Wanting to know "Why?"
We like to ask the question “Why?” a lot.
Throughout our youth, that one-word question typically came from a desire to learn or understand. Our fastest rate of learning is when we were less than five years old…simply because we asked “Why?” to everything around us.
However, at some point during our formative years, “Why?” transitions into questions regarding authority. And as we experience more of this sinful world, our “Why?” becomes a question that desperately looks for meaning and purpose among the tragedies and difficulties.
The truth is we may never know, on this side of Heaven, why God allows tragedy and evil and tough situations to occur. When we experience these, we may feel like God doesn’t care. Even when we trust God through difficult times, we can still feel saddened by the situation.
While we cannot see what the future holds, the apostle Paul gave us an example of how we can handle the “Why?” of difficult times as he makes an appeal for reconciliation between two people he cared about:
I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my child, whom I fathered while in chains – Onesimus. Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me. I am sending him – a part of myself – back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place. But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will.
Here is where Paul applies the benefit of hindsight to view the heartbreak and anger of the broken relationship between Philemon and Onesimus through a different lens.
For perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave – as a dearly loved brother. This is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
Whatever happened between the two men, it was significant. It was difficult. It was an issue that created problems that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.
In the aftermath of their separation, each man would have been tempted to believe that all was lost and what was wrong could never again be put right. Maybe they did believe it. Philemon could have asked out of frustration “Why did this happen?”, “Why are we the ones to deal with this?”, or “Why didn’t God stop this from happening?”.
In his letter, Paul shows Philemon that God used his hardship to bring Onesimus to the place where he would accept the gospel. Philemon likely wouldn’t have thought it could happen when he was in the difficult moment, but God is willing to take both time and tragedy to reach out to people with the gospel.
Maybe, at some date in the future, we’ll get to see how God used our personal struggles, problems, and tragedies for our good and the benefit of others. Maybe we won’t be able to see the “Why?” until we’re on the other side of eternity.
The good news is that God not only knows the “Why?”, but also the “Who?”, the “What?”, the “Where?”, the “When?”, and the “How?”.