Why did this happen?

It’s a question we will all ask at one point or another, whether we admit it or not.

There are so many hurting people, all around us, every day. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve counseled with a sweet lady who is still reeling from a series of heartbreaking events that all happened one right after the other. I’ve grieved for a family very dear to me who said a sudden goodbye to a family member who was only recently diagnosed with cancer. And my heart has broken for a couple I know only by acquaintance who faced the devastating loss of their unborn twins in a fight to save their mother’s life.

Why do these things happen? Is God not good? Is He not powerful enough to stop them?

Honestly, I tremble at even this feeble attempt to sort this out. God is so infinite, so holy, so huge–how can we ever hope to comprehend His ways?

But, while it’s true that we cannot now figure everything out, and will not be able to in this life with our finite minds that have experienced the effects of the Fall, it’s also true that God has given us at least a partial answer in His word.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30

Whatever difficult or heartbreaking circumstance you face in your life, you will not be able to fully answer the question, “Why?” But you can know that the “Why?” is never less than this: to make you more like Jesus, and that God will be glorified through it.

And for those who have said they will follow Jesus at any cost, that is enough.

But, while this is the bottom line that we must eventually accept as answer enough, we can go a bit further in finding some purpose in pain.

You see, as we look through the stories in Scripture, we see that one person’s story does not belong to that person alone. Every circumstance in your life has an effect on someone else’s life. And those effects keep going, like ripples in a pond.

Look at Joseph. So many terrible things happened in his life, but the effects of them stretched over hundreds of years and thousands of people and set the stage for God’s plan of redemption. In the moment, in the pit, in the prison cell, he very well might have been crying out “Why?” But even though he was able to see some limited answers in his lifetime (Gen 50:20), he could never have foreseen what God was going to accomplish through the preservation of Joseph’s family.

Every circumstance in your life has a purpose for you, and for countless others. Every heartbreaking event starts a chain of dominoes that will not stop until Jesus comes back.

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How many souls in far-flung tribes will now spend eternity with Jesus because of Christians who were inspired to go into missions after hearing of the deaths of Jim Elliot and his friends? How many kids have been blessed with medical equipment they would never have had if Joni Eareckson Tada had not broken her neck as a teenager?

How many hearts are encouraged by people who have gone through devastating trials and then use that to minister to others for the rest of their lives?

Who can say what effects your pain today will have throughout the future? Our paths are all intertwined, they cross and tangle up and intersect. My life affects yours and yours affects mine. My pain is to make me more like Jesus, and maybe it’s to make you more like Jesus too.

God does not just bring painful situations to us with no purpose. His purposes are so deep, so intricate, so perfectly planned and orchestrated. And best of all, they are saturated with love. His purposes are always only good!

So when pain or difficulty comes your way, and you can be sure it will, rest in this: it is not for nothing. Not one painful event in your life is wasted. God will work in it now, and continuing working from it in your life, in the life of someone who sees you, in the life of someone who sees them, and on and on and on, until Christ returns.

May you find rest in His love, and in the promise of purpose even when you can’t see the purpose now.

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