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God Can…So Why Doesn’t He?

God can. So why doesn’t He?

During my seminary years I had a cleaning business. All it took was one ad in the Mesa Tribune to get me started. “Thompson Cleaning Service. Trained by meticulous Grandmothers.”

I was off and running.

One of my customers referred me to a lady named Becky Osburn. A single Mom of two teenage boys, she was very kind and on the quiet side.  As a teacher/reading specialist, Becky loved to help kids struggling with words.

She became a regular on my weekly schedule. I cleaned her house every Friday for 5 years. What started as just another cleaning job became an excuse to visit with a good friend.

Becky battled cancer the entire time I knew her. She endured many painful, invasive treatments and procedures. Fiercely independent, she was determined to win.

One Friday afternoon, as I worked my way around Becky’s living room with an ostrich feather duster and a can of Lemon Pledge, Becky was sitting at her kitchen island. She began to speak to me but stopped. Getting a tighter hold on her coffee mug, I sensed she was trying to put words to something difficult.

“Todd, when the time comes…would you do my memorial service?”

When she said it we looked at each other the way one looks at an airplane that’s been circling for hours and finally lands.

I said I would be honored.

I could make Becky’s furniture shine. I could make her chrome fixtures sparkle. I could make her windows spotless.

There’s nothing I could do to stop her cancer from spreading.

But God could.

So why didn’t He?

A year and a half later I got a phone call. Becky was in the hospital. They soon moved her into the hospice area of Desert Samaritan. The nurse told me the best time to visit would be very early in the day.

It was 6 in the morning when I pulled a chair up next to her bed. The nurse brought in two cups of coffee. It was a moment of quiet conversation between two friends. Except this time we weren’t in her cozy home. There was no denying the reality of her physical deterioration any more than one could ignore an elephant at the kitchen table. We honored the moment by talking openly and honestly about life, death, and God.

I asked questions and took notes as she explained what she wanted me to communicate at her funeral. When she finished, I read Psalm 103. It’s a rich, wonderful text that speaks to the brevity of our life on this earth and the marvelous unconditional love of God.

The unconditional love of God. Cancer. Hospice. How do these go together?

Our coffee cups were about empty. Becky was getting tired. I closed my notebook. But there was one more question to be asked.

“Becky, there’s something I’d like to know. You’ve been fighting cancer ever since I’ve known you. You’ve prayed for God to heal you. Your family and friends have prayed for God to heal you. Yet here we are, talking about your memorial service. How do you square that in your mind?”

Her answer was spot on. Theologically solid and sound.

“I know God has the power to heal me. But it may not be His will to heal me. Sometimes we need to stop trying to figure it out and just trust God.”

God could. But for His reasons, He didn’t. And when He didn’t, Becky trusted God for what she couldn’t see or understand.

Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us that, in the same way the heavens are higher than the earth, God’s ways are higher than our ways. His plans transcend our own. For people who like to be in control, who like to set the agenda and the direction of life, people like me (and maybe you?), this is a hard truth.

When God’s plans apparently run contrary to our own, we are quick to ask, “why?”. And God does not refuse us that. He wants us to bring our questions, our pain, and our confusion to Him. Yet it remains His prerogative to allow our “why?” questions to go unanswered. It is in these seasons we must acknowledge God is God, and we are not. And to remember His Father heart toward us.

Becky prayed for healing. Yet her love for God wasn’t conditional. Her view of Him didn’t depend on His answering her prayer to her satisfaction. She recognized God’s sovereignty.

She didn’t understand the why.

Neither do I. And maybe, neither do you.

In times of pain and confusion, it’s better to ask “what?” than “why?”. The “why?” we may never understand. Yet God will always answer the “what?” questions.

“God, what would you have me learn from this experience?” 

“God, what are you trying to teach me through my pain?”

“God, what qualities are you trying to grow in me?”

God can. And He may. Or He may not.

Whether He does or does not, His love for you is unconditional and His commitment to you unwavering.

Because sometimes we have to stop trying to figure it out and just trust God.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” – Proverbs 3:5-6


Todd A. Thompson – One Eye Out

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Keith WIlks

    A touching story and very applicable as well for those of us that have asked the “why” question only to find that our heavenly father will not answer us and if he did answer we still might not understand. God is still a loving father and the better question to ask Him would be as stated “what is it that I need to learn from this”……..Great life lesson reminder.

    1. Todd Thompson

      Thanks for the kind words, Keith. You are so right. Even if God answered we may not understand. I’m learning, slowly and imperfectly, to rest in the fact He is working all things together for good. Thanks for taking time to read! Blessings to you and yours – tat

  2. Betty Holty

    Thank you for making me think this morning–it does seem that “what should I learn from this” is a better question. Ps. 103 is a go to place! I heard a speaker tell of praying for his son’s healing as he drove home expecting to find the child well. When he got home he learned that the child had died. He was angry and asked God why he hadn’t healed him finally realizing taking him to heaven was another way of healing him.

    1. Todd Thompson

      Thanks, Betty, for your words here and for taking time to read. Psalm 103 is so rich, isn’t it? That God has compassion on us and doesn’t repay us as our sins deserve. Mercy abounds. Blessings to you! – tat

  3. Doug Gould

    Great message Todd. God allows a lot of things into our lives that we don’t understand. This last summer after an incredible yet difficult mission trip where I saw God work greatly just to get our team there, I found myself asking God why when some of the people we worked with faced some incredible things after we left. God reminded me of song that one of my team-mates and I heard as we road to the airport with a couple who had opened their home to us when we got stuck in Chicago because there was a coup taking place at our next destination. Lauren Daigle put it quite well in her song “Trust in You”:
    When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move
    When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through
    When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You
    I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!

    I wish I could say I live this way everyday but I believe God is helping me to live this way more each day. Thanks Todd.

    1. Todd Thompson

      Thanks, Doug, for your words here. While I have my own trials and they are significant to me and God takes them seriously, they still pale in light of what so many in the world struggle with. I wrestle with that, too. How was I born in America instead of Afghanistan? Yet God’s sovereignty is over both places. We must continue to trust and do the best we can where He places us. I’m thinking/writing a lot about that right now. Blessings to you! – tat

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