A tragedy or calamity can be difficult to take. In my own case, that difficulty has been the diagnosis of multiple myeloma. Admittedly, there is stress and adjustment that must come. And with it comes a very human question: why me?
But I’ve not allowed myself to dwell on this question. I have felt it one that should be immediately dismissed. The problem with the question is that it is unanswerable, and it leads to self-pity. The question presupposes that calamities should not come into the life of the questioner.
Dismissing the question has meant reflecting on the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. Proverbs 3:16 says this about wisdom:
Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. (Proverbs 3:16, ESV)
The Book of Proverbs presents general truths. In other words, a person who lives according to God’s wisdom is more likely to live longer, be able to take care of material needs, and have a good reputation. Yet we all know that good people die young, that natural calamities can destroy wealth, and that evil people can steal and slander good people. The rest of the wisdom literature helps us nuance these general truths.
The Book of Job lets us know that the righteous person may suffer. Job suffers from the acts of lawless Sabeans, natural calamities, bereavement, and illness. The conflict in the book surrounds Job’s friends’ attempts to convince him that his troubles are the consequence of his own wickedness. The Book of Job confirms that the good person may suffer. But the end of the book doesn’t so much answer our questions as say God knows how to run the creation. Trust him.
Ecclesiastes has its characteristic lament: vanity of vanities. The Hebrew word is hevel which means breath or vapor. The phrase emphasizes that life for all of us is transitory, and it suggests that it can be enigmatic — vapor, think of the fog in a morning, can obscure things from our view. We do not have God’s viewpoint.
Ecclesiastes also reminds us we don’t know why good things come to some and miss others.
Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. (Ecclesiastes 9:11, ESV)
We don’t know why certain people are in the wrong place at the wrong time. “But time and chance happen to them all.” In Ecclesiastes 8:14, we find that sometimes the righteous seem to get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked receive what we think the righteous should get. Ecclesiastes in the end asks us to trust God: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, ESV).
For the Christian, the problem of this life is that we live in between the perfection of the Garden of Eden and the perfection of the New Jerusalem when God will wipe away all tears and make everything new. In this in-between time, death, disease, calamities, accidents, and evil deeds happen. And they can happen to all kinds of people: both the good and the bad.
In ministry I’ve been with people as they experienced the most terrible struggles of their lives. I’ve seen people of great faith face the challenges of this in-between time. I’ve witnessed their faith and hope. The interesting thing about difficulties is that people of God often find within these difficulties God’s providential care. So, as I face my own challenges, I’ve come to realize that “Why me?” is the wrong question. Rather the challenge must be faced with faith and hope. If it can happen to the people of faith I know, why not me?