Easter Sunday is a time for many to reflect on how faith can sustain them during times of trouble. Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of the Reverend Billy Graham offers, some guidance in her inspirational new book, "Why? Trusting God When You Don't Understand." Here’s an excerpt:
The burden of suffering seems a tombstone hung about our necks, while in reality it is only the weight which is necessary to keep down the diver while he is hunting for pearls.
— Jean Paul Richter
Why? Why does God let bad things happen to good peopleto good people? to innocent people? to helpless people? to defenseless people? to children? to me? Sometimes His ways seem so hard to understand!
What I have to share in this small volume comes from what I have learned through experience as each lesson was hammered out on the anvil of God’s Word. While there are no pat answers to the age-old question of suffering, and no “new truth,” I cling to the spiritual principle operating in the life of a child of God that... gives meaning to our meaninglessness and hope to our hopelessness and reason to our senselessness and purpose to our aimlessness and strength to our weakness and courage to our faint heartedness and blessed deliverance from our bitterness.
It’s a principle… that helps balance the pain, that can remove the sting from our suffering, that can prevent us from wasting our sorrows, that is worth our focused attention.
This spiritual principle is seen when a single grain of wheat is crushed, buried, and, in a sense, dies—only to rise again into new life as the stalk of wheat grows from it, producing hundreds more grains. This principle emerged into sharp visibility when Jesus gave His life on the Cross, was buried, and on the third day arose from the dead to give eternal life to any and all who would place their faith in Him.
On a day still to come, this same principle will be thrillingly displayed when the intense suffering that characterizes the final generation in human history gives “birth” to the glorious return to earth of God’s Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.1
The apostle Paul somewhat understated this principle in Romans 8:28, a passage he wrote to reassure believers who lived in a city dominated by Nero, a madman with absolute power. Paul wrote encouragingly, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Phrased another way, Paul was reminding the children of God they can be confident that… all things work together for good, brokenness leads to blessing, death leads to life,2 and suffering leads to glory!3
In our world today, God’s children need that same reminder to trust Him when we don’t understand and nothing seems to make sense.
Nowhere is this principle taught more poignantly or powerfully than in the passage of Scripture on which this book is based, the Gospel of John, chapter 11. (Direct quotations from John 11 are inserted in the text; other Scripture references can be found in the endnotes.) In this passage, the apostle John gives his eyewitness account of the moving story of Lazarus, a beloved friend of Jesus who became seriously ill. It’s also the story of Lazarus’ two sisters, Mary and Martha, who struggled to understand why Jesus hadn’t intervened and healed their brother’s illness that led to his death. While both sisters sent word to Jesus, Mary’s faith seemed to collapse when things got worse while Martha’s small tendril of faith was developed until she saw the glory of God in her brother’s life. Because I identify with Martha’s struggle, I have chosen to focus primarily on her perspective in this book. Through the apostle John’s eyes, as I see Martha’s faith in God grow in the midst of her total helplessness until it becomes triumphant —even a model for my own — my desire is increased for that kind of faith.
Similarly, believers of every generation have triumphed over their suffering as they placed their faith in God, trusting Him even when they didn’t understand why. And every generation has suffered to a greater or lesser degree.
My generation has not been exempt.
There has been unfathomable hopelessness and helplessness in the killing fields of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, in the massacres under the vicious anarchy of the Red Guard in China, in the senseless slaughter between tribes in Rwanda, in the torture chambers supervised by the butcher of Baghdad, in the slave trade of the Sudan, in the systematic ethnic cleansing of Eastern Europe, and in countless acts of cruelty and sadism that never make it to the light of national or international attention. While writing this book, I have had in my heart and on my mind the millions of people today who are suffering personally in various ways and to varying degrees. Why? Sometimes it’s just so hard to understand!
Yet God is bigger than our suffering. We can have hope as we place our trust in Him—in His faithfulness and in His ability to work out in our lives His purposes that will be for our ultimate good and His eternal glory.
Although Mary and Martha experienced suffering and prayers that were seemingly unanswered, in the end their faith was gloriously rewarded, teaching us just to trust Him when we don’t understand.
The principle that suffering leads to glory is illustrated in Scripture by a vivid description of clay on the Potter’s wheel — clay that was once cracked, shattered, and broken, clay that was totally useless and ugly. The Potter took the clay and broke it down even further, grinding it into dust then moistening it with water before He put it on His wheel and began to remake it into a vessel pleasing to Himself. The cracks and chips and broken pieces disappeared as the clay became soft and pliable to the Potter’s touch. He firmly applied pressure on some areas, touched lightly on other areas, added more clay to a specific spot that needed filling, and removed clay that hindered the shape He that would make it useful for His ultimate purpose. As he turned the wheel, His loving, gentle hands never left the clay as He molded and made it after His will.
Finally, the Potter finished remolding the clay and took it off the wheel. Under His skilled, gentle hands, the once-ugly clay had been transformed into a vessel that had shape and purpose. He added color, carefully painting on a unique design. But the clay was still soft and weak, the color dull and drab. So the Potter placed the vessel into the fiery kiln, carefully keeping His eye on it as He submitted it to the raging heat. At a time He alone determined was sufficient, the Potter withdrew the pot from the furnace. The blazing heat had radically transformed into a vessel of strength and glorious, multicolored beauty. Then the Potter put it in His showcase so that others might see the revelation of His glory in the work of His hands.4
Is the Potter molding — or remolding — you, using... pressure or problems? stress or suffering? hurt or heartache? illness or injustice?
