Honest to God, Session 6: Why This Sad Day?

By Robertson McQuilken

“Dad, Bob’s been in a terrible accident. Please pray.” 

whythissaddaySusan’s voice was controlled, but fear lurked around the border of her words. Her husband — our 36-year-old son — had rented a diving suit to go deep into Lake Michigan to photograph a famous shipwreck for a national magazine. The suit proved defective, and he lost all oxygen. Now he hovered between life and death.

Bob, a gifted photographer, had just turned his life over to the Lord anew, was planning to start a family — and now this.

A few minutes later Susan called again. “Dad, Bob’s with Jesus.”

Did God fail Susan? Me? Bob?

Of course, we know the orthodox answer: God never fails. He can’t fail. But still, we are tempted to ask, if that is true, why this sad day? In response, I invite you to consider three things:

  1. Why do you ask why?
  2. Who opened the prison gate?
  3. How do you prove love?


I’m not given to asking why, actually. God isn’t accountable to me, and we’re the ones who messed things up anyway. I’m not exempt from all the fallenness of this old world. So I’m not inclined to ask, Why me, I who deserve so much better? but rather, Why not me, I who deserve so much worse? But if you do ask why, you’re in good company. David the psalmist was forever asking God that sort of question.

Can there be a good why and a bad one? I think so. The bad why is accusatory: God, You’re very powerful, but is this one too big for You? Or, Lord, I think this time You made the wrong choice. I know a better one. Or, You’re powerful enough to handle this, wise enough to make the right choice, but do You care that much about me? 

The why of faith shows confidence in God, that He is able, that He knows best, and that He cares deeply: Lord, I do wonder what Your purpose is in this. That’s the good why.

There could be one of many biblical reasons for my pain — discipline, guidance, testing to prove my faith or to strengthen it. God’s purposes vary. But always God has two purposes in mind: our good, His glory. So if we ask why, seeking to know how this problem can help us grow into greater Christlikeness or to bring God glory, that’s a good why.

You may ask, “But how could Bob’s death possibly be any good to him or to us? How can it bring glory to God? Wouldn’t His miraculous deliverance have brought God greater glory — a lifetime of usefulness to His Kingdom?” I must respond: Can you think of any greater good Bob could have than what he now enjoys? And our growth — if his death causes us to consider our own end and our own purpose in life, turning us from our wrong headedness and drawing us closer to God — what could be for our greater good and what could cause people to praise God more?

“The why of faith shows confidence in God, that He is able, that He knows best, and that He cares deeply.”


There once was a dungeon in which all the inhabitants were born of parents who were born there, too — and their parents and grandparents. No one knew the meaning of light or freedom; they’d never seen it. They had heard rumors of another kind of life, but it was so far from their experience they couldn’t even imagine it.

Periodically an unseen judge would give the order, and one of their number would be escorted out — to where and what they knew not. The people railed against this unjust judge who ripped away one of their own, especially if it were one of the younger ones.

“Why did he do it?” They cried and pleaded and tried desperately to hold their loved ones with them.

So why do we cling to our beloved and condemn the Judge who, instead of hearing our pleas, deliberately opens the prison gate? We do it for one of two reasons: We just don’t know what it’s like on the other side of that gate, or we’re selfish and want to keep our beloved with us for the pleasure he brings us.

1. Why do you ask why? Is it in unbelief, casting doubt on God’s very character, or is it in faith, asking for understanding of God’s purpose?

2. Who opened the prison gate? Oh, the just and merciful Judge did.

3. How do you prove love? Love is proven by the sacrifice it makes.

You ask, “Where did you get that story? I’m not sure I like it.” Oh, it’s a parable, of course, intended to reinforce the more familiar parable Paul gives us: “For we know that if our temporary, earthly dwelling is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal dwelling in the heavens, not made with hands. Indeed, we groan in this body, desiring to put on our dwelling from heaven, since, when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. Indeed, we groan while we are in this tent, burdened as we are, because we do not want to be unclothed but clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life. And the One who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment” (2 Cor. 5:1-5).

That’s the passage I read the day after my beloved wife, Muriel, died at the end of a 25-year journey down the dark tunnel of Alzheimer’s disease. It provided comfort just when I needed it most.


That is, how do we know this Judge — the one who allows our tents to deteriorate and finally forecloses on this rental property and gives the order to open the gate of our earthly prison — really loves us? How do we know He really cares? When it feels so bad, how can we know He purposes good?

Sometimes we can’t figure things out. Most of the time, perhaps. God’s ways are often inscrutable. Isn’t that what you’d expect from an infinite deity? Mystery, says Solomon, is God’s glory (Prov. 25:2) — not His handicap, not His game to keep us guessing. Why, if I could figure everything out, I’d have to be god! No, says Moses, the secret things belong to God; only that which is revealed is for us and our children, just enough for us to know His will and do it (Deut. 29:29). And what is revealed? How much He loves us!

Thus, when things get so tangled for me I can’t figure them out, don’t want to accept them, wonder what God is up to, in the end I run to Calvary. There, gazing on that bloodied face, I think, How could anyone who loved me that much let anything of true harm touch my life? 

Love, remember, is proven by the sacrifice it makes. In your bewilderment — husband, wife, parent, sister, brother, friend — in your bewilderment, if such there be, flee to Calvary. That’s how much God loves you. And Bob. And Muriel.

Robertson McQuilkin served as president of Columbia International University from 1968 to 1990. He resigned to care for his wife, Muriel until her death in 2003. Today McQuilkin is a speaker and writer, engaging in an extensive conference ministry across America and overseas. He serves as president emeritus of CIU. In 2005, McQuilkin married Deborah Jones Sink. Between them, they have nine children.

matureliving0713This article originally appeared in the May, 2012 issue of Mature Living. Subscribe


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