Asking God why is normal when the unthinkable happens. We might not ask God why in the moment of crisis because we’re responding with raw instinct, trying to hold together the pieces of life as we know it.
I never asked God why the day Dan died. I was numb with shock and couldn’t question what my mind hadn’t begun to process.
I was also caught up in urgent tasks of tending my seven grieving children, calling Dan’s work and our family and making decisions about funerals, caskets and cemetery plots.
But after the service, when family went home and the house quieted, the questions came. Why, God? Why would you call home such an amazing husband and father? Why would you take the son caring for his aging mom? Why did we never have a hint something was medically wrong?
Even if you’ve been grounded in faith for years, hard circumstances bring hard questions to the surface. And the one that bubbles to the top first and loudest? Asking God, why?
In asking God why, we’re not so much asking why God allows suffering. That’s a valid question and scripture has a lot to say about it.
What we’re really asking is why is this suffering happening to me?
Asking God why can take many forms. We ask things like:
- Why did this happen to me?
- Why didn’t you stop this from happening, God?
- Why after following You so faithfully would you allow this?
- Why would a good God allow this bad thing?
- Why are you letting evil prosper?
Is it wrong to ask God why?
Some might say we should never question God, but a study of scripture shows some of the most faithful asked God why in suffering.
- The prophet Habakkuk asked, “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?” (Habakkuk 1:3)
- David asked “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? (Psalm 10:1) and “Why have you rejected me?” (Psalm 43:2)
- Job asked “Why have you made me your target?” (Job 7:20) and “why should I struggled in vain?” (Job 9:29)
- Elijah asked, “Lord God, why did you do such a terrible thing to this woman?” (1 Kings 17:20)
- Even Jesus, from the cross, asked, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)
In asking God why, Elisabeth Elliot says it depends “on whether it is an honest search, in faith, for his meaning, or whether it is a challenge of unbelief and rebellion.” (On Asking God Why: And Other Reflections on Trusting God in a Twisted World, Elisabeth Elliot)
While we have grace to ask God why, God is not obligated to answer.
God never offered an explanation to Habakkuk, David, Elijah or Job. And in my heart, I wonder if God gave us an explanation, would we agree with it? Could we fully wrap our mind around it? Would it satisfy us? I’ve often answered my children’s questions of why they can’t do something or why they must do something and the explanation rarely satisfies their childish perspective.
God’s ways are completely different from ours, his plans far more complex. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
In the midst of suffering, there are four better questions we can ask God.
What to ask instead
1. Ask what now?
When life shatters in loss, you face enormous change. You’re not only taking daily hard steps, but the future you thought would be there has vanished and in its place is a bewildering unknown. You’re often navigating decision overwhelm and paralyzing fear of what lies ahead.
Asking, what now, is a proactive cry for help. This is what King Jehoshaphat did when powerful enemies united to attack Judah. Jehoshaphat didn’t waste time with why me questions but instead asked what now? He proclaimed a national fast and went to the temple to inquire of God. “We do not know what to do but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12). God told Jehoshaphat exactly how to respond and then annihilated the enemy.
If you feel paralyzed by what you’re facing, ask God what to do. God won’t roll out his 10-year plan, but He does promise to lead us and give us wisdom for the next step. As a single mom over the last few years, God has led me tenderly, personally and practically through decisions, change and parenting.
2. Ask what can I learn from this?
None of us want suffering and we do everything we can to dodge it. Yet, this is where we learn and are changed most.
Don’t waste your suffering.
The lessons in suffering come clear and fast. We learn to depend on God and discover His promises hold in difficult situations. We become spiritually aware of God and His work. And we find joy, peace and goodness don’t flow from circumstances but from God himself.
Trials bring to the surface sin we’ve tolerated and idols we’ve polished that God chisel from us. Suffering matures our faith and character. And things of this world grow strangely dim as we refocus on God and eternity.
3. Ask why not me?
Jesus told us that in this world we would have trouble (but to take heart because He had overcome the world.) (John 16:33) And while suffering was never part of God’s original creation, we suffer as believers and humans in a fallen world.
While the nature of our suffering may surprise us, the fact that we suffer shouldn’t. We are Christians—little Christs—and Christ suffered. So did Abraham, Sarah, Job, Joseph, Ruth, Esther, Hannah, David, Elijah, Jeremiah, Mary, Paul and the apostles to name a few.
Refusing to curse God, Job declared, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” Are we really followers of God if we only show up when He’s handing out the good stuff?
Asking why not me helps me refocus on a world who is also hurting.
4. Ask how can I praise you in this storm?
Suffering speaks. In the months after my husband died, people would tell me I was such a testimony. I winced thinking I would gladly trade “being a testimony” to have my husband back. While we don’t get that choice, we can choose to praise God in the storm.
Praising God in difficulty shows we love and trust Him regardless of circumstances. It’s also a huge faith boost to others who may be watching. Your faithfulness through the valley the shadow of death can help anchor the faith of another believer.
Suffering allows you to speak into the lives of unbelievers who also know suffering. And you defy the enemy when you hold fast to God through suffering.