“I hate it when people tell me everything happens for a reason,” the 18-year-old missionary stated. Defiant tears were in her eyes. “Do people really think God ordains evil? Do they believe he wants these things to happen? Do they not understand that we have choice—choice!”?

Her hurt and anger are palpable. The ancient debate resurfaces in the hearts of the wounded young every generation. All of our souls echo its cry, and no one really knows or understands, though we try so hard to explain the unexplainable. Why does God allow evil?

Who has known the mind of the Lord? Even the puzzled apostle Paul ponders (1 Corinthians 2:16). Yet, right before that Paul also proclaims there are things no eye has seen, ear heard, or mind imagined that God has prepared for those who love him (1 Corinthians 2:9).  

How do I comfort this high school graduate who is about to embark on a nine-month missionary journey around the world? She is a justice warrior, and she is right about the heart of God; he hates injustice and its resulting suffering. Yet, injustice and suffering abound. This year she will see orphans living in garbage dumps, sexually trafficked pre-teens, children enduring physical impairments that are easily cured in the United States, and generations of people ravaged by AIDS.

Oh, sweet, young daughter of the Almighty, choice is not the simple answer. Not every evil happens because of choice, at least not personal choice.

When we think choice is the simple answer, we can be consumed with false guilt. I faced this when I had cancer. What had I done to end up with this devastating diagnosis? Was it my fault?

My doctors reassured me: We don’t always get sick because we smoked cigarettes, didn’t eat enough broccoli, were sleep deprived, or skipped exercise. Sometimes, the devastation just finds us.

Yet, my young friend is not completely wrong. Choice is part of the answer because we live in a fallen world, and there was this choice—once—and with every one of us at some point—to walk away from God and his beauty and goodness. And yet, he calls us back. He searches for the one lost sheep. He calls to us over and over. He loves us so much that he died on a cross so that we could be with him.

Lamentations 3 echoes in my soul. I clung to this passage when I was diagnosed with cancer when my daughters were young and I was so afraid of leaving them motherless. I cling to it still. The lamenter of this passage puts words to the anguish of my confused cries and sheds light on God’s heart.

I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet, I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”

The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord. And it is good for people to submit at an early age to the yoke of his discipline.

Let them sit alone in silence beneath the Lord’s demands. Let them lie face down in the dust, for there may be hope at last. Let them turn the other cheek to those who strike them and accept the insults of their enemies.

For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love. For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow.

Do I tell this justice seeker how the despair that came from a cancer diagnosis thrust me into the arms of my Savior? Do I mention how battling terror with the sword of the Spirit made me courageous? Do I offer the pearls of wisdom and truth that were the buried treasures found in devastation—God works good and glory out of the worst possible nightmares? Will this just make her angry as she searches for simple answers?

I know I can never be eloquent enough to explain fully how cancer caused me to stare death right in the face, and in those months, fear was banished to its cowering corner because the light of Christ was brilliant and beautiful and it shone with eternal light. I saw the promises of heaven.

Do I try to explain how chemotherapy caused me to abide deeply with my God, or how it thrust my frightened soul on the only one who is truly trustworthy? I could speak of those moments of joy in sorrow and the ever-present help of a Savior, who rocked my soul in its darkest hours. But the words would not be beautiful enough—they would be shadows of the real.

Should I explain how “living in the moment” became a lifeline of peace and joy that kept me from worrying about the future? Each day certainly has enough trouble of its own. I wanted to make the most of every opportunity because life was like the mist that hung over the river in the early dawn and disappeared quickly as the sun rose. Moments became gifts. Time with my daughters was more precious than gemstones. I saw the Creator’s attention to detail everywhere—in the shadow patterns of the leaves, the playful teasing of the squirrels, and how the dew clung to the lips of the roses with sweet morning kisses. If he cared about these intricacies, I knew he cared about me.

Those cancer days schooled me in gratitude. Oh, how grateful I was for the love of family and friends. I wanted to eek every moment of joy out of every day. People mistook the rosy pink in my face, a reaction caused by the chemo drug Adriamycin, for happiness, and yet—they were not wrong. I discovered that thankfulness and joy are intertwined. When our hearts overflow in thankfulness, joy abounds, and when joy abounds, our hearts overflow in thankfulness—and this I learned from cancer—though the very word itself is evil.

And years later, my daughters tell their own stories of how God met them when their mom had cancer. Those defining days rocked their world and shaped their faith.

As the Gungor sings, “God makes beautiful things out of dust.”

God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.

I will not explain all of this to my young missionary friend because it is my story, not hers. Today I will listen to her story and ask her to ponder Lamentations, and together we will seek the lover of our souls. She will experience her story this year on the mission field. This beautiful justice fighter will see with her own eyes how ruined pots are remolded in God’s hands so that their very brokenness becomes beautiful. The injustices will make her weep, and God will weep with her and hold her close. In those precious moments in his presence, she will find hope. In the end, mercy will reign, grace will be enough, and the kingdom of God will come to earth. All the tears will be wiped away. Sorrow and sadness will flee. We will be home.

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