Posted by: mikenicholsblog | October 27, 2014

the “whys”

It was in the Fall of 2009 that a dear friend and work colleague learned that he had a devastating form of cancer. There were many highs and lows in his battle before he entered eternity in May of 2010. How could Jim be the one that got sick? He was the one that seemed to always watch his diet and continually maintain his health. At age fifty-nine, he was beginning what looked to be a great retirement. Of all people, Jim!  As I was thinking about this article, my mind also wandered back to another friend that I haven’t seen in over 28 years. He had MS, and lived with a smile and focus that always intrigued me. I will never forget the time he told me that he looked at his disease as a “ministry of suffering.” His life and words still challenge me.  There is so much about sickness that I don’t understand, and it is easy to question the “whys” of disease and suffering.

It seems we are always trying to figure out the “whys” of suffering and disease, even though we know the futility of our searching. We may even begin thinking, as the disciples did in John 9, was the suffering because of sin? This was the question the disciples asked Jesus about the man born blind from birth. Their question could so easily be asked of the suffering that is happening in our own lives and those of the ones we love, today.

I would guess the answer Jesus gave surprised and confounded the disciples.  Note their question and Jesus’ response.

“Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”  “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him”.
John 9:2-3 (NLT)

Look at Charles Swindoll’s words about chapter John nine. His insight is helpful. “The disciples’ question reflected a common understanding of sin in first-century Judaism, one that is sadly common today as well. The disciples saw the man’s affliction as the just penalty of someone’s sin, either his own or that of his parents. It’s human nature to find someone to blame…As the story unfolds, we learn that their ‘chance meeting had been scheduled since the beginning of time, and the man’s ‘meaningless’ affliction had been given divine purpose from the foundation of creation”.

We all understand that all suffering and affliction are the result of our fall in Adam. Without his disobedience, there would be no sin or death. But to peg specific issues to sin is really beyond our scope. Only God understands the depth and purpose of suffering, and He can certainly turn afflictions in to trophies of His grace. Although not easy, we are all best served to relinquish the desire to know “why” some die young and babies are born with handicaps, while others live long lives into the hand of God. We should also refuse to play God, by determining that someone’s sin caused their pain.  God knows the “whys,” and we can trust His sovereignty.

I am conscious that I have never dealt with pain like many reading this article; so I would like to close with quotes from a trophy of God’s grace, Joni Eareckson Tada. Her story of deep pain and a ministry of suffering has touched millions. Let her quotes speak to the desire we have to understand, and sometimes even chastise the pain of others.

“Suffering provides the gym equipment on which my faith can be exercised.”
Suffering: Making Sense of Suffering

“He has chosen not to heal me, but to hold me. The more intense the pain, the closer His embrace.”
A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty

“Contentment … has an internal quietness of heart that gladly submits to God in all circumstances.”
When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty

 “Whys” may overwhelm us, but it is trust that settles us!


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