It may sound blunt, bold and brutally lacking in compassion, but when, during a season of pain or difficulty, the cry “Why me, Lord?” is voiced, the response, “why not you?” remains not merely appropriate from a theological sense, but often reflects an old-fashioned spirit of acceptance of the ways and blessings of God.
“Why me, God” is, on one hand, an understandably natural response when trouble comes our way. For instance, we may cry out to God wanting to comprehend the reason why some disaster or difficulty has befallen us, as if being able to detect some logical connect between some earlier decision or behavior and our current suffering would give a key to how we might either fix the problem or prevent reoccurrence of the situation. Or we might cry out our lament to God in trust that with him is comfort and strength in the midst of our difficulty, and if there is to be deliverance of any kind from our predicament or problem, God alone will be the author and provider. Just being able to bring our sorrow to the receptive heart of God, and being able to lay our tears, fears, frustrations and weariness in his loving care gives such incredible solace.
Yet often our “Why me’s” are voiced without any real desire to find the wisdom and insight that might lead us to repentance or to more intelligent lifestyle or decision making. Nor do our “Why me’s” always come from that deep soul trust in the goodness of God to be with me in the persevering through the tragedies or trials I may be facing. Most often, I suspect, our whimpering little whines stem from a pouty determination that God isn’t being fair to us, in failing to protect us either from the natural consequences of our choices and actions, or from all the unpredictable traumas and troubles that can arise in a fallen creation. Why should we be miraculously kept immune from sickness or sorrow, harm or horror, when such perils are simply part of the dangerous mystery of life? What makes us so special that we believe God ought to spare us any and every heartache or hurt?
But the “why not you” response is far more than a shattering come-uppance to our self-absorption. If we take seriously the admonition concerning the place of discipline which is found in the twelfth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, we might not be so quick to judge God unfair or unkind. The author of that letter clearly acknowledged that “no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.” Yet he went on to affirm that that same discipline, much of which is lovingly given by a God for the sake of training us in the way of holiness, can produce “a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
That is not to suggest that every trial or hard experience is a “punishment” or an act of discipline imposed by God. What I do try constantly to remind myself is that there is no trial, no time of temptation or hardship, no place of suffering, no situation of grief and anguish, which God cannot use to hone and refine and purify and train our hearts into more prayerful reliance on him, wiser gratitude for his faithfulness, and deeper Christ-like compassion towards others. Someone once suggested that just as diamonds are formed under intense pressure within the centre of the earth, so it is in the crucible of challenge, hardship and struggle that God refines and forges in us both the greatest resiliency of faith and the most daring and blessed capacities to love.
A friend of mine said that when trouble or woe comes to call, his initial reaction is always to want to run as fast as possible in the opposite direction. His second reaction is to stamp his foot and demand God make things right. But when he allows God’s Spirit to be present and God’s Truth to be heard in his life, he has slowly come to realize that this hard moment may be the very situation through which the Lord plans to do some of his greatest work in his life. Harvests of righteousness and peace can only come through training – usually hard training.
I do not mean to say we should never ask God to deliver us from hard times or painful experiences. But the wiser prayer might be to ask that if deliverance is not God’s will in the immediate moment, may we prove ourselves to be teachable, trainable, refine-able and perfect-able by the Holy Spirit at work in us in the place of pain and tears. Not only might we discover an abundance of grace to uphold us through the hard time, we might find the hard time reveals and releases in us something absolutely beautiful for God that becomes a blessing for the world.