It is our natural default when something bad happens to us: Why? Why me? A few months ago while lying in an ICU in Bangkok on a ventilator with massive pneumonia and Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) - my second severe bout with both I asked that question. But then I was forced to ask a second question: Why not me?
The television for the two weeks of my stay was glued on CNN and their coverage of the war in Gaza. I watched the men, women and children being ferried into inadequate hospitals with inadequate medical help and was reminded how fragile our world is and life in this broken world. So why should I be exempt from that brokenness?
Job asked the "why" question and God was gracious to him but He did not answer the question. What he did say was, I am God, I am great, I have my reasons and I am with you.
In the past month I have lost three friends and the son of another friend is paralyzed from the chest down due to a skiing accident - at 17. Why? In the past year and a half I have booked 65 days in the hospital. Why?
Job discovered that God is so great that His ways are inscrutable. What does not make sense to us makes perfect sense to Him. And we are not exempt from brokenness of our broken world. So, what is the question to ask? I believe it is "what" and "how" not "why."
The first question is "how." How will I choose to respond when life is not fair and the cards dealt me are not the ones I would choose? That is not easy when the cards are tough or unfair cards. I faced that in the ICU because the odds were that I might well not survive.
In my pain and limited ability to focus I chose to hang on to the words of Jesus to the disciples: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid" (Matthew 14:27). Those words were my lifeline during some very long, hard painful days.
Pain and suffering are interesting friends or foes. As a friend they can drive us closer to God if we will allow them to. As a foe they can drive us from God to a life of bitterness and diminished dreams if we let them. We choose whether we see them as a friend or a foe and our choice determines the path we take after that. Those who choose the path of bitterness do so because they keep asking the "why" question. Those who choose the path of following God more closely do so because they focus on two other questions.
There is a second question worth asking: "What does God want me to learn through this?" That does not mean we deserve it, or that God is punishing us or that He wanted us to suffer. We live in a broken world and we "share in the fellowship of His sufferings" while here. But, it is also true that it is in the hardest times that we learn the greatest lessons about God, life and us. As C.S. Lewis said, "pain is God's megaphone."
I have filled a journal of lessons I learned through my 65 days in the hospital over three stints. They include his love, his grace, his sovereignty, his ability to do the miraculous in our day and many other lessons. I realize in a new way the gift that each day is and I empathize with those who suffer in a whole different way. In the end my pain was a gift that taught me lessons I would not have learned any other way.
I also know that the "why" questions will become plane on the other side of eternity. This side the question is how will I respond and what does God want to teach me. If we get that right, the "why" will all make sense in a little while!