My God, Why?
April 16th, 1976 @ 12:00 PM
MY GOD, WHY?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-16-76 12:00 p.m.
Remember this is for some of you a busy lunch hour, and any minute, any moment that you must leave, you feel free to do so. All of us understand, and you will not bother me at all. Just stay as long as you can, and God reward you for coming.
The theme of the messages this pre-Easter week has been “The Christ of the Cross”: on Monday, The Shadow of the Cross; on Tuesday, The Witnesses Against Him; on Wednesday, Can Christ Make Good His Claims? Is He what He said He was? Can He do what He promised to do? Yesterday, What Shall I Do with Jesus which is Called Christ? And today, the day He was crucified, the cry from the cross, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” That is Aramaic: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Sometime, somewhere that agonizing cry will be forced from all of our lips; there will be no one of us who escapes. My God, Why? There comes a time when it seems that God literally forsakes His own.
Last week I was preaching for our Southern Baptist Association in Southern California, in San Diego. At the end of one of the services, a very large, blondish man who was terribly crippled—the crutches that he carried to sustain himself were unusually made so that by arm and hand he could bear himself up—he moved my heart in a request for prayer. And when I was with our executive leader of Southern California, I asked him, “Who is that man who so moved my heart, as in tears he asked me to call his name in prayer?”
And the executive leader said, “This is one of our pastors. He was a Navy man, a career Navy man; was marvelously saved, and when he retired from the Navy, having given his life to be a preacher, he was called as pastor of one of our churches in San Diego. Driving down the street of the city, a big dog ran in front of him, and swerving to miss the animal, he ran into a heavy object and destroyed his right hip, and he has a built-up hip on his right side.”
Then he said, “Driving down the streets of San Diego after that, a man ran a red light—a drunk—and hit him broadside and destroyed his left hip. And they had to rebuild also the left hip.” He said, “The man lives in great pain, and can hardly arise in the morning, and does not do so until, struggling, he reaches the middle of the day.” Then he said, “The reason for his appeal to you in prayer, he has just been to Texas to visit his twenty-seven-year-old son. And driving back from Texas, home to San Diego, he was stopped by a patrolman in Arizona, who said to him, ‘We have been asked to stop the car to tell you the sad news that your twenty-seven-year-old son has just died’—with no warning, no illness, suddenly died.”
And the executive said to me, “That’s why that godly man in tears said, ‘Pray for me.’” Had he been a vile man, had he been a terrorist, had he been evil, had he been an underworld character, had he been a mafia murderer, I might understand the depths of the tragedies that had overtaken him. But that man, God’s man, a converted man, a Christian man, one who had given his life to the ministry and pastoring one of our churches in San Diego, why? My God, why?
What comes out of sorrow and suffering? Tragedy, if it breaks your spirit and breaks your faith. Life becomes a burden inexplicable for you, without meaning or purpose; just sadness and sorrow and tears, and finally, we become a burden to those who are all around us. What comes out of sorrow and sadness? Tragedy, if it breaks your spirit and destroys your faith.
What comes out of sadness and sorrow? Tragedy, if it embitters your heart; if it makes you calloused; if it sows the seeds of reaction and contempt and disdain for all of the providences of life; if you leave in bitterness and recrimination.
The night has a thousand eyes,
And the day but one;
And yet the light of a whole world dies
With the setting sun.
The mind has a thousand eyes,
And the heart but one;
Yet the light of a whole world dies
When love is done.
[“The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” Francis William Bourdillon]
What comes out of sorrow and sadness? Tragedy, if it breaks your spirit and if it embitters your heart.
But what comes out of sadness and sorrow, out of pain and suffering? Life itself. When I think of the word “travail,” I think of birth. I think of a woman in labor and in pain, struggling to give life to a child that is being born. The Scriptures will refer to the travail of a woman, who in pain and in tears is giving birth to a child [Genesis 3:16], and then immediately rejoices that she has brought forth one into the world, a new life, a new baby [John 16:21]. There is no life without that travail and that pain. Out of the suffering and the labor comes life itself.
