I stood in her guest room, head tilted. Framed snapshots and professional photos surrounded a sizeable, well-framed headshot of her mother when she had still been healthy. Such a lovely, kind smile.
A three-year battle with a rare cancer took her four years ago now. A godly, loving woman, a pillar in her community and family, whose power of her absence belies of the quality of her presence.
My friend has four young children now, some who never got to bask in that smile. In a vulnerable moment, my friend’s voice thick with emotion, she confessed her confusion. Not a faithless one; more like the Psalms—all those that wind through despair but conclude with expressions of trust more profound because of it. She gestured at her home, littered with sippy cups and kid-detritus. She spoke of God’s sovereignty, then shook her head.
“I just don’t understand…how this is better without her.”
I don’t either.
And it’s not the first time. It had only been a couple of months since my accident traveling home from the airport. The one that left a man dead.
Looking back on those cloudy moments, I sometimes watch a few of the vague pieces of the puzzle pressed into place with a soft click. Ah, yes. I see it now. But many of them lay scattered, their intention fragmented.
Romans 8:28 is unquestionably a bedrock of our theology. I hang my life on it. No doubt, I had many willing to readily offer me this Scripture when I stood confused that God would use me in Uganda to take life that night; that He would choose the taxi I had hired. (Christians, myself included, can occasionally feel uncomfortable with ambiguity.)
Yet perhaps the exquisite poetry of the Psalms reiterates that those who mourn—who say, this world isn’t how it’s meant to be—are indeed blessed. Are indeed comforted, as they feel out the edges of their sorrow in its breadth and depth. As they understand just how much is mystery; how much they cannot control.
I’m in the midst of a life decision right now; those forks in the road. One seems preferable to all the rest for me. My reason says, Why, of course that’s the best choice.
To be honest, occasionally I find myself attempting to leverage my reasoning in God’s direction. There’s a bit of biblical precedent for this; Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus all presented God with well-considered arguments centered around His character, His people. God’s the author of rationalism and truth. He listens compassionately.
Still—sometimes my reasoning can lack reverence; can lack faith. It’s offered argumentatively rather than humbly. I hear Job’s words:
I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know… (Job 42)
When I was eight, I broke my tibia in a nasty fall off the monkey bars at family camp. (I know, I know. Hey, I’ve already warned you that I possess notably limited amounts of coordination. My six-year-old niece utterly surpasses my monkey bar capacity.) Once we arrived at the doctor’s office, I knew they planned to intravenously anesthetize me. And I was terrified. I remember that I kept trying to convince the PA I was falling asleep. I didn’t need that silly injection!
My reasoning was limited to my eight-year-old brain, my eight-year-old understanding of the world.
Paul David Tripp writes,
We must not forget that we will never experience inner peace simply because all our questions have been answered. Biblical faith is not irrational, but it takes us beyond our ability to reason….
It is important to study, to learn, to examine, to evaluate, and to know. But we are not rationalists. We do not trust our reason more than we trust God. We do not reject what God says is true when it doesn’t make sense to us. (emphasis added; New Morning Mercies: A Gospel Devotional)
Author and pastor Timothy Keller articulates plainly that (as he elaborates upon in this well-reasoned presentation to the staff of Google), “Just because we don’t see a reason for evil and suffering doesn’t mean there’s not a reason for it.”
Keller notes elsewhere that this doesn’t make suffering good. He points to John 11, when Jesus, at the tomb of His close friend—whom He is knowledgeably about to raise (see His prior words to Martha)—still weeps. God overcomes the horror wrought on this world by sin and its consequences, its unbearable curse. But He still confirms that suffering isn’t the way He originally crafted this world to be.
And yet…I find unshakable confidence that those same reasons I can’t wrap my mind around God’s reasoning—the reasons that He is not me-sized—are the exact reasons He’s worthy of my worship.