends ask me this question and I think “hmm, good point” and give them the cookie cutter answer I know I’m supposed to say. But I’m sad, and confused. Maybe I’m just weak.
– Signed, Judge Me or Judge Me Not.”

Dear JMoJMN,

I cannot judge you, and I cannot answer your question either. Why God allows suffering at all, and why He allows it to continue, are questions which fall into the “I don’t know” category. With tears and sadness, I’m sorry to say I don’t know either, and say that cop out answers make me angry too. We cannot explain the purposes and mysteries of God, and while He has given us some clues as to why suffering sometimes happens (due to sin, discipline, disobedience, or even because he has some glorious purpose to work out, like when he let Lazarus die so he could raise him again) – the fact is He almost never tells us which of those reasons (if any) applies to our particular situation.

I don’t know why He allows it, and I don’t know why He hasn’t come yet – but as with so many things in my faith, I find myself faced with a choice when I feel like despairing. I have to choose to cling to the little I do know, or to walk into the great and painful void of things I don’t know.

When I’m hurting and praying for things to resolve, these are some of the verses I cling to:

“The Lord is near to the broken hearted” (Psalm 34:18)

“But as for me, I will trust in you.” (Psalm 55:23b)

“Your promises have been thoroughly tested, therefore your servant loves them.” (Psalm 119:142)

“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

“and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

But I hear you: in the midst of clinging to those promises, sometimes my heart breaks that the pain still continues for now. However, I don’t believe you are a “bad Christian” for asking these questions. Indeed, the first century believers repeatedly prayed “Maranatha! COME Lord Jesus, (1 Corinthians 16:22)” a prayer for speedy deliverance if ever there was one. To beg God to make it end quickly, and to despair over the brokenness of the world is not a sign of being a bad or faithless Christian – it seems to me to be a deeply biblical response.

But it’s hard. It’s oh-so-hard. I find myself coming back to two stories in the gospels again and again when I find myself bewildered by the lack of answers. The first is in John 6, when Jesus had been doing some hard teaching. His disciples challenged him: “This is a difficult statement; who can understand it?” (verse 61). In response to his answer, “many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” (v66). John tells us that Jesus then asked the twelve: “You do not want to go away also do you?” Simon Peter answered him: “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69)

The second account is in Mark, where Jesus comes down from the Mountain to find the disciples floundering after failing to heal a boy possessed by an evil spirit. The father of the boy asked Jesus for help, saying “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” Jesus replies, “IF you can? All things are possible to him who believes.” And immediately, the boy’s father cried out “I do believe! Help me in my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22-24)

I come back to these passages often. I find myself bewildered and hurting and wondering if I can accept the answers I’m hearing, or if God can do anything about it and have pity and help us. My words are the disciples’ words, the boy’s father’s words. And I hear Jesus’ gentle answer to me: “IF I can do anything? Are you also going to walk away because this is hard?”

In those moments, I have to reply with those first believers: “I do believe, but HELP me in my unbelief. And besides which, where else shall I go? You have the words of eternal life.” I cannot even begin to tell you how often I’ve come back to these two stories. I don’t know the answers, but I know enough to know I have no better option than to lean into him when I’m hurting.

It’s okay to not know. We are called to be witnesses to what we know, not what we don’t. Over the years, one of my favorite hymns has become the Celtic classic “I cannot tell” (to the wondrous Londonberry tune – lyrics and music video below), which makes this point most beautifully: there are so many things we don’t know and understand. So many things that hurt and confuse and overwhelm us, mysteries beyond us. There are things we “cannot tell”. But then there are the things we do know, and it is those we cling to and sing of and in which we place our hope.

I’m praying for you, friend. Armed with an “I don’t know” for the mysteries, we cling to that which we know. We DO believe, may He help us in our unbelief, and comfort us as we wait.

I cannot tell why He whom angels worship,
Should set His love upon the sons of men,
Or why, as Shepherd, He should seek the wanderers,
To bring them back, they know not how or when.
But this I know, that He was born of Mary
When Bethlehem’s manger was His only home,
And that He lived at Nazareth and labored,
And so the Savior, Savior of the world is come.

I cannot tell how silently He suffered,
As with His peace He graced this place of tears,
Or how His heart upon the cross was broken,
The crown of pain to three and thirty years.
But this I know, He heals the brokenhearted,
And stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear,
And lifts the burden from the heavy laden,
For yet the Savior, Savior of the world is here.

I cannot tell how He will win the nations,
How He will claim His earthly heritage,
How satisfy the needs and aspirations
Of East and West, of sinner and of sage.
But this I know, all flesh shall see His glory,
And He shall reap the harvest He has sown,
And some glad day His sun shall shine in splendor
When He the Savior, Savior of the world is known.

I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship,
When, at His bidding, every storm is stilled,
Or who can say how great the jubilation
When all the hearts of men with love are filled.
But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture,
And myriad, myriad human voices sing,
And earth to Heaven, and Heaven to earth, will answer:
At last the Savior, Savior of the world is King!

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17 thoughts on “Help, I’m asking the question I’m not supposed to ask.”

  1. In all aspects of life there are dualities, it’s these dualities which make all things whole in their own right. Light and dark, happiness and sadness, sinfulness and righteousness…etc. For one to truly be faithful and have faith shouldn’t it be tested?, for when it is tested it sets apart the true believers from those who waiver or do not believe. If God took away all the bad what would be left? How could one truly experience pure joy without first having experienced heartache? It’s the difficult experiences we face that makes ones faith that much greater, for if not tested our faith would not hold as great a value.