What comes out of sorrow and suffering? The blessings of life that enrich us in inheritance forever. It is a blind Milton who will write of the kingdoms of light and of darkness, of heaven and of hell, things no mortal eye could ever see, things that he saw with the eyes of a soul; a blind Milton writing Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. It will be a deaf Beethoven who will hear the music of angels and write out songs, and melodies, and sonatas, and symphonies that are the joy of the world.
It is an incarcerated and imprisoned John Bunyan who will take with Christian Pilgrim the journey to the celestial and holy city. It will be a grief-stricken and sorrowing Tennyson who will write In Memoriam A.H.H., “Thou strong Son of God, immortal love.” It is the blood and sacrifice of the patriots who have bequeathed to us the liberties and the freedoms we enjoy in America. It is around the graves of our missionaries that our little churches of witness and salvation are born. Out of suffering and sorrow come the blessings that we inherit in our lives.
What comes out of sorrow and suffering? The understandings and the sympathies that make us kind to one another. Many a man hardened has been softened by sorrow that he has felt when he sees it in somebody else. The last year of my college work in Baylor saw the suffering and finally the death of Samuel Palmer Brooks, our president. And at graduation time, Governor Pat Neff, who was the chairman of the Board of Trustees of Baylor University, delivered the memorial address. He entitled it “Brooks Takes the Long Look.” For the president often used that phrase, “We ought to take the long look.” And in that memorial address, “Brooks Takes the Long Look,” he had taken from the desk of the president his favorite poem; and he read it in that memorial address. I had heard President Brooks read it several times. It is of this; the sympathies that are borne to us on wings of sorrow and sadness. The poem is this:
I lay at ease in my little boat,
Fast moored to the shore of the pond
And looked up through the trees that swayed in the breeze
At God’s own sky beyond.
And I thought of the want and the sin in the world,
And the pain and the grief they bring,
And I marveled at God for spreading abroad
Such sorrow and suffering.
Evening came creeping over the earth,
And the sky grew dim and gray
And faded from sight; and I grumbled at Night
For stealing my sky away.
Then out of the dark just a speck of a face
Peeked forth from its window bars;
And I rejoiced to see it smile at me:
I had not thought of the stars!
There are millions of loving thoughts and deeds
All ripe for awakening,
That never would start from the world’s cold heart
But for sorrow and suffering
Yes, the blackening night is somber and cold,
And the day is warm and fine;
And yet if the day never faded away
The stars would never shine!
[“The Stars,” Robert Beverly Hale]
Out of the sorrows and tears that we experience in our lives come those sympathies and kindnesses that make us gentle and tender and understanding with one another.
What comes out of sorrow and suffering? The heavenly upwardness of life; a longing, a hoping for the new and heavenly home. I have often thought––and it is not without cause that I think it––were it not for sickness, and sorrow, and age, and death, men would absolutely forget God. They would leave Him out of their lives. If they could be strong and well, and achieve, and gain those goals toward which they set themselves, if they could do it and never be sick, and never be hurt, and never sorrow and suffer, and never grow old, and never die, they would literally leave God out. They would forget Him completely. But sickness, and sadness, and suffering, and age, and death bow us in the presence of the great Lord and Savior, and we seek His face and His hand in our hour of deepest and greatest need [2 Corinthians 12:7-10].
Did you ever notice, in reading the descriptions of the beautiful and heavenly home, how so many of those descriptions are in negative terms? It is described as a place where there are no more tears, and there is no more pain, and there is no more sorrow, and there is no more separation, and there is no more death [Revelation 21:4]. But what would that mean, “there are no more tears,” to a man who had never cried, who had never bowed with a broken heart?
