Sam has a nice post in response to someone who asked her why God would give us two autistic children. I should first note that we have no idea why Isaiah is just beginning to talk as he approaches age three. Most of what we understand is largely repetitive but indistinctly enunciated. Most of it sounds like gibberish, but he might be saying things, and he might not be just repeating things but simply can't say them in a way we can understand. It may just be that the ones that sound like repetition are the only ones we can understand because they occur in a context when we've just heard the thing he's repeating. It might be autism-related, and given Ethan's diagnosis of autism it's more likely that than any one other explanation, but we have no idea. He might just be delayed in speaking with problems enunciating. He doesn't have any other indications of autism besides some signs that there might be sensory issues, and those may explain the delay in speech on their own.
She asks a few questions that people don't tend to think about, and I want to reiterate some of them but also introduce some elements that seem to me to make it a much more complicated issue. We tend to wonder why people might have bad things happen to them, but we don't wonder why good things happen. When this comes from a sense of deserving the good things, it explains why people do one and not the other. Sam says:
How often do you hear someone speculate about why God allowed them to wake up in the morning? Or why God gave them a roof over their head? Or provided them with good health and daily sustenance? Just about never. Why? Because we consider these things to be our due. If we were a little less self centered I think we'd realise that we don't deserve any of the good in our lives.
She goes on to point out that it's radical patience on God's part to spare us at all and allow things to go on long enough for people to repent and for more people to come into existence who will repent.
This is certainly what a Christian should say. When we wonder why bad things happen to us as if we deserve better, we're not thinking in light of the Christian gospel. Deservingness is often not the reason why bad things happen. In John 9, Jesus healed a man who had been born blind. People were speculating about whether his blindness was because of his sin or his parents' sin, and Jesus flat-out told them that it was because of neither. It was so that God would be glorified. Now sin ultimately is responsible for all the bad in the world, but it's sin as a condition, fallenness as a state of the universe, not necessarily individual sins. Individuals sins can cause further bad, but Jesus is saying that they're not necessarily the reason why anything bad happens.
Jesus' response in John 9 raises another question, however. He says that the purpose of that man's blindness was to glorify God. Paul says in Romans 8 that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. I think it's going too far to say that it's wrong to wonder how particular events in our lives might fit into that (not that she's saying that it's wrong; she just doesn't see the point). It's wrong to pretend we know such purposes when we don't. It's also wrong to think we deserve an expanation, as Job spent almost forty chapters before he learned (and ultimately never got his explanation). That doesn't mean there isn't one, and we can wonder what it might be. I suspect the person who said this to Sam meant that and not how Sam interpreted it (because I think I know who it was, and I know how that person means such statements).
I've seen various responses when someone loses a loved one. Some people lose confidence in God's goodness or power. I know more than one person that that's happened to. Some people wrestle with the philosophical issues involved with the problem of evil to assure themselves that God must be still in control. Some people are so absorbed with their loss that they don't think about God.
When my closest brother (17 months younger) died at age 21, none of those things happened. Wink told me at the time that he wasn't surprised. He knew I wouldn't doubt God's goodness or power, and he knew I wouldn't be wrestling with the philosophical questions. He knew that I wouldn't assume that it had anything to do with his, my, or anyone else's unrighteousness. I still wondered why, though. I wasn't wondering how it was possible for God to allow things like that in general. I wasn't wondering whether God was really in control. I was wondering how this particular event might fit into God's purposes. It didn't take me very long to get some clear answers to that, some within a couple weeks and some within the next year, and I've speculated about possible others that I could never hope to be sure of in this life. I'm sure there are some more fundamental ones that I don't even know about. What would be wrong would be to assume that my speculations are more than that. That doesn't make the suggestion of possibilities wrong, particularly when I'm trying to imagine the wonder of God's plan based on the glimpses of it that I've gotten.
Now if you mean the question that way, I don't see why it's inappropriate at all to wonder why God would give someone two children with serious developmental delays. Sam almost gets to this when she says "except to make myself feel better about what is most definitely a stressful situation". Why would it make her feel better? Because it would show that there's a higher purpose to this, and all our difficulties, which she feels more of the brunt of, will be in the end serving some ultimate purpose that God has in store.
That's what I like to know about why certain things happen. I trust that there is such a purpose, but I wonder what it is. Sometimes knowing what it is would make us feel better, or so we think. Paul knew why he had the thorn in the flesh in II Corinthians 12. It was to make him humble. Of course, he didn't know the more long-range purpose, that we would learn of his thorn in the flesh even today, something that probably wouldn't have made him more humble. He knew full well that God had blessed him with an amazing responsibility, but he had no idea the impact his writings would have on the course of the world over the next 2000 years.
We'd certainly feel good if the sufferings we're enduring right now will have an impact in ways that would make us prideful. Prideful thoughts do feel good. That doesn't mean God wants us to have them, and I think that explains part of why we don't have these answers all the time. What he wants us to learn through the difficulties might not come as easily or at all if we had all the answers.
So I think asking this kind of question is perfectly fine and can sometimes serve to aid us in pondering anew God's glorious plan in history and in our lives, but I don't think we should expect answers, as if we deserve them. It's always worth asking ourselves why we're asking, also, because it may not be the motivation I've been explaining as ok and may well be the one Sam says we often have.
I want to conclude with a further thought. I wonder if sometimes terrible events should lead us to ask this kind of question, as a matter of the proper moral response. It's not just that it might be ok to ask why. We might have an obligation to wonder why, at least with certain kinds of terrible events. I wonder if people missed the message God sent on 9-11 if they didn't use that as an occasion to reflect on the sin of our country and the possible reasons God might be judging this nation. My thoughts were constantly driven in that direction on that day and in the weeks that followed. Events like that are portrayed throughout the Bible as judgments on nations, and we shouldn't have gathered together prouder than ever, vowing to continue our idolatry in building even higher towers. We should have repented of our national sins and sought God without a mind toward justice but with a mind toward our own moral condition.
Is this also true on the personal level? I have to wonder. If something happens that I don't like, I should be engaging in self-evaluation (see Abednego's post). Maybe I wanted something for the wrong reasons and didn't get it. Maybe I wanted something that would be bad for me. Maybe God has something for me that I'm not ready for, and I need to wait. We can't think through these possibilities unless we examine ourselves to see if there is something that isn't right with God.
That doesn't mean bad things are happening because of sin in our lives, but shouldn't times of difficulty be times of reflection anyway? God's purpose for Joseph's captivity may have had nothing to do with his own sin, but it may have been to make sure he was fully humbled from what seems to be a proud attitude over his brothers so that when he was ultimately given great authority he would use it wisely. So what I want to say is that difficult things that happen can often be occasions for self-evaluation, even if we shouldn't be interpreting what happens in terms of what we deserve.