  2. And let’s not forget that it is NOT wrong to ask “why”! Jesus, Himself, cried out in the Garden of Gethsemene “WHY have You forsaken me?” God doesn’t owe us the answer, but He does not tell us not to ask, and has promised us His presence in our not knowing.

  3. Dear judgemejudgemenot,

    It is beautiful to see how you open your heart and make yourself vulnerable.
    I am not so sensitive and I learned many things the hard way. One thing I know for sure is that there are no good people in the world. I know for sure because Jesus stated that: bible reference – mark 10:18; Isaiah 53:6.
    I just want to set the perspective strait, so you don’t misinterpret what I want to say.
    No one in this world gets what we deserve. Else we’d all be in he’ll not even one second after we are born. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death. God doesn’t owe anyone any good thing. Romans 11:35.
    The question why bad things happen to good people is incorrect therefore.
    Secondly: God doesn’t merely allow things. God purposes things. Your life, my life have purpose. Very intricate, very specific and very important purpose that is. The story of Job, Moses, Joseph, Ruth and others are perfect examples of God’s purpose against satans efforts. Genesis 50:20.
    There are three important aspects to this theme:

    1. Romans 8:37 till end of chapter is the greatest encouragement that anyone can give anyone!
    2. James 1:2 – count it joy!
    3. Romans 8:28. God works ALL things for the Christians good.

    It’s ok to ask questions of God, He is our father after all. It’s ok to feel sad when bad things happen. It’s perfectly normal to look for answers when things don’t make sense.
    As long as we are open to receive the answers and sometimes when you doubt God’s love just look at the cross. The one place where his only Son demonstrated the depth of the Fathers love.
    God didn’t save us so we can have an easy life. God saved us to make us holy. Hebrews 12:14 tells us that without holiness no one will see The Lord.
    Meditate on Gods love. What good things you have in life? Seek peace in Christ. John 14:27
    Gods Grace is sufficient to keep us going and present us to Himself blameless. That should be more than enough reason for anyone to want to live this wretched life. Apostle Paul states in Philippians 1:21.
    It’s not that we shouldn’t be amotional about bad things. I would dread it if something awful happened to my wife or daughter. I will be heart broken off course.
    But am I heart broken for Christ? Am I heart broken because of my sin, the way I treat God and others every day? Or have I put myself in a place of worship…taking for granted Gods grace. Even to the point of being ungrateful.
    Just few thoughts hon.

    1. Hi Nasco, thanks so much for reading and commenting, and especially for pointing so clearly back to God’s word. Thanks too for affirming this: “It’s ok to ask questions of God, He is our Father after all.” Everything is so much more bearable when we remember we are his beloved children and not his forgotten minions.

  4. As someone who has of late been suffering, grieving, and asking the Why question, I have found great comfort in Jerry Bridges’ book Trusting God Even When Life Hurts.
    “While it is certainly true that God’s love for us does not protect us from pain and sorrow, it is also true that all occasions of pain and sorrow are under the absolute control of God. . . . Our suffering is under the control of an all-powerful and all-loving God; our suffering has meaning and purpose in God’s eternal plan, and He brings or allows to come into our lives only that which is for His glory and our good.”

  5. Good question, great post and good comments. This is a tough question. I think of Job;s response when his wife chewed him out for retaining his faith: “shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” Job 2:10. That’s probably not much comfort. I’m sorry. I only know that God had one Son without sin, but He has no child without suffering.

      1. A missionary to Mexico related this comment made by a believer when a hurricane caused a lot of damage: :The Lord gave and the Lord takes away, and He will restore again.” I thought that was a wonderful attitude. God did “restore” – double – for Job. He will do the same for us, perhaps not as He did Job, and perhaps not in this life, but certainly in the next.

  6. Great post, Bronwyn! There’s actually a lot that can be said about why, when we’re saved, we aren’t immediately taken away from the earth or physical creation, so I’ll just write something quick-like (and hopefully comprehensible). For one thing, the earth/physical creation is our home and we have work and a calling to do on/in it. Separation from it is unnatural and not what we were made for. The question then is why Jesus doesn’t return yet to make it a nicer place. Again, I think, one consideration is that we still have, both individually and as the church, a work and a calling to complete before then. II Peter 3:9 alludes to this in its discussion of the apparent slowness of Christ’s return: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” So, more time for more people to come to God. And we play a part in that. There’s a lot of other interesting, sometimes obscure and apocalyptic stuff in the Bible relating, for instance, to the completion of the messianic sufferings in God’s people, but I’ll leave it there.

    1. I totally love what you said, Ian! I always come back to 2 Peter 3:9 too. Earth is our home and heaven isn’t a place far away: it’s right here, the earth that God is going to make into a NEW earth at the end times. He just hasn’t done it yet because he gives us more time. And like you said, Bronwyn…it hurts while we’re waiting for the end, for as many people to come to repentance as possible, but God has given me just enough strength and wisdom to lean on him. And that’s what I’m here for: to lean on him.

  7. Pingback: Pick of the Clicks 12/01/2013 | bronwyn's corner

  8. “I don’t know the answers, but I know enough to know I have no better option than to lean into him when I’m hurting.” Tears. I love that. I love that it’s ok to not know. Your words (and heart) are full of grace and compassion. Still thinking and praying over this. Thanks, friend.

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