Why did God do or not do something? How could he allow this or that to happen?
We ask these questions all the time. For some, these are questions of cynicism, their disbelief put into a question form. For others, they are honest inquiries into the reason for something happening or not happening.
Every one of us has asked “why,” only to get answer we didn’t want or no answer at all. What do we do in those times?
As I started to read in Jeremiah, I ended up reading a long section. I wanted to know the larger context of that day’s verse, so I read quite a bit. As I read, God taught me a lesson about when we ask him “why.”
Here’s the passage:
16 “After I had given the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah, I prayed to the Lord, saying: 17 ‘Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. 18 You show steadfast love to thousands, but you repay the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord of hosts,19 great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man, rewarding each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds. 20 You have shown signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and to this day in Israel and among all mankind, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day. 21 You brought your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders, with a strong hand and outstretched arm, and with great terror. 22 And you gave them this land, which you swore to their fathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey. 23 And they entered and took possession of it. But they did not obey your voice or walk in your law. They did nothing of all you commanded them to do. Therefore you have made all this disaster come upon them. 24 Behold, the siege mounds have come up to the city to take it, and because of sword and famine and pestilence the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans who are fighting against it. What you spoke has come to pass, and behold, you see it. 25 Yet you, O Lord God, have said to me, “Buy the field for money and get witnesses”—though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.’”
26 The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 27 “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me? 28 Therefore, thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hands of the Chaldeans and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall capture it. 29 The Chaldeans who are fighting against this city shall come and set this city on fire and burn it, with the houses on whose roofs offerings have been made to Baal and drink offerings have been poured out to other gods, to provoke me to anger. 30 For the children of Israel and the children of Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth. The children of Israel have done nothing but provoke me to anger by the work of their hands, declares the Lord. 31 This city has aroused my anger and wrath, from the day it was built to this day, so that I will remove it from my sight 32 because of all the evil of the children of Israel and the children of Judah that they did to provoke me to anger—their kings and their officials, their priests and their prophets, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 33 They have turned to me their back and not their face. And though I have taught them persistently, they have not listened to receive instruction. 34 They set up their abominations in the house that is called by my name, to defile it.35 They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.
36 “Now therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, ‘It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine, and by pestilence’: 37 Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. 38 And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. 40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. 41 I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.
42 “For thus says the Lord: Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them. 43 Fields shall be bought in this land of which you are saying, ‘It is a desolation, without man or beast; it is given into the hand of the Chaldeans.’ 44 Fields shall be bought for money, and deeds shall be signed and sealed and witnessed, in the land of Benjamin, in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, in the cities of the hill country, in the cities of the Shephelah, and in the cities of the Negeb; for I will restore their fortunes, declares the Lord.”
– Jeremiah 32:16-44 (ESV)
In this passage, there are two things to notice: God’s non-answer and God’s answer.
Jeremiah Asked “Why,” but God Didn’t Give a Reason
God told Jeremiah that the land was about to be conquered by Babylon as judgment for the people’s sin. Nevertheless, God wanted Jeremiah to purchase some of that land.
Think about that: God told Jeremiah to purchase land that was about to be taken over by Babylon. Why would God do that?
That was Jeremiah’s question. Why did God want him to buy land he wasn’t going to be able to keep?
However, if you look at how God responded, he never shared the reasoning with Jeremiah. The conversation went, pretty much, like this:
God: Jeremiah, buy some land, but know it’s about to be conquered
Jeremiah: Okay, but why?
God: It’s going to be conquered, so buy some of it.
Jeremiah: Will do
Sometimes when things happen or don’t happen, when God acts in ways that don’t make sense to us, we often ask him “why.” However, God reminded me in this passage that sometimes he doesn’t tell us. More than that, he doesn’t have to tell us. He’s God. He knows the reasons and what’s going on even if we don’t.
However, there’s more to it than just, “I don’t have to tell you.”
Jeremiah Asked “Why,” and God Told Him to Have Faith
Although God didn’t directly answer Jeremiah’s befuddlement, he did not remain silent. Instead, he told Jeremiah that the nation would be judged and later restored. What that had to do with Jeremiah purchasing land is a matter of speculation and interpretation because God didn’t directly say. Rather, his declarations reminded Jeremiah that God does have a plan and purposes, so Jeremiah should have faith.
God’s answer to Jeremiah was, essentially: “Trust me, I got this!”
Jeremiah purchased the land and had faith that God had a reason for the purchase. It may not have made sense to the prophet, but he trusted that it made perfect sense to God.
That’s what God was showing me: trust him.
Bringing It Home
Life happens. Things go well, and things go bad. Good exists, and so does evil. We don’t always know why things happen or why God does or doesn’t seem to act. However, our lack of understanding doesn’t mean there is no reason. It merely shows that we aren’t in the loop as to the reasons.
God knows what’s going on. He’s in full control, even if it doesn’t seem like it. His vision and knowledge far surpasses ours. Thus, we can and should trust God.
So, next time we ask God “why,” we should keep in mind that even if he never tells us, there is as reason. Trust that he knows, even if we don’t.