Many of us ask that question, especially when we’re suffering. We want to know why something has happened (or hasn’t happened). We yearn to discover the reason God ordained – caused or allowed – something.
We want to know why.
It’s a good and honest question, but it’s unwise to spend too much time dwelling on it. Why? Because God doesn’t always give us the answer to that question. In fact, He rarely does.
Elisabeth Elliot’s husband Jim was murdered by the Auca Indians along with four other missionaries in the early 1950’s. Left with a young daughter to raise by herself, Elisabeth asked God why. After searching the Scriptures, she came up with five “answers.”
God reveals His glory through suffering and trials. “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
Suffering and trials produce positive qualities in our life. Romans 5:3-4 says, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Suffering and trials drive us to fully depend upon God. “But he (God) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
In the life of a Christian, suffering and trials confirm that we actually belong to the Lord. “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may share in his glory” (Romans 8:17).
The church is benefited by the trials and sufferings of its members. Colossians 1:24 says, “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I will fill up in my flesh what is lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”
In addition to Elliot’s findings, let me add one more: trials and suffering are part of God’s eternal plan and purpose. “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,” according to Ephesians 1:11.
All of these passages give us general “answers” to the “why?” question. None of them, however, provide us with a specific answer. We can take comfort, however, in knowing that God has a plan, is in control, and is using it for His purposes.
When we face difficult things (and we all will!), the most important question to ask is not “why?” but “what?” We should ask what we should be doing, thinking, and saying next. We should also be asking what would glorify God in our situation rather than camping on the “why” of the situation.
Elisabeth Elliot had a proper perspective and we can too by the power of the Holy Spirit.