Has He now placed you in the fire so that circumstances are heating up with intensity in your life? Then would you just trust the Potter to know exactly what He is doing?
For the child of God, suffering is not wasted. It’s not an end it in itself. Scripture reminds us, “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not form us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. . . For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”5
The spiritual principle is that in some way God uses suffering to transform ordinary, dust-clay people into . . . vessels that are strong in faith . . . vessels that are fit for His use . . . vessels that display His glory to the watching world.
This is the principle so powerfully illustrated in the story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in John 11. I also have seen this principle at work personally––in the lives of family members and friends. And I understand it to be true by my own experience . . .
Why Doesn’t God Care? Trusting God’s Heart
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."
— Ephesians 3:17–19
My mother’s pale, gaunt face was transformed into wreathes of joy when I walked through the door of her hospital room. Although her eyes seemed sunken, they sparkled with the zest for life that is her own special trademark. With IVs dangling from her arms, she lifted her trembling hands to welcome me. I embraced her frail body, feeling the heat of her temperature and the protrusion of her bones through the thin hospital gown. She was unable to speak clearly, so I just patted her and sat down nearby. Within moments, she was asleep. And I was left to wonder, Why? Why does my mother’s life seem to be ending in suffering and, at times, confusion? Why, after a life lived selflessly for others, must her old age be, in some ways, a curse?
Yet I was reminded that unanswerable questions are not restricted to any particular age group when my son recently went through a series of tests to determine his physical condition five years after cancer surgery. The why’s buzz through my head like irritating mental insects: Why? Why is my handsome, six-foot-nine-inch, thirty-two-year-old son still stalked by the shadow of this horrific disease?
While wrestling with the illnesses of my mother and son, a beloved young friend was entering into the living death that is divorce. Why? Why doesn’t God melt the heart of the offending spouse and bring that person to genuine repentance so the marriage can be saved?
And once again, the angel of death has struck, this time taking the life of the beloved pastor who ministered to my family and shepherded me through my formative years. Why?
And before that personal loss, I had other “why’s.”
Why would God allow 110 fathers of unborn children to perish in the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001?
Why would God withhold children from godly parents and give them to a mother who would bash in their heads with a rock or drown them in a bathtub?
Why would God allow thousands of people to lose their pensions because of greedy corporate executives who are padding their own retirement fortunes?
Why would God allow men, in His name, to abuse innocent children . . . and continue in ministry?
Why would God allow politicians, athletes, entertainers, and other celebrities to profit from their sin? And increase their profits as they flaunt their immorality and wickedness?
Why would God allow the kidnapping of innocent babies and children for the perverted pleasure of some pedophile?
Why do the young die?
Why do the godly perish?
Why do the wicked prosper?
What, or who, has . . . turned on the tap of your tears, and tossed you in your bed at night, and preoccupied your waking thoughts, and blackened your hopes for the future, and broken your heart, and wrenched an agonized “Why?” from your trembling lips?
Broken hearts asking the question Why? are as old as the human race, beginning with our first parents. What would it have been like to wake up the morning after having been banished from the Garden of Eden because of a very wrong choice? I would imagine Adam and Eve had been lying on the cold, hard ground, covered in smelly animal skins. After dark hours of fitful sleep, did they have a moment in between unconsciousness and full alertness when they thought everything they had been through the day before was just a horrible nightmare—only to come fully awake and face to face with the cold, hard consequences of their choice to disobey God? They would have found no comfort in each other that night after the way Eve had involved Adam in her sin—and Adam had blamed Eve when convicted of it. They may not even have been speaking to each other!
In utter loneliness, separated and alienated from God, their minds must have initially been preoccupied with reliving those awful moments that had led to their disobedience.
Why did I talk to the snake?
Why didn’t I pray first?
Why didn’t God intervene to protect us?
The most tragic day in all of human history could not be relived. And the tragedy was not over. In the years to come, after the joy of giving birth to three sons, Adam and Eve’s hearts were broken once again as they buried their second son, who was murdered by their firstborn.
God answered what surely was their unspoken question with a promise that transcended the generations for every age to come when He reassured Adam and Eve that one day He would send a Savior Who would destroy the power of sin, death, and the devil—the fundamental sources of all human suffering.1 Ultimately this brokenness did lead to blessing, and their suffering did lead to glory when Jesus Christ, their descendant in the flesh, came to redeem mankind from sin and reconcile the world to God. To our heart-wrenched cries of Why? God’s ultimate answer is, “Jesus,” as He is glorified and magnified in our lives through our suffering.2
When guilt takes the edge off every joy . . .
When there are no answers to your questions . . .
Trust Him when you don’t understand.
Trust His heart.
Trust His purpose.
Trust Him when it is your heart that’s broken.
Trust His goodness.
Trust Him beyond the grave.
Trust Him to know best.
Trust His plan to be bigger than yours.
Trust Him to keep His Word.
Trust Him to be on time.
Trust Him to be enough.
Trust Him to set you free.
Trust Him — and Him alone!
The times when you and I can’t trace His hand of purpose, we must trust His heart of love! Trust HIM!
When I don't understand why, I trust Him because…
God does care — more than I can possibly know:
Excerpted from “Why: Trusting God When You Don't Understand” by Anne Graham Lotz and Joni Eareckson Tada. Copyright © 2004 by Anne Graham Lotz. Published by W Publishing Group. All rights reserved. No part of this except can be used without permission of the publisher.