Be still and know I am God.
Psalm 46:10 (a) (NIV)
There comes a time in every believer’s journey when circumstances result in the question of “why”. This question may be directed towards an observation about a situation that is occurring, affecting the life/lives of loved ones. It may be directed towards a personal situation that catches us by surprise. Why is this happening to me, even though I have been faithful? Why am I experiencing this disappointment, even though I was convinced that the choice to follow this path was one initiated and encouraged by the Holy Spirit? Why is a loved one experiencing all this pain, even though there is nothing in their past that could justify such a predicament? Why have my good choices resulted in such bad outcomes? If you haven’t gotten to this point in your spiritual journey, continue a while longer. The “Why” junction is further along.
In my own experience, theological explanations have rung hollow and now feel insufficient. Much of the human speculation, within church circles, around the answer to “why” revolves around two primary concepts. The first is the reality of “communal sin”. This explanation acknowledges the believer’s confusion but frames the circumstance within the seemingly random consequence of nature’s brokenness as a result of the fall (Romans 8:22). The explanation suggests that the circumstance is not as personal as it is systemic. Sin weaves its thread of consequence through human existence and the result is personal pain, disappointment, destruction and death. The second explanation revolves around the process of sanctification (God’s preparation of the believer for purposeful use). It suggests that personal and shared challenges are designed to make us better followers of Christ, sufficiently prepared for our purpose (James 1:2-5). There are certain virtues that are required for spiritual striving and these can only be acquired through the fires of trial.
Many preachers and teachers in utilizing the godly patterns of scriptural reference connect these two frameworks to biblical stories and characters. They attempt to show that God is conducting his business of identification, redemption and sanctification through repeated patterns. “Don’t fret yourself, the same thing you are undergoing happened in this biblical story or to this biblical character” is utilized commonly in messages.
This December I will celebrate 30 years of being a follower of Jesus Christ during which I have conducted extensive formal and personal study of scripture and theology. I have to admit that these two categories of explanations were sufficient during the first two decades of my journey with Christ. This last decade however has been characterized by a more fundamental desire to press past the theology. My spirit is no longer satiated by such first order explanations. I find myself asking second/third/fourth order “whys”. Like Job, I sit confused unable to reconcile conventional explanations to the circumstances I observe in the lives of faithful believers. Job himself recognized the futility of his questioning when he admitted “the Lord gives and the Lord takes, Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21).
My reflecting has resulted in two aggravating conclusions. The first is that God owes me no explanations (Isaiah 55:8-9). I am not entitled to an answer to my questioning. This is infuriating because I am a naturally curious person for whom rational explanations are fundamental to the proffering of my allegiance. The second is even though an explanation is not forthcoming, that does not negate the existence of an explanation. I must accept that the explanation may never be made clear to me, all while trusting in God’s goodness and providence (Romans 8:28). I must “be still” (question but move myself to a place of acceptance in the face of ambiguity, opacity and uncertainty) and “know that I am God” (trust that God is for me in ways that are beyond my comprehension… and he is consistently, eternally so).
What hard thing are you wrestling with? What explanation or assurance are you seeking? What are you doing with the aggravation of God’s inexplicability? What range of emotions arise for you when you are faced by the surprises and sudden turns of life? To be a follower of Christ is to eventually deal with hard existential questions that sometimes have no straightforward answers. It is normal to bristle at the cute quotes and anecdotes of well-meaning individuals. It is ok to sit in confusion, anger, disappointment, annoyance and exhaustion. Give yourself permission to feel it all. If this is where you are, reach out to a mature believer who can normalize all of this for you. If no such person exists for you, reach out to us.