My mother's pale, gaunt face was transformed into wreathes of joy when I walked through the door of her hospital room. Although her eyes seemed sunken, they sparkled with the zest for life that is her own special trademark. With IVs dangling from her arms, she lifted her trembling hands to welcome me. I embraced her frail body, feeling the heat of her temperature and the protrusion of her bones through the thin hospital gown. She was unable to speak clearly, so I just patted her and sat down nearby. Within moments, she was asleep. And I was left to wonder, Why? Why does my mother's life seem to be ending in suffering and, at times, confusion? Why, after a life lived selflessly for others, must her old age be, in some ways, a curse?
Yet I was reminded that unanswerable questions are not restricted to any particular age group when my son recently went through a series of tests to determine his physical condition five years after cancer surgery. The whys buzz through my head like irritating mental insects: Why? Why is my handsome, six-foot-nine-inch, 32-year-old son still stalked by the shadow of this horrific disease?
During the times when you and I can't trace God's hand of purpose, we must trust His heart of love. While wrestling with the illnesses of my mother and son, a beloved young friend was entering into the living death that is divorce. Why? Why doesn't God melt the heart of the offending spouse and bring that person to genuine repentance so the marriage can be saved?
And once again, the angel of death has struck, this time taking the life of the beloved pastor who ministered to my family and shepherded me through my formative years. Why?
And before that personal loss, I had other "whys."
Why would God let 110 fathers of unborn children perish in the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001?
Why would God withhold children from godly parents and give them to a mother who would bash in their heads with a rock or drown them in a bathtub?
Why would God allow thousands of people to lose their pensions because of greedy corporate executives who are padding their own retirement fortunes?
Why would God allow the kidnapping of babies and children for the perverted pleasure of some pedophile?
Why do the young die? Why do the wicked prosper?
Questions in the Garden
Broken hearts asking the question Why? are as old as the human race, beginning with our first parents. What would it have been like to wake up the morning after having been banished from the Garden of Eden because of a very wrong choice? I would imagine Adam and Eve had been lying on the cold, hard ground, covered in smelly animal skins. After dark hours of fitful sleep, did they have a moment in between unconsciousness and full alertness when they thought everything they had been through the day before was just a horrible nightmare—only to come fully awake and face to face with the cold, hard consequences of their choice to disobey God? They would have found no comfort in each other that night after the way Eve had involved Adam in her sin—and Adam had blamed Eve when convicted of it. They may not even have been speaking to each other!
In utter loneliness, separated and alienated from God, their minds must have initially been preoccupied with reliving those awful moments that had led to their disobedience.
Why did I talk to the snake? Why didn't I pray first? Why didn't God intervene to protect us?
The most tragic day in all of history could not be relived. And the tragedy was not over. In the years to come, after the joy of giving birth to three sons, Adam's and Eve's hearts were broken once again as they buried their second son, who was murdered by their firstborn.
God answered what surely was their unspoken question with a promise that transcended the generations for every age to come when He reassured Adam and Eve that one day He would send a Savior Who would destroy the power of sin, death, and the devil—the fundamental sources of all human suffering. Ultimately this brokenness did lead to blessing, and their suffering did lead to glory when Jesus Christ, their descendant in the flesh, came to redeem mankind from sin and reconcile the world to God.
To our heart-wrenched cries of Why? God's ultimate answer is, "Jesus," as He is glorified and magnified in our lives through our suffering.
During the times when you and I can't trace God's hand of purpose, we must trust His heart of love. When we don't understand why, we must trust Him because God cares for us more than we can possibly know.
A Tale of Two Birds
A turkey and an eagle react differently to the threat of a storm. A turkey reacts by running under the barn, hoping the storm won't come near. On the other hand, an eagle leaves the security of its nest and spreads its wings to ride the air currents of the approaching storm, knowing they will carry it higher in the sky than it could soar on its own. Based on your reaction to the storms of life, which are you? A turkey or an eagle?
It's natural for me to be a turkey in my emotions, but I have chosen to be an eagle in my spirit. And as I have spread my wings of faith to embrace the "Wind," placing my trust in Jesus and Jesus alone, I have experienced quiet, "everyday" miracles:
His joy has balanced my pain.
His power has lifted my burden.
His peace has calmed my worries.
His grace has been more than adequate to cover me.
His strength has been sufficient to carry me through.
His love has bathed my wounds like a healing balm.
Soaring has become an adventure of discovering just how faithful He can be when I am way out of my comfort zone in the stratosphere over the storm. Soaring is an adventure of discovering by experience His answer to my pain. And I imagine a smile of infinite tenderness on His face as the angels in heaven applaud, "Anne, you're finally getting it. Now you're beginning to understand one of the reasons why God has allowed these bad things to happen."
And, to a greater degree than ever before, I do understand. Soaring is so exhilarating, I find increasingly that I am no longer content to live in the barnyard of familiar comfort just for the relative security that seems to be there. I want to live by faith.
The Big Picture
Looking back over that 18-month period of loss and uncertainty in my life, my confident conclusion is that God allowed the storms of suffering to increase and intensify because He wanted me to soar higher in my relationship with Him.
Faith that triumphantly soars is possible only when the winds of life are contrary to personal comfort. That kind of faith is His ultimate purpose in allowing us to encounter storms of suffering.
Jesus taught us this lesson of triumphant faith in the little town of Bethany in the days that immediately preceded the history-splitting storm that broke in Jesus' own life at Calvary—a storm that carried Him to the very highest pinnacle of glory and power. In that small-town setting, Jesus revealed God's answer to our question, "Why did You let this bad thing happen?"
His timeless response to our heartfelt query was given dramatically to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus—a family living in Bethany (John 11:1-44). Ultimately they soared to the very heights of faith on the wings of the storm that suddenly swept into their lives. Their experience underscores the truth that God's picture for our lives is much bigger than our own. And it reminds us of the challenge to trust His greater, ultimate purpose when bad things inevitably happen.
Adapted from Why?: Trusting God When You Don't Understand (W, 2004). © 2004 Anne Graham Lotz. Used by permission of W Publishing. All rights reserved. Used with permission.