Chapter 9 – Why Now?
If the answer to the question “Why me?” can elude us, then what should we expect when we pursue its partner, “Why now?” If God, in His wisdom, has chosen not to spare us our trials, perhaps He will carve out some generous respites in the ebb and flow of life. One might postulate so, but one would be wrong. God does not appear to offer any more deference in the timing of our pain than He does His decision to allow us to suffer in the first place. I am not confirming this is the case, but I sense it accurately reflects our perceptions.
As they say, “the hits just keep on coming.” Like a flurry of punches in the late rounds of a boxing match, each troubling experience in our lives brings us closer to a knock-out. It is hard to imagine a good time for a trial, but at least when our challenges are spread out over weeks, months, or years we have an opportunity to regroup and heal. On the other hand, when the enemy’s attacks are unrelenting, we can find ourselves overwhelmed.
The Bible is filled with the accounts of godly people who encountered the worst trials imaginable at the worst possible time. Consider the widow of Zerephath. God pressed her into service to provide shelter for the prophet Elijah. Elijah’s effectual prayer, designed to bring wicked King Ahab to his knees, had brought drought and family to the land. Unfortunately, both Elijah and the widow suffered along with everyone in the land. When Elijah arrived at the widow’s home he asked her to draw him some water and bake him a cake. His timing was horrible! The poor widow was already busy preparing what she believed to be her last meal before she and her son died of starvation. But in faith she obeyed and God blessed her with a miraculously supply of oil and flower throughout Elijah’s visit.
Then the widow’s son grew ill and died. Really? The widow who was so faithful lost her son, even as she was caring for God’s anointed? How could such a thing happen to a woman who had been so faithful? We can appreciate her words to Elijah: “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son” (1 Kings 17:18)? Elijah was no less shocked as he prayed, “O LORD my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die” (1 Kings 17:20)? Ok, so the story had a happy ending when Elijah raised the boy from the dead. But resurrections from the dead in this life are rare.
If we knew all of our trials were going to end happily, the wait would be less agonizing. We sympathize with the widow and aren’t surprised by her confusion. Why would God provide for her needs if His intention all along was to punish her by taking away the only thing that really mattered? Why would He do such a thing “now” after she and the boy had already been through so much?
Bad timing begs the question “Why now?” But it can hardly been seen apart from our other question, “Why me?” If our issue with trials were merely a matter of inconvenience, we might easily endure. But when we experience one struggle after another we begin to think God has indeed singled us out. With the widow we shout, “What do you have against me? Why me? Why now?” We can’t imagine what we have done to suffer so, and for so long, and so often.
Perhaps you have seen stress charts that assign numerical values to various events, such as the loss of a family member, major illness or new career. While these tools might help us understand our feelings and behaviors, they don’t save us from the summary point, “This isn’t fair!” Just because something can be defined doesn’t mean it makes sense. If we ultimately conclude the timing of our circumstances is nonsensical, we are left to ask how we might expect God to move, how we might move without God, or something in-between.
A fatalist assumes inequality in a universe without a God who is intimately involved in the lives of His people. But those who trust in God look beyond their circumstances to a God of possibilities. He alone possesses perfect vision with the freedom to exercise His will in infinite ways to accomplish His purposes.
How does this trust work in practical terms? Some believers, finding themselves on the losing side of mathematical odds, assume there must be a heavenly reason for their earthly pain. They are certain nothing happens without a reason.
A few years ago I sat in my office with a young woman who had lost nearly every member of her family within the span of a year. The first two were murdered, a third died of cancer, a fourth of a massive heart attack and a fifth from cancer. I wrongly assumed this dear sister in Christ was heavily burdened with doubt, so I subjected her to a twenty minute seminar on why bad things happen to good people. When I finally came up for air, she looked at me with a hopeful countenance and said, “Momma always taught us to trust God whether we understand what is happening in our lives or not. I believe everything happens for a reason and that’s what I’m holding on to.”
I am in basic agreement with this “for a reason” approach, as long as it doesn’t attribute evil acts to God, but accepts the fact He sometimes allows them and has the ability to use them for a holy purpose. This principle is rooted in God’s decision to give us free will, and presumes some of our hardships in life might also be self-inflicted. As long as we define “reason” within these parameters, it will be difficult for Satan to gain a foothold in our hearts.
When Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, they put him in harm’s way and nearly destroyed their father Jacob. In the years that followed Joseph was slandered, imprisoned and abandoned, but God preserved him for a divine strategy. When Joseph was finally reunited with his brothers, he showed them grace and took care of their families. But when Jacob died, his brothers were afraid of retaliation, so they fabricated a will from their father requiring mercy from Joseph. Joseph’s response revealed his love for his brothers and his heart for God: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Joseph’s trial couldn’t have happened at a worse time for him or his father. He endured one test after another until God finally delivered Him and elevated him to a powerful position in Egypt. His troubles seemed poorly sequenced and intolerably intense, but God used them for His glory.
Yet, we are still left with a dilemma if God is truly in control of our circumstances. If His power is absolute why doesn’t He strategically position our trials so we have more time to recover from one to the next? Would it be too much to ask Him to set age limits on suffering, so our children have time to enjoy life before they are struck down by disease or some thoughtless act of violence? In the interest of timing, perhaps the young single mother could be spared until her children are grown, or the husband until he has lovingly nursed his wife of fifty-five years through the cruel valley of Alzheimer’s.
I realize if we had our way each time we cried, “Why now?” we would eliminate trials altogether. There would be no such things as dental work, car repairs, power outages or door-to-door salesmen who interrupt our family meal. “Great!” you say. “Would it really matter in the whole scheme of things if these unwelcomed quests disappeared?” Perhaps it would not, but how would we know? And what kind of people would we be if God shielded us from every uncertainty? Could we endure the greater struggles if we escaped the lesser?
Such a proposition is also inconsistent with the Bible’s description of mankind. If all have sinned, then we cannot escape suffering. This doesn’t mean all suffering is a result of sin, but rather that sin is one cause of suffering in the life of sinner and those he hurts.
Perhaps God could set limits, allowing just enough suffering in our lives to maintain our status as free agents, but give us more choice over events, times and places. Some say He does set limits and will only allow us to suffer what He thinks we can endure. But has He really promised this, or merely told us He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to resist sin? (1 Corinthians 10:13). The strength to resist sin doesn’t guarantee we will be spared physical, mental, emotional or even spiritual anguish. It also doesn’t exclude the possibility we might die for our convictions.
Since it is not within our power to control the actions of others, and since we have no few insights into God’s future timing, we have no choice but to trust Him with circumstances as they unfold in our lives. Sometimes God causes and sometimes God allows, but whether we are led by providence or exposed to suffering in a broken world, He can bring good out of anything. My circumstances might overwhelm me and even though the power of God works in me I might break under the pressure. Yet, the Mighty One will not abandon me in my hour of need, and even if His comfort comes in the form of attending angels as I breathe my last, He will give me everything required.
I tremble when I think on such things, but I don’t lose heart. The Lord I live for is the same One I suffer with, and the One in whose presence I live now and forevermore. I have no definitive answer for the questions of “Why me?” or “Why now?” but God’s wisdom and faithfulness sustain me.