Don’t Interpret, But Learn
Blessed is the man whom you discipline. Lord, and whom you teach out of your law. (Psalm 94:12)
Because God’s wisdom is infinite and His ways inscrutable to us, we should be very careful in seeking to interpret the ways of God in His providence, especially in particular events. Additionally, we need to be cautious of others who offer themselves as interpreter about the why and wherefore of all that is happening.
Be wary of those who’s say, “God let this happen so that you might learn such and such a lesson.” The fact is we do not know what God is doing through a particular set of circumstances or events.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek to learn from God’s providence. Quite the contrary. The psalmist learned God’s decrees experientially through affliction.(Psalm 119:71) The people of Israel also learned through God’s adverse providence in their lives, as Moses pointed out: “He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:3)
By putting His people in a situation where they could not simply go to the cupboard for their daily bread, God taught them that they were utterly dependent upon Him. God was leading the nation into a land where material provision would be “naturally” plentiful.(Deuteronomy 8:7-9) He knew they would be tempted by the pride of their own hearts to say, “ My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.”(verse 17) So before they entered the land, God taught them of their dependence through His divine providence.
Embracing such dependence ourselves, we’ll often be able to say with the psalmist, “It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”(Psalm 119:71)
The question of why, especially in adversity is a frequent one. We want to know why we are suffering or why life is difficult or why we lost a job or someone. Often we search through our minds in a futile and endless search and we dwell on the accompanying question of “why did I or didn’t I do something that would have changed the outcome?” Most of the time when we engage in this kind of thought, we add condemnation to the adversity. It’s a common practice to do so for humans major in “cause and effect” never realizing that the sovereignty of God is a contributing factor.
One day as Jesus was teaching, the subject of suffering entered the conversation.
“Just at that time some people came who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate [the governor] had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus replied to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans because they have suffered in this way? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent [change your old way of thinking, turn from your sinful ways and live changed lives], you will all likewise perish. 4 Or do you assume that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed were worse sinners than all the others who live in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent [change your old way of thinking, turn from your sinful ways and live changed lives], you will all likewise perish.”
Jesus made known clearly that the suffering was not because those who suffered were worse sinners than those who escaped. Instead He pointed out the lesson that all of those who live in sin will perish. This is the principle of understanding adversity. We may never know or understand the why but somewhere in the adversity we have the opportunity to learn a lesson of greater dependence upon God.
On another occasion the disciples once again engaged in the question of cause and effect.
“While He was passing by, He noticed a man [who had been] blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi (Teacher), who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but it was so that the works of God might be displayed and illustrated in him. 4 We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.”
Now Jesus wasn’t saying that God had created this man to be blind so that He might one day be glorified. What Christ was saying is that the man being blind provided an opportunity for God to work and for the works of God to be seen. This is our lesson. It matters not why we are in adversity. We could spend the rest of our lives trying to figure that out. Instead let us see our adversity, our struggle, our burden, our place of hopelessness as a place of opportunity for God to work something in us. It may be that as we turn to Him in utter dependence, He may deliver us and provide our need as He did with the manna in the wilderness. If that be the case then we have learned the valuable lesson of dependence upon God. It may be, as it was in Paul’s case that God in His sovereign wisdom chooses to leave the “thorn” but gives “sufficient grace.” Whatever the outcome, we must never forget that it’s guided by a loving and caring Father.
Far too often others wish to interpret the why for us and we wish to interpret the why for them. Usually we get it wrong and leave the person in worse condition with our words. I confess I’m sensitive to this being a recipient of this myself. I’ll share one of my stories. I grew up in a home where faith in God was not just taught, it was lived. My dad was a man of faith and prayer. Dad was a lay minister in the Methodist church and later one of the preachers in a small independent church. I can still remember his prayers for he talked with God as though he and God were sitting in the room together. One story that I’ll share is a story of faith. Dad worked in a furniture plant and one day while at work a heavy loaded cart with steel wheels ran over his foot and broke it. Never will I forget that Sunday morning of dad sitting at the table and his prayer and action. Mom never drove and the car we had was a straight gear. It was Sunday and we never missed a Sunday going to church. So dad sat at the table and had a conversation with God about his foot. Then he took his pocket knife and cut the cast off. With him driving, we all went to church that Sunday and dad never had a problem with that foot. Some years later dad contacted rheumatoid arthritis after a bout with the flu. The pastor of the church and the deacons came and anointed him, but nothing changed. They came again and never will I forget their words: “Brother Thompson,” they said, “we have prayed in faith and yet you’re not healed. Therefore you must have some hidden sin you need to confess. If you will confess that sin, God will heal you.” So they left and dad was never healed and all the rest of his days he battled those words. Instead of giving hope, these men who incorrectly interpreted the adversity, left despair and condemnation. I have no idea why God healed dad’s foot but left the arthritis. I have no doubt as to my dad’s relationship with God, so I leave the question of why in the hands of God. I learned a lesson, perhaps an unintentional one, for I did not know at nine years old that God was calling me into the ministry. I learned through my dad’s adversity and experience to never leave individuals with condemnation but to leave them with hope.
We may never know the why, but in every situation we have the opportunity to learn something that God wishes to teach us. For myself, I’ve changed my question. I no longer focus on the why. My question is now this: “God, since You have brought me here and have allowed this to happen, what is it that You wish me to learn?”
Dr. John Thompson