When life throws us devastating news and disappointments, questions come for all of us: Why, God? Why me? Why this? Why now?
As followers of Christ, we often find ourselves moving along our journey of faith towards dreams we thought were part of God's plan. Suddenly, however, we are facing experiences altogether different than we expected and we are left holding a heart full of questions.
When the questions come, some would-be comforters offer their "advice." "Remember," they tell us, "God works in mysterious ways." Or "Ours is not to question, only to trust," or "You can never really know the reasons why God allows hardships to come our way, so just accept it and move on." It sounds simple, but often with challenges and changes comes a paralyzing fear of what appears to be empty tomorrows and a depleted faith.
A Why in the Wilderness
The most famous journey of faith in the Bible was that of the Hebrew nation following Moses out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, a trip that began with high hopes. But this years-long journey soon proved to be anything but smooth or straight. Instead, it was fraught with challenges. For every one step the people took forward, they fell back two (or two hundred) steps, it seems. And, yet, this pilgrimage offers a fitting model for our journey of faith today; one worth considering.
Ultimately, it took Israel 40 years to travel a distance that, along a straight line, would only amount to 240 miles. What should have taken several weeks instead took them 40 years! This figures out to a progressive rate of about 6 miles per year, or less than four feet per hour! Does your faith journey ever seem similar?
The long road of Israel's journey has been recorded in the Pentateuch forever and for good reason. It's more than a history of land acquisition. It's a legacy of faith development, an parable of what it looks like to follow God's leading and learn to trust in his guidance and provision even in the midst of confusion, chaos and pain. In fact, in Deuteronomy 8, God answers several questions and reveals at least Seven Whys for their long and arduous journey. Although these may not all apply directly to your current struggle, they're worth prayerfully considering.
The Whys in the Wilderness reveal that:
Your challenge is humbling—"Remember how the Lord God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years...to humble you..." (Deut. 8:2a, NIV). Thomas Merton said, "Pride makes us artificial; humility makes us real."
Your challenge will reveal your true colors—"...to test you in order to know what was in your heart" (v. 2b). The wilderness tests showed that the nation of Israel was still deficient in character. You and I face frequent tests that serve as the challenges and contexts that show what we are made of; they reveal our strengths and our shortcomings.
Your challenge will test your obedience to God-- "(to know) whether or not you would keep his commands" (v. 2c). Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the 10 Commandments only to find the people already worshiping an idol, a golden calf. The commandments revealed God's will; but the wilderness did something else: It tested their faith. Life is testing your obedience and mine every day.
Your challenge will create more hunger for God—"to cause you to hunger (so he can feed you)" (v. 3a). Often times of barrenness and struggle alter our desires and move them more in line with the will of God.
Your challenge will remind you of the "food" you most need—"to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD" (v. 3b). Because God loves us as he does, he allows challenges and struggles to tap (and tap hard, sometimes) our deeper needs (cf. Matt. 4:4). But, fortunately the Father does not leave us alone in our desperation - He feeds us with his words of hope (Ps. 119:105).
Your challenge is part of your training—"to discipline you (as a man disciplines his son)" (v. 5). In his popular devotional (My Utmost for His Highest), Oswald Chambers said repeatedly that "God is the engineer of our circumstances." He weaves blessings into the plotlines of our lives, but also hardships and challenges, and both are essential to the shaping or our character and our souls.
And, your challenge is ultimately for your own good—"so that in the end it may go well with you" (v. 16). This passage is reflected in the theme of Romans 8:28: "We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose" (CEB).