I am often asked, “Don’t you ever think, ‘Why me?’” I have had severe health problems all my life and if you were to see me out of bed, it would be in a powered wheelchair with an oxygen concentrator. So, without a Christian worldview the question makes sense. However, my answer instead is, “Why not me?” Disease and suffering are part of this sin-cursed world, so why should I be exempt? Should it be one of my sisters instead? Maybe I should wish it were someone without Christ to bring comfort, grace and, ultimately, healing?
Having said that, I do now ask the question, “Why me?”! However, I ask it from a different foundation, which transforms it into a different question. What do I mean?
When we ask, “Why me?” in the traditional sense, we are making a number of assumptions. We are saying that this “should” not be happening to me, that I “deserve” better and “should” be angry about it. Why would I deserve better? Because I am a “good” person and “bad things should only happen to bad people.” How did I get classified as a good person? Because I was born that way and haven’t blotted my copybook with major sins (as defined by whoever is making that assessment). Does any of that line up with biblical truth?
Am I really an innocent who is being unfairly treated? As a member of the human race (despite occasional reports to the contrary!), I was born into sin not perfection (Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23) and that sin means that what I deserve is wrath and death (Psalm 51:4; Romans 6:23). There is no one who is good (Romans 3:9-12). Not only am I not a good person who doesn’t deserve suffering, but I am a sinner who deserves infinitely worse. But for the grace of God, the suffering I have known would be minuscule compared with what I should endure, rightly, for my rebellion.
“You are being too hard on yourself,” is a classic response when the worldview of an individual means they decide what is “good” and not. This is to be expected in those still blind to the way of salvation, but many of God’s children also believe they are being treated unfairly. “Yes, I’m a sinner but I do my best to be a good Christian and God is not being fair to inflict/allow this suffering for me/my relative.”
We minimize our sin. I am not perfect (to which everyone who knows me can attest!), but I am not a criminal as defined by secular law. My sins are more subtle (e.g. pride, selfishness, etc.) but equally sin, for all sin denies God His rightful place as Lord of my heart (Psalm 130:3).
So, I am not a good person who deserves a life without suffering but, while this answers the original question, it doesn’t explain why I do now ask the “Why me?” question. Just as the question assumes that suffering has been inflicted on me that, as a good person, I don’t deserve, it also assumes that suffering is always bad. That might seem a strange thing to say, after all, it isn’t good is it?
Salvation Through Suffering
All pain and suffering is a result of the Fall, a consequence of the rebellion of mankind, and it will be removed when evil has been defeated, resulting in an eternity with no pain, sorrow or tears. Pain is not good, but it can be used for good in the hands of Almighty God. When we look at suffering as only bad then we miss the point. We forget that our salvation was bought through suffering…the suffering of God Himself. What was intended by the enemy for bad, God intended for good (Genesis 50:20).
Suffering is painful and personal. When we try to help someone struggling with questions about suffering we must never underestimate the distress suffering causes. However, when we understand that, as hard as it is, suffering can have a good purpose, it can lessen anger, fear, self-pity… and allow for a refocus on the work of God in the circumstances. It can even become something we view with joy (but not masochism), as we begin to value His work in us more highly than our pain-free desires (James 1:2-4). We begin to recognize that suffering is an opportunity in the hands of a sovereign and good God.
The Opportunity in Suffering
There have been many times I have been able to speak of His sustaining faithfulness and His work of grace in my life to people I wouldn’t otherwise meet and been given a platform the healthy are not. A classic example was when I was involved in prison ministry. Prisoners would listen to me in a different way than if another team member said the same words.
Without the obvious suffering, I would be dismissed as a middle-class girl who knew nothing of their pain. What did I know? Instead they saw that I do understand having a difficult life and, as such, what I said carried a lot more weight. What a privilege. What an honor to be used by God in this way.
The biggest opportunity suffering gives is the privilege of being “counted worthy” of sharing in a minuscule way with the suffering of the One who went through the worst of suffering for us (Acts 5:41; 1 Peter 4:12-13). When we struggle for every breath, we are keenly aware of the gift of oxygen. When we have no strength, we can experience His strength in a way known no other way. When we have nothing left of ourselves to make it through another minute, we find we can depend on Him for those seconds that become minutes, hours, and days in a way only being that needy demonstrates. It is when stripped of everything else, we find that He is enough (2 Corinthians 12:9).
It hurts, it is extremely hard, but it is a gift—one I do not know why I have been given. I do not know why He chose me for this purpose or the opportunities He has brought my way as a result. I do not understand why He has blessed me in so many ways that I could not have known in the life that I wanted, that I planned, and I am grateful beyond expression. He knew better and He wanted better for me. So, yes, I do ask “Why me?”
There are many parts to counseling someone struggling with suffering, but if we can help, under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, to refocus their understanding of the working of God through that suffering, maybe we can all ask “Why me?” (Psalm 30:11)