There was a time when I could not fully accept any explanation for evil and suffering that didn’t make sense to me, start to finish. However, over the years, and through the process of writing my book If God Is Good, I’ve come to trust my own understanding less, and God’s Word more.
I find a strange delight in being swallowed up by the immensity of God’s greatness and by the divine mysteries that once disturbed me. Knowing that I’ll sit before God’s judgment seat—not He before mine—I choose to trust Him. And the more I do, the more sense the story makes to me.
And I am certain about this: the best answer to the problem of evil is a person—Jesus Christ. I’m convinced He is the only answer. The drama of evil and suffering in Christ’s sacrifice addresses the very heart of the problem of evil and suffering. And one day it will prove to have been the final answer.
So whenever you feel tempted in your suffering to ask God, “Why are you doing this to me?” look at the Cross and ask, “Why did you do that for me?”
In this excerpt from his 2018 book God’s Grace in Your Suffering, David Powlison writes about how God changes our “Why me?” questions in suffering. (My thanks to Justin Taylor for sharing this on his excellent blog.)
So often the initial reaction to painful suffering is
You’ve now heard God speaking with you. The real God says all these wonderful things, and does everything he says.
He comes for you, in the flesh, in Christ, into suffering, on your behalf.
He does not offer advice and perspective from afar; he steps into your significant suffering.
He will see you through, and work with you the whole way.
He will carry you even in extremis.
This reality changes the questions that rise up from your heart. That inward-turning Why me? quiets down, lifts its eyes, and begins to look around.
You turn outward and a new and wonderful question forms.
Why you, Lord of life?
Why would you enter this world of evils?
Why would you go through loss, weakness, hardship, sorrow, and death?
Why would you do this for me, of all people?
But you did.
You did this for the joy set before you.
You did this for love.
You did this showing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
As that deeper question sinks home, you become joyously sane. The universe is no longer supremely about you. Yet you are not irrelevant. God’s story makes you just the right size. Everything counts, but the scale changes to something that makes much more sense. You face hard things. But you have already received something better which can never be taken away. And that better something will continue to work out the whole journey long.
The question generates a heartfelt response.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget any of the good things he does, who pardons all your iniquities and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassions, who satisfies you with good things as your adornment, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle. Thank you, my Father.
You are able to give true voice to a Thank you amid all that is truly wrong, because all sins and all sufferings have now come under his lovingkindness.
Finally, you are prepared to pose—and to mean—an almost unimaginable question.
Why not me?
Why not this?
Why not now?
If in some way, your faith might serve as a three-watt night light in a very dark world, Why not me?
If your suffering shows forth the Savior of the world, Why not me?
If you have the privilege of filling up the sufferings of Christ?
If he sanctifies to you your deepest distress?
If you fear no evil?
If he bears you in his arms?
If your weakness demonstrates the power of God to save us from all that is wrong?
If your honest struggle shows other strugglers how to land on their feet?
If your life becomes a source of hope for others?
Why not me?
Of course, you don’t want to suffer, but you’ve become willing: “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Like him, your loud cries and tears will in fact be heard by the one who saves from death.
Like him, you will learn obedience through what you suffer.
Like him, you will sympathize with the weaknesses of others.
Like him, you will deal gently with the ignorant and wayward.
Like him, you will display faith to a faithless world, hope to a hopeless world, love to a loveless world, life to a dying world.
If all that God promises only comes true, then Why not me?
—David Powlison, God’s Grace in Your Suffering (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 115–17.
Postscript: In October, David was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Nanci and I were touched by David’s video this past fall sharing about his initial diagnosis (now determined after surgery to be stage four cancer), especially since we were journeying through her own cancer treatments. David says this experience has given him the opportunity to live the things he’s written about and says he believes. Here’s that first video, which includes much encouraging Scripture.
You can read and watch further updates on his health on the CCEF site.