When You Don't Understand Why Something Had To Happen
If you ever find yourself looking for a lighthearted, uplifting read, I encourage you to flip your Bible open to just left of dead center, to the book of Job (please read: heavy sarcasm).
In case you’re unfamiliar, here’s how Job’s story goes down—CliffsNotes style. Job is a righteous man who loves God and has lots of children and lots and lots of animals, which, in his day, equals lots and lots of wealth. Unbeknownst to Job, up in Heaven, Satan challenges God: the only reason Job loves you is because You’ve blessed him. Let me take away his blessings, and then watch him curse You.
God gives Satan permission, and in one fateful day, all of Job’s animals were stolen or destroyed, and his ten children were killed (which is literally Satan’s MO—check out John 10:10). Yet, Job doesn’t curse God, but blesses Him, saying, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Next, Satan gets permission to go after Job’s health as well, causing him tremendous physical pain. In the midst of overwhelming, unrelenting suffering, Job still doesn’t curse God. But, he does come to ask a question most of us have found ourselves asking at some point: WHY?
I guess I can’t speak for you, but I’ve certainly found myself asking this question. Why haven’t You answered this prayer yet, God? Why didn’t You heal this person I care about? Why didn’t You protect me from this situation when You could have? Why did You allow things to seem like they could finally be coming together in the most beautiful way, only to have the bottom to drop out for no apparent reason?
To be clear, nothing I’ve experienced in my life has come close to the circumstances Job experienced, or to the circumstances many today experience. Nevertheless, aches and pains can’t be compared, and sometimes things happen (or don’t happen) that just plain don’t make sense.
Typically when I’ve grappled with this “why” question, my thoughts have landed here: God used it to shape me. Truth is, each of those prolonged periods of waiting or pain or uncertainty that drove me to ask the above questions—they caused me to press deeper into God’s heart in sheer desperation. They allowed me to uncover a deeper level of faith and intimacy with Him. They made me look more like Him.
It’s good to look for the good God brings from not-good situations. That’s precisely what we should be doing. But it wasn’t until re-reading through the book of Job recently that I realized in doing so, my own heart has often been in the wrong place.
When we go through things that hurt us or cause us suffering, sometimes well-meaning people want to throw out clichés or try to assume they know why it’s happening—maybe God is doing this or maybe He’s doing that. Worse, they may put the blame on us—telling us what we could or should have done differently so we wouldn’t be finding ourselves where we do now. Job’s friends did this and more—and much of what they said was completely unfounded.
But in reading through one of Job’s exchanges with his friend Elihu, God had a little nugget of gold for me to glean. In this exchange found in Job 35, the issue of entitlement is raised. Elihu says that we do not hear an answer from God when we feel entitled that God must explain Himself to us simply because we don’t see what He’s doing or understand.
That’s when it hit me. HARD. I realized, I wasn’t merely looking for the good God brought from not-good situations. I was essentially saying, okay God, I see how You’re using this for good…so I guess it’s okay You allowed it to happen.
At its core when I do this, what I’m actually doing is making myself the judge. I’m weighing whether I think the good work God did through something was enough to justify it happening in the first place. And that, is utterly wicked and sinful.
The reality is, in all the assertions Job’s friends made as to why he was experiencing suffering, they were completely off-base. They tried to correct and rebuke him for sinning, but his heart before God was pure. But they weren’t just off-base because they were wrong; they were off-base because of the very presumption itself that they could know what God had made unknowable. None of them—not even Job—knew about the scene in Heaven that brought about Job’s circumstances on earth. They spoke with authority on things which they knew nothing about. They formed opinions based off what they could see, but the reality is that there was so much more going on that they couldn’t see. They thought they knew where Job went wrong, what God was doing, and what Job needed to do to remedy things, but the reality is, they were completely uninformed of the bigger spiritual purposes at play in Job’s story.
This is precisely the point the entire book of Job is trying to communicate: we can’t always know the reasons why God allows things to happen, and His goodness isn’t dependent on Him offering one.
When God finally answers Job toward the end of the book, He doesn’t open by explaining the exchange between Him and Satan. He could have, but He didn’t—and Job never finds out. God never gives Job any explanation at all for the circumstances of his suffering. Instead, in a thunderous, glorious monologue, He reveals to Job who He is: Eternal. Sovereign. Majestic. All-Powerful. Wise. Perfect.
The simple implication: God is God. Job is not.
The book of Job presents to us the powerful reminder that God doesn’t owe us anything. Job went through hell and back—and the Bible tells us he didn’t do anything to bring it upon himself. But the beautiful thing is, Job’s suffering slowly wore down his will enough that he couldn’t help but collapse into God’s arms, yielding it completely to His. It brought him to a place of utter humility, of confession and repentance for not simply accepting God’s will without complaint or question. And that’s the opportunity our suffering affords us too—the opportunity to acknowledge: God doesn’t owe me anything. In fact, I owe Him everything because of the life He bought me through the blood of His Son Jesus. I don’t get to make myself the judge of what is just or unfair. Even if I never understand why something happened or see from my perspective an ounce of good come from it, God, You are still good. You are God, and I am not. I don’t know everything, and I don’t have to know everything. But I trust You with my whole heart. Not my will, but Yours be done.
But it’s crucial to note that in Job’s moment of confession and repentance, not a single one of his circumstances had changed yet—and he didn’t know they would. This isn’t a story of a tantrumming toddler who apologizes, tail between his legs, once he finally gets what he wants. This is the story of a broken man, utterly humbled before the Lord. In Job’s moment of confession and repentance, he is still overcome with disease, still without any of his possessions, still grieving the loss of his children, still misunderstood by his friends. The dictionary defines surrender as, “ceasing resistance and submitting to authority”—and that’s exactly what Job did. He acknowledged: God, You are God and I am not. Not my will, but Yours be done.
God didn’t owe Job a double-blessing. He could have never changed Job’s circumstances, and He would still be good. Yet He did, because that’s who He is. He brought good from the bad, beauty from the ashes (Isaiah 61:3). And that’s the promise we have, too—God doesn’t owe us a single thing, yet in His goodness and faithfulness, He promises to work all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28)—even when things don’t make sense, even if we never get the “why” question answered.
In reading through Job’s story, I’ve learned that when I don’t understand why something had to happen, I must remind myself that God is God and I am not. I must not make myself judge over whether or not something was just based off the limitations of what my human eyes can see. I must surrender my will completely and irrevocably to His. I can ask Him to show me the good He brought from it—but not because He owes this to me, because as a sheer gift of grace, He promises to.
And when God does show me the good He brought from it, I must not see it as a justification of Him allowing what He did to happen but rather, my heart should be given over in worship of my God for His grace that is utterly undeserved.
Photos in this post courtesy of the talented Aubrey Mattson.