If you were above the age of six or seven on September 11, 2001, you probably remember that day vividly. You remember where you were, what you were doing, the people who were with you, and definitely the feelings that rushed through your body as the events of that morning unfolded. You may remember all of the conjecture about how many perished when the two towering buildings of the World Trade Center crashed to the ground. Tragedy upon tragedy, sorrow upon sorrow, and as the reality of what happened settled into our hearts, anger upon anger.
I remember when my step-dad, Dave, died from a brain tumor. When I was two years old, Dave was my step-dad for a short while. Then my mom divorced him and he was gone for a long time. But when I was fifteen, a series of events brought him back into my life. I formed a relationship with him, and I grew to love him. I reclaimed him as my step-dad. Around 1999 he got diagnosed with a brain tumor. He died a couple of years later.
We all have these moments of tragedy. Some of them are shared, even at a national level. Most of them are very personal. Not all of us react with the same emotions, but we generally all react in one common way.
We ask, “Why?”
Why do these things happen? That question is above my pay grade. However, Jesus does give us something to grab ahold of when we’re searching for answers.
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:1-7)
This man’s blindness was not caused by his sin or his parents’ sin. His blindness was a gift so that God might do mighty works in him for the world to see!
Some gifts bring us low so that God can make much of himself in and through us.
That is a strong word to describe a handicap, but I stand by it. Not all gifts are neatly tied with ribbons and wrapping paper. Not all gifts are given to increase the ease of life. Not all gifts give us credibility or increase our stature with men. Some gifts bring us low so that God can make much of himself in and through us. What greater gift is there than to be an instrument of the most high God?
For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. (Psalm 84:10)
The psalmist would rather be a lowly doorkeeper, the guy who opens the door for those going in and out of the house of God but never gets to go in himself, than to enjoy the praises and accolades of men. Would you rather be a cripple for God than be a hero among men? Keep reading.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11)
For those who would endure suffering, who would be the cripple, who would be the blind man, and accept that with humility and gratitude, God will be their sun and shield and bestow favor and honor upon them!
So back to, “Why?”
Why did 9-11 happen? Why did my step-dad get brain cancer? All I can definitively say is that God used those events to glorify himself in many of the lives who were affected. It’s shortsighted to simply label all suffering as judgment for sin. Sometimes suffering is redemptive. Some suffering doesn’t need to be fixed, but instead needs to be endured for our sanctification.
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:16-17, emphasis added)
[Many saints have testified that the sweetness of the fellowship with God during their suffering far outweighs the suffering itself. If they could go back in time and change anything, they wouldn’t!]
Don’t dig a hole in your soul trying to unearth a sin that caused your calamity. Even if you find it, you’re helpless to cure it!
It’s not my intention to draw out a debate about why God lets bad things happen. My intention is to only draw you away from turning inward. If you are suffering, if you have a disability, if you have been victimized, don’t dig a hole in your soul trying to unearth a sin that caused your calamity. There is no peace to be found, because even if you find it, you are helpless to cure it. Rather, turn your gaze outward to Christ, the one who can imbue your calamity with purpose and meaning, and say with the prophet Ezekiel, “O Lord God, you know!”
[Of course, I’m speaking of the inexplicable tragedies in life. If you robbed a convenience store and are now suffering in prison, your sin definitely caused your suffering, no soul searching necessary!]
Jesus healed this blind man so that glory would be brought to God. He can take your suffering and do likewise. Stop looking at your sin! Stop looking at the sins of others! Stop looking at your imperfections! Instead, look to Christ, in whom all our hopes lie! Looking anywhere else is a fool’s errand.