June 5, 2014
The race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all. Ecclesiastes 9:11
Perhaps you’ve read in the paper about the six climbers in Mount Rainier National Park who are missing and presumed dead.
According to the park, searchers located climbing gear and detected signals from avalanche beacons at the top of Carbon Glacier. “All indications point toward a fall of 3,300 feet from near the party’s last known location at 12,800 feet on Liberty Ridge,” says a news release. “There is no viable chance of survival from such a fall.”
Apparently it’s too dangerous to send rescue/retrieval teams there because of the risk from further falling rock and ice. Perhaps at a later time, officials say, as snow melts and conditions improve. Still, given the route’s difficulty, recovery of the bodies may not ever be possible.
You might be tempted to think that these were inexperienced hikers, but that’s not the case. The Seattle Times reports they all were frequent and skilled climbers, and one guide had summited Mount Rainier more than 50 times. A spokesman from the Seattle company that organized the climb speculated that it was a sudden incident, rather than a storm, that caught them unaware, perhaps while they were sleeping. As quoted in the New York Times, he said, “We’re all guessing at the why of this.”
Isn’t that what we wonder every time we hear of someone else’s tragedies or face our own?
Life’s whys are the most perplexing questions, without a doubt. And the biggest has to be this: why do we suffer, especially through no fault of our own? For those who believe in God, there’s an additional twist of the knife: If God is a God of love and mercy, why would He let this happen?
If you’re looking for an answer from me, you can stop reading right now, because I don’t have one. As hard as it sometimes is for me to admit, I will never find a fully satisfying answer to my whys. Job came to the same conclusion in his Old Testament book, after God basically said to him, who are you to critique Me (Job 38:1-4 to the end of the book). Job ultimately realized he was blowing smoke about things he couldn’t possibly begin to understand (42:3).
Even Solomon, to whom God gave wisdom like nobody else has ever and will ever have (1 Kings 3:12), puzzled over the whys. Life, he came to realize, can be seemingly aimless (Ecclesiastes 1:4), paradoxical (Ecclesiastes 4:1, 7:15, 8:8) and futile, but it is to be enjoyed as a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-19; 8:15, 9:7-9). He concluded we need to stop wasting time trying to figure everything out, and instead cling to what we do know: God alone has the ability and the will to work things out (Ecclesiastes 3:16-17, 12:13-14).
The sad story of the Mount Rainier climbers is a strong illustration of this solidly Biblical principle: life and death are unpredictable, and our talents and abilities often have little if any affect on either. But rather than succumb to cynicism or depressed resignation, looking to other temporary, random things to prop us up, our only sane recourse is to choose to turn to the One who holds the world together (Colossians 1:17) and never changes (Hebrews 13:8). Our plans may be thwarted, but His never are (Job 42:2)—and they are always for good (Romans 8:28).
Here’s how Charles Ryrie puts it in his commentary on Job: “If we know God, we do not need to know why He allows us to experience what we do. He is not only in control of the universe and all its facets but also of our lives, and He loves us. Though His ways are sometimes beyond our comprehension, we should not criticize Him for His dealing with us or with others. God is always in control of all things, even when He appears not to be.”
Granted, that takes a heap o’ trust. Oh, for grace to trust Him more!