It’s a place where there is no more sorrow. But what would that mean to somebody who had never found in his life an inexplicable answer for some of the tragedies that overwhelm us? It is described as a place where there’s no more pain. But what would that mean to someone who had never suffered? It is described as a place where there’s no more separation. But what would that mean to someone who had never bid goodbye to someone you love like life itself? And it’s described as a place where there’s no more death. But what would that mean to someone who had never stood by the side of an open grave and saw someone dear as life lowered into the heart of the earth, or faced inevitable death himself?
In reading Spurgeon––as many of you know, I read him much––in reading Spurgeon, in one of his sermons he described of himself one of the most amazing attitudes that I ever read in Christian literature, and it’s the only place I have ever read it. All of the men I had ever heard, and all the men I had ever followed in reading had looked forward to the rapture, to the coming of the Lord. Oh, what an incomparable joy and ecstasy if He were to come in my day and in my time!
No more sickness, no more sadness,
No more sorrow, no dread, and no crying,
Caught up through the clouds with the Lord into glory,
When Jesus comes for His own.
[from “Christ Returneth,” H. L. Turner]
Oh, if we could just live to the day of the coming of our Lord! [1 Thessalonians 4:15-17].
I had never heard, nor had I ever read, any sentiment but that. Spurgeon said, “If I had my choice between living to the day when the Lord comes, and dying to be raised from the dead,” Spurgeon said, “I had rather die.” Then in the message he explained the choice. He said, “My Lord died. And He experienced the resurrection from among the dead.” And Spurgeon said, “If I had my choice, I would like to die as my Lord died, and be buried as my Lord was buried. And if I had my choice, I would like to experience the power of His resurrection” [CH Spurgeon, sermon 1518, metropolitan Tabernacle].
Dear me. From that day until this, I have had a new attitude toward death. No longer is it quite the defeat that I thought it was, or quite the sorrow I supposed it to be, or quite the dread by which I looked upon that pale visage. But death has come to be, to me, now a marvelous experience. He died [Matthew 27:50]. He was buried [Matthew 27:59-60]. And He knew what it was to be raised from the grave [Matthew 28:5-7]. Unless He comes, the blessing of that resurrection we also shall share; out of that sorrow and sadness and death, our new life eternal in Him [John 10:27-28].
I must hastily close. What came out of sorrow and suffering? Our salvation! He died in agony on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50]. And had there been no cross and no crown of thorns [Matthew 27:29], had there been no sobs and tears, and had there been no blood of the new covenant [Matthew 26:27-28], there had been no forgiveness of sins [Hebrews 9:22]. Out of suffering, our salvation [Isaiah 53:5; John 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 3:15]; out of His death, our life [1 Thessalonians 5:10]; out of the cross, the crown [Philippians 2:8-10]; our atonement [Romans 5:11] is in that day of the cross.
Isn’t that our song?
At the cross, at the cross,
Where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I first saw the light,
And now I am happy all the day
[“Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed,” Isaac Watts]
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away
He taught me how to watch and pray,
And live rejoicing every day
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away
[“O Happy Day,” Philip Doddridge]
So, Lord, receiving from Thy nail-pierced hands our hope of heaven, we love Thee for dying for us [1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 10:5-14]. Bless Thee, Lord, to our souls, to the praise of our lips, to the hope we have in heaven forever [John 10:27-28]. Amen.
A. Sooner or later,
every one of us, in agony of spirit, will ask “Why?”
B. San Diego pastor
whose life was filled with tragedy
II. What comes out of sorrow, suffering?
A. Tragedy, if it
breaks your spirit or your faith
B. Tragedy, if it
embitters your heart, makes you calloused
1. Poem, “The
Night Has a Thousand Eyes”
III. What comes out of sorrow and
A. Life itself
1. The travail of
B. Life’s richest blessings
1. Blind Milton
2. Deaf Beethoven
Alfred Lord Tennyson
5. The sacrifice
of the patriots
6. The graves of
1. Poem, “The
D. Our heavenly hope(Revelation 21:4)
1. Spurgeon on
death and resurrection
E. Our salvation