Why? It’s a question we love to ask, and a question we love to provide with a comfortable answer. When something tragic happens or a trial comes our way with intent to linger, we hear people question God. They question his love. They question his goodness. They question his power. They question his existence. As believers, this can make us squirm. We see someone we love that is hurting, and we want to have comforting answers for them.
I’ve been there, too. I’ve looked back at poor decisions, unpleasant consequences, and life altering struggles and asked, “Why, God, didn’t you stop that from happening?” Tragedy struck, my sister died unexpectedly at 22, and I wanted God to answer me. ”Why would a loving God bring me, a follower of Jesus Christ, through such a troubling experience of loss and grief?” I wondered.
Recent tragedies – from mass shootings to natural disasters – have left our entire nation asking, “Why?”
As Christians, Christ’s ambassadors here on earth (2 Cor. 5:20), we might be put on the spot to answer this question. As Christians, Christ’s ambassadors here on earth, we might feel obligated to provide an answer. As ambassadors, we need to speak for God, right?
If you are reading this with hopes that I will provide you with the perfect one-line response, I apologize for letting you down. There have been many incredible blog posts after the recent shooting in Colorado that try to tackle our nation’s echos of ”why?” but this will not be one of those posts.
Instead, I want to draw attention to a common response that is not the answer.
It might be the most common response I have heard. It’s the line that seasoned Christians like to fall back on when faced with another puzzling “why?” And it usually comes in one of these forms: “God is trying to teach us something” or “These things have to happen so that we learn what God is wanting us to learn.”
A lesson. A personal, man-centered lesson. Not just a lesson, but a lesson that could not have been learned any other way.
I’ve heard it used to explain just about everything. “Why did my son and his girlfriend have a baby as teenagers?” God wanted to teach them something. “Why did God let our house burn down?” God wanted us to learn through the experience. “Why didn’t God provide the money we needed?” God wanted us to learn how to live with less. I often hear it from believers as they share their testimony of hard times, “I know now that God wanted that to happen so I would learn [insert lesson learned].”
When we minimize God’s intentions to nothing more than ”teaching us a lesson,” we are neglecting several important truths:
1. The Bible is complete and sufficient. (2 Tim. 3:16,17) It is false to believe that God needed to allow tragedy to teach me something. My circumstances might be used to point me to God’s truth found in scripture (see Romans 15:4), but they never create “new” truth to be discovered or written (See Revelation 22:18).
2. God’s plan is centered on God’s glory and his purposes. What I learn over the course of His plan might bring glory to God in many ways, but His plan is not about me and my human understanding. God’s plan will come to fruition whether I “understand” everything or not.
3. God created us to love Him and worship Him. Boiling our purpose on earth down to nothing more than a life of learning experiences is placing the focus on ourselves. Christian living is indeed a journey of learning and refining, but the primary goal is not to simply become wise. The goal is to worship and love God to the fullness of our capabilities. Wisdom from God will inspire full and right worship, but your wisdom is a gift meant for that very purpose – not reason to boast.
4. I am but dust. To believe that God’s plan is centered on teaching his people little life lessons, one by one, is to ignore that God’s plan is an eternity long. It is so much bigger than a lesson plan for my life. There are many things that will happen in my lifetime that I will not understand or learn from, but that does not mean they do not have eternal significance.
5. We are sinful people. It’s possible that the answer to my “why” question is simply this: I am sinful. I enjoy sinning. I pursued sin rather than things of God, and there are sometimes earthly consequences. By claiming that God allowed for a time of trial to happen to simply teach me something, I might be splashing a bit of paint on the ugly truth of the matter: I am more sinful than I want to admit.
6. A sinful act is not redefined as “good” simply because we learned something from it or because we see God use it for good. This is true: God will use ALL things for his glory. Just as we read in Genesis 50:20 regarding Joseph’s brother’s sinful acts: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” Even sinful times in our life will be used for good, but that does not mean they are any less wrong or permit us to go on sinning in that way.
7. We are called to trust in the Lord with all of our heart, mind, and soul – leaning not on our own understanding. By focusing too much on the question “What does God want to teach me through this trial?” we may be neglecting what is more important than our intellectual understanding: our faith and trust in God himself.
I pray that you will not mistake my points as an argument against personal growth and learning about God through our trials. Undoubtedly, we are going to learn lessons from God throughout our trials and those lessons are going to be a life changing part of God’s plan.
God has used times of hardship, trials, and brokenness in my life to teach me more about Him than any blog, sermon, or conference ever could. God is so gracious to use these things to teach me, and I treasure those lessons. I am confident that God desires us to learn and understand Him better at every opportunity. Still, I would never claim that those experiences happened for the primary purpose of teaching me a lesson about God. This is a comfort to me, in many ways. It comforts me to know that the tragic loss of my sister was part of God’s plan, and the impact of that event for God’s plan and His people stretches beyond my own understanding. It comforts me to know that I serve a God that is in control of the master plan, and though I might not recognize the greater purpose of suffering during my lifetime, His hand will still use it for the good of those that love him (Romans 8:28). It comforts me to know that in moments where I have no understanding to offer, in moments when children have been shot and mothers are laying in critical condition, my understanding is not what matters.