trustI really wasn’t in the mood to see Matrix: Reloaded. I had just heard that someone close to me had a growth in her colon. Never good news. It’s just that cancer had visited that family twice before. And each time had taken a life.

I found myself overwhelmed with a deep sense of grief. Old sorrows resurfaced. Or perhaps they were new ones. All I know was that I left the movie with the impression that Matrix: Reloaded was basically beautifully choreographed violence. I’m sure there were deeper themes in the movie. But I was really not in the mood.

One theme from the movie stuck though. And that was the belief that purpose was essential for life. That thought stuck with me as I struggled to find the purpose in this particular attack of cancer. I think most of us can absorb a lot of pain if we know that the pain was part of some higher purpose. But I couldn’t think of any obvious purpose for this attack of cancer. Which brings me back to the book of Job.

Here was a man who did all he knew to follow his God. For his troubles he received tragedy after tragedy. What strikes me about the story of Job was that he was never told the reasons for his horrible tragedies. He received an encounter with God. He received compensation for his losses. But he was never told why he had to go through so much pain and loss. Of course there was purpose involved in his suffering. The reader of the book of Job is party to the debates between Satan and God. But Job is not.

The two lessons that I glean from this book are:

1. Do not be quick to attribute a purpose for a particular misfortune. Sometimes God tells us. Sometimes He does not. It’s His call. To volunteer a wrong purpose for a misfortune does not help. Like Job’s friends who were so sure they knew what was happening. All they ended up doing was adding to Job’s pain. It is hard to come to terms that we do not know why something terrible has occurred. Especially when we see a loved one in pain and want to comfort that person with the comfort of purpose. But sometimes we just do not know.

2. God always has a purpose for what He does. For what He allows. We may not always be allowed to know what is happening in the heavenlies. But our God remains a God of purpose. That is His character. He is in control of history, both cosmic and personal. And He is working out His purposes. It is natural to seek for purpose when we confront the tragedies of life. We can be assured that there is always a purpose. Because of who God is.

I remember that when Jesus and his disciples encountered the man who was blind from birth (John Chapter 9 ). The disciples were consumed with the ‘why’ question. Why was this man suffering? Was it a result of his parent’s sins? Or his own sins?

Jesus chose not to address the ‘why’ question. Instead he saw the situation as one where God could be glorified through the demonstration of His love and healing power.

There is a profound lesson here. Sometimes we must not be so obsessed with the ‘why’ questions that we do not ask the more essential question. How can God be glorified in all this? Every tragedy is a canvas for God to work on. What does God want to do in this situation? And how can I work with Him?

I am not discounting the need to discern the ‘whys’ of a situation. Sometimes knowing the ‘why’ has been crucial in finding a way forward in helping a person in pain. It’s just that there will be times when the ‘whys’ will not be forthcoming. What then?

Know that God always has a purpose And proceed to do what we can.

Trust and obey. Sometimes that doesn’t seem like much. But who knows what blows we strike for God in the heavenlies. When we trust and obey.

Your brother, SooInn Tan