After spending 10 years as a slave, Joseph then faced three years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. It wasn’t just or fair. Maybe you’ve discovered life can be like that. When we face adversity in life, whether just or unjust, we naturally ask the question “Why?” From time to time I come across a bewildered believer who will ask whether it is appropriate to ask the question “Why?” when life goes sideways. You may not be questioning things today, but you may someday. Maybe you know a person who is struggling with one or more issues who is asking the question “Why?” So to those who have such questions on our lips I offer these thoughts.
Asking “Why?” is a normal and natural thing to do. We are wired to seek understanding, and in many regards, that’s how our faith has been developed to this point. But our desire for understanding frequently collides headlight to headlight with God’s insistence to be somewhat veiled in mystery. We want clear answers from a God that is perfectly comfortable with allowing his dearly loved children to struggle with unresolved mystery. So don’t beat yourself up for asking “Why?” It doesn’t make you less of a Christian and God, believe it or not, is not offended when you do.
While asking “why?” may not be a problem as an initial response to our suffering, getting stuck there can be. To be completely honest, the question “Why?” is really shorthand for a longer stream of consciousness. When we ask “Why?”, we’re really asking…
… “Why ME?”
… “Why this CIRCUMSTANCE?”
… “Why this DIFFICULT PERSON?”
… “Why NOW?”
If we get stuck on the question “Why?”, we inevitably end up defending our own righteousness in the face of the righteousness of God. We become entrenched in defending our own merits and goodness and insist that we are not deserving of whatever it is we are facing. If you find yourself defending your goodness over the goodness of God, you’re stuck (see the story of Job).
You can choose a better question, and that would be the question “What?” “What am I supposed to learn?” “What area of my character is being developed?” “What do I need to learn from this adversity?” “What can I take from my adversity that will make me a better person?” “What experiences can I take and use to serve others who are suffering?” That line of questioning may not provide every answer you seek today, but it will help you work through your suffering and grow you into the likeness of Christ.