We visited a pastor friend last night. In obedience to God’s call, he left the world of business many years ago to enter the pastoral ministry. In his journey, time and time again, he took on difficult church assignments in obedience to God’s leading. You would have expected the Lord to cut him some slack. But in recent times he has been hit by one major health crisis after another. And now he is fighting cancer. He and his wife are displaying courageous faith in the Lord and their adventure is not yet over. We are praying for and expecting miracles. But he is fighting for his life. Why Lord? Why him?

As I grow older I have had more occasions to ask “why?”. Last year we said goodbye to our pastor’s youngest son, who had fought a courageous fight with cancer. What was that about, Lord? In 2007 I bade farewell to my friend Prem Kumar. He had obeyed God’s call and left a career in engineering to serve as a pastor. He was a loving shepherd who had touched many lives. Why? The list goes on. And then there is the fact that Bernice and I lost our first spouses to cancer. Why?

Sometimes we are told that we shouldn’t ask “why?”. We should ask “what?”…what can we learn from tragedies? I beg to differ. For one, we can’t always locate a lesson in every tragedy apart from the obvious ones like “faith must be tested”. For another, the Bible gives us permission to ask “why?”. The Psalmist asks why:

I will say to God, my rock,
“Why have You forgotten me?
Why must I go about in sorrow
because of the enemy’s oppression?”

My adversaries taunt me,
as if crushing my bones,
while all day long they say to me,
“Where is your God?”
(Psalm 42:9–10 HCSB)

And perhaps more significantly, so did our Lord, quoting Psalm 22.

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:45–46 HCSB)

Sometimes the darkness is so oppressive and the pain is so severe that our whole being shouts “why?”.

We ask “why?” because we believe that our God is a God of love. We ask “why?” because we believe that our God is a God of purpose. We believe He has a reason for all He does. We ask “why” because we know that He can rescue but has chosen to do otherwise. If we didn’t believe in all these things we wouldn’t bother with the “whys”.

Why, O Lord? In my confusion, I turn again and again to the events of Holy Week. Jesus died on the cross. He was buried in the tomb. But He rose again. Life defeated death. This is the source of my hope, a hope that I feed on every Lord’s Supper. It is ironic that for many of us, Holy Communion has become a ritual, one that we go through with little engagement of heart and mind. We should feed on the elements as those whose hearts need fortifying in a world where pain and death seem to have the last word. At the table we are reminded that death is a defeated enemy. And God and life and justice have the final word.

In response to our “whys” God sometimes tells us His reasons. More often than not He says, “Wait-lah”. Everything will be made clear in the end. Everything will be all right in the end. But we are not at the end yet. And so we must journey on through the tough chapters of our lives till we reach that joyous, victorious final chapter.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will no longer exist;
grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer,
because the previous things have passed away.
(Revelation 21:4 HCSB)

No, not there yet, but nearer every day.

*image by Theeradech Sanin/