Why? Some thoughts on life’s tough questions

Now a chapter in The Psalms of Asaph

If you have children, nieces and nephews, or younger siblings, you know that a two-year-old’s favorite word is why.

      “Johnny, hold my hand while we cross the street.”


      “Because I don’t want you to run out in front of a car.”


      “Because if a car hits you, you’ll be hurt or killed.”


      “Because if it’s a contest between a forty-pound boy and a three-ton SUV, the truck is going to win every time.”


      “Because the laws of physics state that mass plus momentum equals . . . Just take my hand!”

And on it goes-right into adulthood!

      Why didn’t God heal my friend?

      Why do bad things happen to good people?

      Why do I still have acne at 50?

I have found some comfort in the promise that “all things work together for good.”

For instance, our group health insurance had very few maternity benefits, but had great “major medical” coverage. At the birth of our first child my wife, Lois, had complications and spent five days in Intensive Care. But, because the birth was now major medical, every penny of our daughter’s birth was covered. Sitting in ICU for five days waiting to know if my wife was going live or die was not good, but it did work for good.

There have been numerous times I’ve seen this happen. I’m running a few minutes late and avoid an auto accident that I could have been an active participant if I had been on time. Lost airline tickets were replaced with a lower fare following a price cut.

But Romans 8:28 doesn’t attribute “all things working together for good” to simply fate, karma, good fortune, positive thinking, or the alignment of the planets.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

And so I lived the majority of my Christian life with Romans 8:28 as simply an agreement with God. Okay, God, if I love You and try to live as best I know how for You, then You’re obligated to work all out for my good.

It became a comforting companion to “all’s well that ends well,” “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” and “when the going gets tough. . . .” (you know-all those “motivational” posters).

But—and life is filled with big buts—the lifelong question of why was not being answered by Romans 8:28. What was the “good” of a kidney stone? Why were none of my books best-sellers? (I was critically acclaimed and commercially ashamed!) Why did I forget to change the oil in our new Neon until the engine locked up and needed replacing. And why do I still have acne at age 50?

It took me nearly thirty years of raising a family, speaking at conferences, and writing books to realize that why is probably not the best question. But God does provide an answer for what.

For instance, I had never noticed the verse that followed Romans 8:28. Yep, I had missed the whole “purpose” of Romans 8:28:

“. . . to be conformed to the likeness of his Son . . .”

What?! It’s not having a perfect family? It’s not having a best-seller and being interviewed on Oprah? It’s not to be healthy, wealthy, and wise?

Our “purpose” is to be conformed to the likeness of God’s Son.

So, the question is not why-but how can what I have experienced, conform me to the likeness of his Son.

I’ve worked up way too much spiritual perspiration trying to answer why my second-grade teacher committed suicide, why I was laid off from the perfect job in publishing, or why bad things happen to such good people as you and me.

But I have discovered that God is more than willing to answer the what, how, where, and who of life:

1. Where can I turn?

In John 14: 1, 26-27, Jesus encourages us:

      “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.

      But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

In thirty years of marriage and ministry, we’ve had our share of why questions (and still do.) But in the words of songwriter Scott Wesley Brown, “When answers aren’t enough there is Jesus.” We haven’t always had answers, but we have always
sensed the Savior’s presence with us in those times of question marks.

2. What can I learn?

In Ephesians 3:16-19, Paul writes:

      I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge?that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (bold mine).

And from where did Paul write this letter? A Roman prison! Don’t think your local jail with color TV; think Iraqi prison under Saddam Hussein.

And to whom did he write it? To Christians experiencing the Nero persecutions. In Rome, Christians being used as
human torches for his garden parties and being fed to the lions in the coliseum.

I have learned far more about the heart of God, about His love, about His grace and mercy, while going through some very hell-ish experiences. I wouldn?t trade them—I wouldn’t repeat them—but wouldn’t trade them.

What can we learn through the whys that will make us more Christ-like?

3. How can I grow?

Again, Paul writes in Romans 5:1-5:

      Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Suffering is not a popular subject in North America. Just try to find “suffering” in the titles of best-sellers at your Christian book store!

I heard a speaker say, “In North America we pray, ‘Take away this burden’.” In Third World countries they pray, “Give us stronger backs.”

Paul, who was beaten and stoned most everywhere he went sharing the Gospel, reveals the result of suffering:

      . . . because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Or as Kelly Clarkston sings, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

2 Corinthians 4:8-10 would agree . . .

      . . . we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (bold mine).

There it is again . . . becoming conformed to the image of Christ!

And the fourth question:

4. Who can I help?

Second Corinthians 1:3-6 answers that question:

      Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.

I now believe that God is more than willing to answer those questions and how they relate to living a life conformed to the image of His Son.

So, God has used broken book contracts, layoffs, and books that actually sold negative numbers (yep, more book stores sent back copies of Sex Is Not a Four-letter Word than they sold) to humble an arrogant, egocentric, wannabe author.

God has used physical pain to move me past annoyance with old people’s complaints (“Come on, Gramps, stop obsessing about your colon!), to a real empathy for anyone in pain. Yep, God even works together for good stubborn kidney stones, double-hernia surgery, flexible sigmoid exams, and central serous retinopathy (which simply is a $200 an hour ophthalmologist’s term for looking at life just a bit differently than normal people). Now, I even get false labor pains whenever I visit the Maternity Ward.

But more than physical pain, God has used emotional pain to make me a more understanding person. When I started out in youth ministry during the Polyester Age, my counseling philosophy was simply, “Get over it!” Now that I’m diagnosed with clinical depression, I have much more empathy for people who I used to think didn’t have any willpower or control over their thinking processes. I might as well tell a diabetic, “You don’t need insulin, just a better attitude toward life!”

I don’t credit (or blame) God for any of this pain or planned obsolescence. (I’ve noticed my face is sliding off my head and collecting under my chin. If it weren’t for my belt, my chest would be around my ankles.)

But I do praise Him that He has used times of physical, mental, and emotional pain and problems to conform me a little bit more to the image of His Son. And, now, to provide empathetic comfort for others losing their looks, their jobs, or their health.

I trust the time you spent reading this will accomplish just that. You will be comforted. You will be convicted. And most of all, you will be conformed to the image of God’s own Son.

Copyright © 2002 James N. Watkins

Related posts
From bad to worse . . . to astonishing
Hope in a hand basket
“In this world you will have trouble”
Squeezing good out of bad
Turn your “shaft” into a mine
Why? Why questions, wise quotations

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One Response

  • James,
    This is an excellent article. it so relates to all of us. Isn’t it interesting how God humbles us and educates us in the process? As a caregiver of the elderly for years and still caring for my 94-year old mother, it amazes me at how many people treat the elderly like they are outcasts! These are the same people who have a difficult time adjusting to their own old age.
    We are all God’s creatures whether we are developmentally disabled, physically disabled or elderly. Depression (I feel) is the result of physical problems much in the same way as Diabetes or Arthritis; just with different symptoms. Addiction in my opinion is caused from physical tendencies and is more difficult for some people to avoid than others.
    Again, great article. Thanks for sharing. Keep up the great ministry
    pat Brown Holland

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