The Three Toughest Words

“I don’t know.”

While I hate to admit it, I am occasionally required to utter the above response.  When terminal illness or unjust treatment invades the lives of those around me, I am asked questions that have no simple answer:

  • ‘Why did God allow (name) to have cancer?’
  • ‘Why didn’t God protect me from the man who (committed a crime)?’
  • ‘Where was God when my (spouse) cheated on me?’

These questions are rarely stated but frequently felt by those who have been hurt by society, sin and circumstance.  They want to know why prayers are not answered, why bad things happen to good people and why they must suffer.idk

“I don’t know.”

Because I am a professional with a graduate degree, there is some information that I can share with those who question me about God’s role and/or absence in our personal tragedies.  In my mind, I consider the role of sin: this is not the perfect world God created, but a corrupted shell of Eden ravage by sin and its consequences; much of the evil we experience is not a product of God ignoring us but us ignoring God.  In my mind, I consider how harsh that sounds and how life cannot be boiled down to simplistic soundbites.  While sin is a factor, its introduction to the conversation often leads to other questions like, ‘Why me and not someone more horrible than me?’  In my mind, I think these things.

“I don’t know.”

Because I am a member of the clergy, there is some counsel I can offer to those who struggle with the unfair aspects of life.  I think to myself that those who face adversity typically take it personally.  I will hear first person pronouns – me, my, mine – when those around me question the purposes of God.  I want to share that other circumstances in life have equipped them for the circumstances they are presently facing and that God has prepared them to persevere.  But I know, as well, that these thoughts, if voiced, ring hollow when rebutted by questions like, ‘Why didn’t God stop this thing from happening?’  In my mind, I want to tell people to not take it personally.

“I don’t know.”

Because I am a fellow struggler in these areas, with a number of my own unanswered questions, I sometimes think about asking a few questions to those who wonder why: Is it possible that some unknown and yet unrevealed good is going to come from all this?  Is it possible that you are being trained in sorrow so that you can strengthen someone else in the future?  Is there any blessing, however small, that you could focus on instead your turmoil?  But, even as I think of these questions, my own response is, ‘Yes, but why me?  Why not someone else?’  In my mind, I’d want to think that there is a purpose in my pain.

I heard, but I did not understand.  So I asked, “My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?”  Daniel 12:8 (NIV)

I have no good answer to some of life’s questions.  I am incapable of comprehending, let alone resolving, the intricacies of personal suffering.  I must admit that I don’t know the answer to the question of why.  But I do know and am comforted by the knowledge that God knows.  Sometimes it is enough (and maybe sometimes it is all we have) to say that I know God and so I can trust Him with knowing why.

“I don’t know.”

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