Chuck Frye was a bright young man of 17, academically
gifted and highly motivated. After graduating near
the top of his class in high school, he went on to
college, where he continued to excel in his studies.
Upon completion of his B.S. degree, he applied for
admittance to several medical schools. The competition
for acceptance was, and is, fierce. At the time, I was a
professor at the University of Southern California
School of Medicine, where only 106 students were
admitted each year out of 6,000 applicants. That was
typical of accredited medical programs in that era.
Despite these long odds, Chuck was accepted at the
University of Arizona School of Medicine and began his
formal training in September.
During that first term, Chuck was thinking about the
call of God on his life. He began to feel that he should
forgo high-tech medicine in some lucrative setting in
favor of service on a foreign field. This eventually
became his definite plan for the future. Toward the end
of that first year of training, however, Chuck was not
feeling well. He began experiencing a strange and
persistent fatigue. He made an appointment for an
examination in May and was soon diagnosed with
acute leukemia. Chuck Frye was dead by November.
How could Chuck's heartsick parents then, and how
can we now, make sense of this incomprehensible act
of God? This young man loved Jesus Christ with all his
heart and sought only to do His will. Why was he taken
in his prime despite many agonized prayers for his
healing by godly family members and faithful friends?
The Lord clearly said no to them all. But why?
Thousands of young doctors complete their education
every year and enter the medical profession, some
for less than admirable reasons. A tiny minority plan to
spend their professional lives with the down and outers
of the world. But here was a marvelous exception. If
permitted to live, Chuck could have treated thousands
of poor and needy people who would otherwise suffer
and die in utter hopelessness. Not only could he have
ministered to their physical needs, but his ultimate
desire was to share the gospel with those who had
never heard this greatest of stories. Thus, his death
simply made no sense. Visualize with me the many
desperately ill people Dr. Chuck Frye might have
touched in his lifetime, some with cancer, some with
tuberculosis, some with congenital disorders, and some
too young to even understand their pain. Why would
Divine Providence deny them his dedicated service?
There is another dimension to the Frye story that
completes the picture. Chuck became engaged to be
married in March of that first year in medical school.
His fiancée was named Karen Ernst, and she was also
a committed believer in Jesus Christ. She learned of
Chuck's terminal illness six weeks after their engagement,
but she chose to go through with their wedding
plans. They became husband and wife in July, less than
four months before his tragic death. Karen then enrolled
in medical school at the University of Arizona,
and after graduation she became a medical missionary
in Swaziland in southern Africa. Dr. Frye served there
in a church-sponsored hospital until 1992. I'm sure she
wonders-amidst so much suffering-why her brilliant
young husband was not allowed to fulfill his mission as
her medical colleague. And, yes, I wonder too.
The great theologians of the world can contemplate
the dilemma posed by Chuck Frye's death for the next
50 years, but they are not likely to produce a satisfying
explanation. God's purpose in this young man's demise
is a mystery, and there it must remain. Why, after much
prayer, was Chuck granted admittance to medical
school if he could not live to complete his training?
From whence came the missions call to which he
responded? Why was so much talent invested in a
young man who would not be able to use it? And why
was life abbreviated in such a mature and promising
student, whereas many drug addicts, winos, and evil-doers
survive into old age as burdens on society? These
troubling questions are much easier to pose than to
answer. And there are many others.
The Lord has not yet revealed His reasons for permitting
the plane crash that took the lives of my four
friends back in 1987. They were among the finest
Christian gentlemen I have ever known. Hugo
Schoellkopf was an entrepreneur and an extremely
able member of the board of directors for Focus on the
Family. George Clark was a bank president and a giant
of a man. Dr. Trevor Mabrey was a gifted surgeon who
performed nearly half of his operations at no charge to
his patients. He was a soft touch for anyone with a
financial need. And Creath Davis was a minister and
author who was loved by thousands. They were close
friends who met regularly to study the Word and assure
mutual accountability for what they were learning. I
loved these four men. I had been with them the night
before that last flight, when their twin-engine plane
went down in the Absaroka mountain range in Wyoming.
There were no survivors. Now their precious
wives and children are left to struggle on alone. Why?
What purpose was served by their tragic loss? Why are
Hugo and Gail's two sons, who are the youngest
among the four families, deprived of the influence of
their wise and compassionate father during their formative
years? I don't know, although the Lord has given
Gail sufficient wisdom and strength to carry on alone.
At the first mention of the "awesome why," I think
also of our respected friends, Jerry and Mary White. Dr.
White is president of the Navigators, a worldwide
organization dedicated to knowing Christ and making
Him known. The Whites are wonderful people who
love the Lord and live by the dictates of Scripture. But
they have already had their share of suffering. Their
son, Steve, drove a taxi for several months while
seeking a career in broadcasting. But he would never
achieve his dream. Steve was murdered late one night
by a deranged passenger in the usually quiet city of
Colorado Springs. The killer was a known felon and
drug abuser who had a long history of criminal activity.
