The Test of Wondering Why

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Amy Carmichael

Recently, a friend’s letter arrived that reminded me of
the importance of resting our hearts on what we know to be true about
God, especially when faced with circumstances that lead us to question
His will.

He wrote: “As a family, God has been speaking to us
recently through the death of my youngest sister, Freda, on August 31.
We have no details yet. She sailed on September 18 of last year… after
10 years’ patient waiting for the way to open.

“Many of our friends in their letters of sympathy speak
of God’s mysterious ways, and I know there is an element of mystery.
But I shrink from the suggestion that our Father has done anything
which needs to be explained. What He has done is the best, because He
has done it, and I pray that as a family we may not cast about for
explanations of the mystery, but exult in the Holy Spirit, and say, ’I
thank Thee, Father….Even so, Father.’ It suggests a lack of
confidence in Him if we find it necessary to try to understand all He

“Will it not bring Him greater joy to tell Him that we
need no explanation because we know Him? But I doubt not there will be
a fulfillment of John 12:24.” —Rev. Frank Houghton (China Inland

We Need No Explanation
Our hearts rejoice in that word for so great a matter. It
is, indeed, the only perfect word. But perhaps sometimes in an
incomparably lesser trial, the tempter has disturbed us, persuading us
to look for an explanation. We find ourselves saying, “I wonder why.”
Faith never wonders why.

Among our several hundred of all ages in the Dohnavur
Fellowship family, who are being taught in the ways of prayer, there
were many for whom this lesson was set when the answer to their prayers
was turned to the contrary, just as they thought they had safely
received it. For on a certain evening there was a special prayer for
the healing touch for me. That night the pain was lulled, and natural
sleep was given.

The blissfulness of the awakening next morning is still
vivid and shining. I lay for a few minutes almost wondering if I were
still on Earth. No night has been like that since. No sleep like that
has come nor any such easeful wakening.

I knew something that morning of what it will be when He “shall look us out of pain.”

All the dear household rejoiced. Down to the tiniest
child who could understand there was gladness and thanksgiving. Had
they not asked for healing by the touch of God? Was this not that? So
they accepted it with a reverent and lovely joy.

But my nurse was careful in her joy, and nothing was
done, no carelessness occurred that could account for what followed.
The pain returned and increased. The nights were as they had been. And
some did, I know, find it very confusing and very disappointing. For
was there not prayer? Indeed there was.

The loving care of those who led the prayer of our
fellowship had divided the day into watches; there was never an
unprayed-for hour. But the bars closed down once more. Was it strange
that to some, who have not known Him long, there was the trial of
wondering Why?

Trust His Heart
“I am learning never to be disappointed, but to praise,”
missionary Frederick Arnot of Central Africa wrote in his journal long
ago. It was the word of peace to us then.

I think it must hurt the tender love of our Father when
we press for reasons for His dealings with us, as though He were not
love, as though not He but another chose our inheritance for us, and as
though what He chose to allow could be less than the very best and
dearest that Love Eternal had to give.

But on a day of more than a little trial, in His great
compassion I was allowed to see—for as the ear is unsealed at times, so
are the eyes opened—and I knew that the enemy had asked to be allowed
to recover his power to oppress, and that leave had been granted to
him, but within limits.

I was not shown what those limits were. I saw only the
mercy that embraces us on every side. Was that moment of insight merely
a pale reflection of an ancient familiar story? So some will understand

But the comfort that comes through such a moment never
stays to argue about itself. It sinks deep into the heart and gives it

Thereafter, not seeing, not hearing, not feeling, we walk
by faith, finding our comfort not in the things seen or heard in that
illuminated moment (though, indeed, that which was seen or heard does,
with a sweetness peculiar to itself, continue to console), but in the
Scriptures of truth: “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded
that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against
that day….And we know that all things work together for good to them
that love God” (2 Tim. 1:12; Rom. 8:28, KJV).

With Him who assures us of this there is no variableness,
neither shadow that is cast by turning. His word stands true. In that
truth we abide satisfied.

And so I have come to this: our Lord is sovereign. He may
heal, as He will, by an invisible touch or by blessing the means (His
gifts) that are used.

He may “save the exhausted one,” as Rotherham renders James 5:15 (The Emphasized Bible, Kregel),
or sustain with words him that is weary, as He did St. Paul, and use
those words for the succor of others (see 2 Cor. 12:9).

The Secrets of the Lord
“But you are not St. Paul.” I remember reading that in a
book on healing, just after I had been given peace in acceptance of a
certain “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12: 7). I had prayed more than
three times that it might depart from me, but it had not departed.

“You are not St. Paul.” It was true, of course, but it seemed too facile to be a true answer to this riddle of the universe.

And now, the more I study life as well as books, the more
sure I am that there is a darkness folded round that riddle into whose
heart of light we are not meant to see. Perhaps that light would be too
bright for our eyes now.

I have known lovers of our Lord who in their spiritual
youth were sure beyond a doubt that healing would always follow the
prayer of faith and the anointing of oil in the name of the Lord. But
those same dear lovers, in their beautiful maturity, passed through
illness, unrelieved by any healing.

When I looked in wonder, remembering all that they had
held and taught in other years, I found them utterly at rest. The
secret of their Lord was with them. He had said to them, their own
beloved Lord had said it, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let
it be afraid” (John 14: 27). So their hearts were not troubled or
afraid, and their song was always of the lovingkindness of the Lord.
“As for God, His way is perfect” (Ps. 18:30), they said. “We need no

Today with this thought in mind I read the “Song of the
Redeemed,” the ninth song of St. John, heard after a door was opened in
heaven: “Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just
and true are thy ways, thou King of saints” (Rev. 15:3).

Some of us cannot enter fully into even earthly music
until it has become familiar. Perhaps our various experiences here are
means by which we may learn the heavenly melody to which such words are
set, so that when we hear the harpers harping on the harps of God we
shall catch the thread of that melody, and follow it through its
harmonies, moving among them with confidence and gladness, as on
familiar ground.

“As for God, His way is perfect.” That is the substance of the words. And if His way be perfect, we need no explanation.

Amy Beatrice Carmichael (1867-1951) was a missionary
and a prolific author of poetry and prose. She was born in Millisle,
Northern Ireland, to Presbyterian parents, and from her youth was
sensitive to the message of the gospel and the fate of those who did
not know Christ. In 1931, Amy suffered disabling injuries in a fall and
never fully recovered. The final two decades of her life were spent
confined to her quarters. From her bed, she frequently wrote letters to her
friends and staff. One collection of writings provided the content for
her best-known book,
Rose From Brier (Christian Literature Crusade), from which this article is adapted, copyright 1995. Used by permission.

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