Dear Morning Devotion Group: I will be posting Pencil Faith this weekend. I want to finish our “18 Days of Pencil Faith” by next weekend. The following Monday we begin a new series on the “Bride of Christ” (the church). I have already completed the text I will be posting. If you would like the complete book at once, e-mail me at email@example.com and I will send it to you. I am going to bind the material into book form and give it to people I share with who are going through difficult trials, so any input you have is appreciated. Blessings, Larry Jones
Chapter 8 – Why Me?
Intense suffering and catastrophic loss test our confidence in God’s justice. When pain becomes personal our faith grows dysfunctional. We learn to mask our disappointment but cannot escape the battle raging in our souls. Finally, our afflictions turn insidious and we cry out with Job, “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me” (Job 3:25). It isn’t difficult to understand why God’s servants who are hurting ask “Why me?”
We don’t have to be the one’s suffering to pose the question. We also contend with God when a loved one is seriously ill or wounded in some way. And while those we care for often find peace in their circumstances, we complain on their behalf and wage demonic wars of our own. Should we surrender them to the last enemy, we are left to pick up the pieces of our shattered hearts and somehow reconcile our expectations with the wisdom of God.
Our resolution usually involves one of the following: God has failed us, we have failed God, or we have failed each other. Perhaps our cultural bent toward fairness prompts us to spread the blame around. We have not been without fault, but then in our minds, neither has God.
Of course, we would not express our perceptions in this way, at least not aloud. Few of us would boldly accuse God of wrongdoing. We are more comfortable asking Him why He seems absent or difficult to understand. When our world crashes in around us, we must find a reason. The possibility we might be entirely at fault is too unbearable, and our opinion of God forces us to look away lest we find ourselves speechless in His presence.
To be at peace with God, we must be honest with Him about our feelings. In any other situation our reaction would be considered normal. If we were being attacked by a robber on a city street and a policeman ignored our cries for help, we would boil with anger. If we discovered our attacker was the son of a local politician and the judge tossed out the case because the politician was an old classmate, we would threaten a law suit. Should we be surprised if we question God’s justice when our circumstances don’t seem fair?
Please don’t misunderstand. Expressing our anger at God is a dangerous proposition. Whether it is always a sin is a theological question people have debated for centuries. Ephesians 4:26 tells us anger is an opportunity for sin, but is it possible to be angry with God under some circumstances without sinning? Personally, I have not resolved this issue, but I am confident of two things: anger against God is not the unpardonable sin, and it is easier to deal with our disappointments with God when we tell Him what He already knows.
If we are angry with God, for whatever reason, we should admit it. If He hasn’t already struck us dead for the things we have been thinking, He probably won’t do so when we speak our mind. I am not suggesting it is permissible to curse God, or to forget for one moment how He views insubordination. Moses understood this boundary when he wrote, “Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you” (Psalm 90:11). Should we think there is cathartic power in unleashing a barrage of disrespectful cries in God’s direction, we might want to reconsider. God has His own form of release against which no one can stand.
On the other hand, it is possible to be paralyzed by our indignation because we are afraid God will condemn us if we are truthful. We carry our hurts around with us and censor our prayer lives lest we misspeak. Personally, I believe God understands this impasse and grieves with us as we struggle through our nightmares. He is patient and loving as well as wrathful and knows the intentions of our hearts, even when our demeanor is cold and distant.
For these reasons, we should pour our hearts out before the One who loves us in spite of ourselves. If we have sinned in our anger, then confession will release the waters from the dam that has kept us from the only One who can rescue us. An honest heart is capable of confession. Does the thought of confessing your faults to a God you believe to be partially responsible for your pain bother you? Then you have all the more reason to come before Him on bended knee.
Our decision to confess our feelings to God is healthy, but we must move past emotion and address specifics. Exactly why have we been unable to face God? Do we hold others who have hurt us in contempt and have we murdered them a hundred times in our hearts? Are we eaten up with guilt because of our own sinful acts, and are we bitter that the grace our believing friends speak of so freely seems to be in short supply when we need it most?
Confession is how we clear the air with God, and the place where we begin to sincerely address the “Why me?” inquiry. Even if we think we are innocent of more grievous sins, the fact we have wasted one moment wallowing in human pride is reason enough for serious inventory. We cry out with David in full assurance, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). Honesty and confession make it possible to hear God, but they don’t guarantee an answer to every question. In truth, we may never why He has allowed us to suffer, at least in this life.
Consider John the Baptist. John was more than a prophet cloaked in camel’s-hair. He was the little “surprise” born to Mary’s elderly cousin Elizabeth. He never wavered in his mission to prepare the world for the “Lamb of God”, and didn’t shrink from calling sinners to repentance. And when Jesus emerged John introduced Him to the crowds and humbly stepped aside.
But this was not the end of John’s prophetic work. It is hard for a truth talker to remain silent. When King Herod entered into an immoral relationship with his brother’s wife Herodias, John confronted him and was summarily tossed in prison. One day Herod was celebrating his birthday with some guests and Salome, Herodias’ daughter, danced before him. Impressed, and probably intoxicated, Herod offered her a single wish. Salome’s mother Herodias didn’t need long to come up with a suggestion, and in quick order John the Baptist’s head was delivered on a platter.
As unfortunate as these events were, they are not the most troubling part of the story. We can understand Herodias’ motives. But how should we interpret Jesus’ behavior toward John? Perhaps on a day when John was overcome with depression he sent some disciples to ask Jesus if He really was the Messiah. Why? Is it possible John felt abandoned? If Jesus really was the Son of God would He allow His own cousin to rot away in prison? Had John wasted his entire life on a false premise?
Jesus told John’s disciples to deliver this message: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Luke 7:22-23). Do you think these words were encouraging to John? They celebrated Jesus’ ministry but did nothing to fix John’s circumstances, and in some ways made things worse. Couldn’t someone who was giving people back their sight, curing leprosy and raising the dead find the time to spring a poor prophet from prison? Would it have hurt God’s plan of redemption to rescue a deserving servant who was suffering for righteousness’ sake?
Of course, my rambling is largely speculative since we aren’t told what John was really thinking. Maybe He was ready to die as a prophet, but just needed a little reassurance. But it is just as possible he died in a state of confusion as to purpose behind his persecution, especially since he had been faithful in everything.
This brings me to a difficult position I have grown more comfortable with as the years have passed. Sometimes, it is enough to know God cares for me and is aware of my circumstances. Not only has He not promised to protect me from all harm, but He has also never said He would provide full insight into His providential plans. Does this reality frustrate me? Of course it does. I want to know “Why me?” I would also like to be able to answer the same question for others. But I now know I must come to a place where I am more focused on God’s abiding peace in the midst of things I do not understand than I am the reasons behind them.
Therefore we return to our #2 Pencil Faith metaphor, slightly wiser. Satan’s attack on the certainties that comprise the greater portion of our faith is merely a delusion created to defeat us. In time we recognize our foundation is sure, but our faith reflects a more mature awareness of God’s providence as it intersects the complexity of our human experience. In brief terms God’s “Law of Possibilities” is greater than our finite perspective, and as our trust in His wisdom grows, the need for complete answers in this life begins to fade in light of His eternal glory. This is not an easy process of discovery, but one that is inevitable in our walk with the Father.