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In the blog post “The Right and Wrong Questions to Ask When You Get Cancer,” I shared how David Sunday (pastor of Grace Community Bible Church) encouraged his wife, Kate--in light of the diagnosis of advanced cancer in her body--to focus not on the questions of “Why me?” but rather upon “Who is God?” “What does He want to teach us?” and “How can we glorify him in this?”

In response some commenters suggested that this was wrong-headed, and that it it biblically permissible to ask “Why?”

David responds:

I am not suggesting that it is sinful to ask God “Why?” questions. I have appreciated Michael Card’s teaching in A Sacred Sorrow and I’m grateful for the psalms of lament.

Nor am I advocating a stoic form of passive resignation. Our friends know--and the Lord knows--that we have shed many tears of sorrow in the last three weeks. We are crying out to God for the gift of healing. I am so thankful to have a God who hears our brokenhearted cries and who sympathizes with us with all His heart in the midst of our fear and sorrow.

I do believe that focusing on “Why?” questions can lead to confusion and despair if we demand answers from God that He has not promised to give us. Instead, by God’s grace, and with the Holy Spirit’s help, we want to focus on the “Who?, What?, and How?” questions--for these questions can lead us deeper into the character of God as we pour out the grief and sorrow of our hearts to Him. When I spoke those words to my wife in the hospital room, I was thinking of the book of Job. Job did ask “Why?” questions and he is not condemned for doing so; but I don’t recall God directly answering Job’s “Why?” questions. Instead, the Lord redirected Job’s focus to Who God is. That, ultimately, is where we hope to settle our hearts: Be still and know that I am God.

Embedded in the Why? questions can be the seeds of unbelief or anger against God.  God does not usually answer our why questions with the answers our flesh is demanding.

But he does give us abundant reasons to sustain our hope. And those reasons are usually a more direct answer to the Who, What, & How questions.  In other words, “I gave you this thorn in the flesh to exalt my strength.” This tells me something about who God is, what God is doing in my life, and how God intends to use me for his glory. It doesn’t necessarily answer the questions we tend to ask, like: Why me (out of all the people on the earth)? Why this particular trial? Why now (as opposed to ten years from now when my kids are grown up)?, etc. . .

Please do remember to pray for this family, even as they teach us much in the midst of this great trial.

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9 thoughts on “On Suffering and Asking Who, What, and Where—Not Necessarily Why”

  1. MatthewS says:

    Job did ask “Why?” questions and he is not condemned for doing so; but I don’t recall God directly answering Job’s “Why?” questions. Instead, the Lord redirected Job’s focus to Who God is. That, ultimately, is where we hope to settle our hearts: Be still and know that I am God.

    A heartfelt Amen.

    I don’t know you but I just prayed that God will heal Kate and comfort both of you. Of course we know he may answer yes or no, but I believe it is right to specifically and directly ask for our heart’s desire in a situation like this, and so I did. hmmm, groans that cannot be put into words…

  2. Roberto G says:

    A believer asking “why?” is asking from a posture of faith, albeit, shaken. But as we feel what we feel in asking “why?” there is a definite comfort in knowing we have an audience with God. This is a well founded comfort based on His Spirit reminding us of His promises. As He strengthens our faith through His Word and Spirit, it will be clear that our rest will be found in who God is to us. The promises of God become precious to us during such a crisis in a way they never have before. God’s power and comfort sustain us in surprising and ironic (you could say paradxical) ways.

  3. Ray Ortlund says:

    True, wise, humbling, life-giving. Thank you, David.

  4. Denise Fath says:

    So true! As much as we want to know why, all too often we don’t find out until many months or even years later. I’ve often heard the analogy that hardships are like surgery. If you woke up in the middle of it and looked around you’d be so scared and probably think that the doctor was hurting you. But if you get to the end you’ll see that it was all for your own good.
    It can be hard to trust God when we don’t know why, but that’s part of faith! (The hardest part, I think). Will keep you in my prayers. God bless!

  5. Bob says:

    Thanks for the valuable follow up, David and Justin.

  6. Lydia says:

    Thank you for posting about David and Kate, so that even more people can be blessed by them and their faithfulness in trusting the Lord–because of who HE is. I’ve been encouraged by each e-mail or post on Caring Bridge that Kate or David has written along the way. As much as it hurts to see someone I’ve known for nearly 20 year to be in this place, it is incredible to see their continued resting in Christ and pointing others to HIM. Thanks for letting others share in that too!

  7. We love you David and are praying for your dear Kate!

  8. sherri says:

    Pastor David is a wise and humble man who walks closely with His God and knows and loves His wife dearly. He never suggested it was wrong to ask the why question, but felt it was more profitable to focus on other questions. I am saddened and a bit put off that someone whould call that wrong headed and force Him to take the time to respond when he has much more important things to do right now. Please give grace!

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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