Figuring Out Why God Does Things

The last thing at least some believers need in their trials is the added burden of trying to figure out why it is all happening. And the good news here is that nowhere in Scripture are we expected to do that. God’s secrets remain just that. We must try to avoid two extremes: one, suggesting that God’s secret purposes in our lives and in providence generally are available to us; and the other, usually in reaction, concluding that God does not actually have a purpose for all of the details of our lives, from the smallest to the greatest.

Like Job’s counselors, well-meaning brothers and sisters sometimes encourage us to try to discern what God is up to in a given tragedy or what he is trying to teach us. They assume God is directly causing our suffering in order to do something to or for us that will bring him glory and us an ultimate good. Since this sounds so close to the truth, it is vital to use an entire chapter to try to sort this out from the Scriptures. While God is ultimately sovereign over all events, large and small, and will not allow us to endure a trial that he cannot turn to our profit, a lot of the adversities we face in this life are simply part of the web of ordinary causes and effects in the world. Upon learning that one has cancer, the first reaction should not be to think as if God had pointed his finger in the victim’s direction and shouted, “Cancer!” Nor should we think God is uninvolved—perhaps caught off guard himself with the bad news. God has arranged a world in which he neither controls everything directly (that is, apart from means) nor is just another member of creation who could himself be overwhelmed by the course of events.

–Michael Horton, A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering

In my circles, especially when I was younger, it was assumed that when we went through trials, we were to try to figure out what God was trying to teach us. We would say, You might not know right away, but in time God will show you. Then most of the time forget about it, unless we thought of something. God is always sanctifying and perfecting believers, but we don’t have to know exactly what the sovereign Lord of our life is up to in order for that to happen.

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