When he was apprehended, the police learned that he
had called for the cab with the intent of shooting
whoever arrived to pick him up. Any number of drivers
might have responded. Steve White took the call. It was
random brutality, beyond any rhyme or reason. And it
occurred within a family that had honored and served
God for years in full-time Christian service.
I'm reminded of a church in Dallas, Texas, which was
destroyed by a tornado some years ago. The twister
suddenly dropped from the boiling sky and "selected"
this one structure for demolition. Then it lifted again,
damaging almost none of the surrounding territory.
How would you interpret this "act of God" if you were
a member of that congregation? Perhaps the Lord was
displeased by something going on in the church, but I
doubt if this was His way of showing it. If that is how
God deals with disobedience, then sooner or later
every sanctuary will be in jeopardy. So how do we
explain the selective destruction of the twister? I
wouldn't try. There are simply times when things go
awry for reasons that may never be understood!
Further examples of inexplicable sorrows and difficulties
could fill the shelves of the world's largest
library, and every person on earth could contribute
illustrations of his or her own. Wars, famines, diseases,
natural disasters, and untimely deaths are never easy to
rationalize. But large-scale miseries of this nature are
sometimes less troubling to the individual than the
circumstances that confront each of us personally.
Cancer, kidney failure, heart disease, sudden infant
death syndrome, cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome,
divorce, rape, loneliness, rejection, failure, infertility,
widowhood! These and a million other sources of
human suffering produce inevitable questions that
trouble the soul. "Why would God permit this to
happen to me?" It is a question all believers-and many
pagans-have struggled to answer. And contrary to
Christian teachings in some circles, the Lord typically
does not rush in to explain what He is doing.
If you believe God is obligated to explain Himself to
us, you ought to examine the following Scriptures.
Solomon wrote in Proverbs 25:2, "It is the glory of God
to conceal a matter." Isaiah 45:15 states, "Truly you are
a God who hides himself." Deuteronomy 29:29 reads,
"The secret things belong to the Lord our God."
Ecclesiastes 11:5 proclaims, "As you do not know the
path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a
mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of
God, the Maker of all things." Isaiah 55:8-9 teaches,
"'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are
your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens
are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than
your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'"
Clearly, the Scripture tells us that we lack the capacity
to grasp God's infinite mind or the way He intervenes
in our lives. How arrogant of us to think
otherwise! Trying to analyze His omnipotence is like an
amoeba attempting to comprehend the behavior of
man. Romans 11:33 (KJV) indicates that God's judgments
are "unsearchable" and his ways "past finding
out." Similar language is found in 1 Corinthians 2:16:
"For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may
instruct him?" Clearly, unless the Lord chooses to explain
Himself to us, which often He does not, His
motivation and purposes are beyond the reach of
mortal man. What this means in practical terms is that
many of our questions-especially those that begin
with the word why-will have to remain unanswered
for the time being.
The Apostle Paul referred to the problem of unanswered
questions when he wrote, "Now we see but a
poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to
face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even
as I am fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12). Paul was
explaining that we will not have the total picture until
we meet in eternity. By implication, we must learn to
accept that partial understanding.
Unfortunately, many young believers-and some
older ones too-do not know that there will be times
in every person's life when circumstances don't add
up-when God doesn't appear to make sense. This
aspect of the Christian faith is not well advertised. We
tend to teach new Christians the portions of our theology
that are attractive to a secular mind. For example,
Campus Crusade for Christ (an evangelistic ministry I
respect highly) has distributed millions of booklets
called "The Four Spiritual Laws." The first of those
scriptural principles states, "God loves you and offers a
wonderful plan for your life." That statement is certainly
true. However, it implies that a believer will
always comprehend the "wonderful plan" and that he
will approve of it. That may not be true.
For some people, such as Joni Eareckson Tada, the
"wonderful plan" means life in a wheelchair as a
quadriplegic. For others it means early death, poverty,
or the scorn of society. For the prophet Jeremiah, it
meant being cast into a dark dungeon. For other Bible
characters it meant execution. Even in the most terrible
of circumstances, however, God's plan is wonderful
because anything in harmony with His will ultimately
"works for the good of those who love him, who have
been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).
Still, it is not difficult to understand how confusion
can develop at this point, especially for the young.
During the springtime of their years, when health is
good and the hardships, failures, and sorrows have not
yet blown through their tranquil little world, it is
relatively easy to fit the pieces in place. One can
honestly believe, with good evidence, that it will always
be so. Such a person is extremely vulnerable to
spiritual confusion if trouble strikes at that point.
Dr. Richard Selzer is a surgeon and a favorite author
of mine. He writes the most beautiful and compassionate
descriptions of his patients and the human dramas
they confront. In his book Letters to a Young Doctor, he
said that most of us seem to be protected for a time by
an imaginary membrane that shields us from horror. We
walk in and through it every day but are hardly aware
of its presence. As the immune system protects the
human body from the unseen threat of harmful bacteria,
so this mythical membrane guards us from life-threatening
situations. Not every young person has this
protection, of course, because children do die of cancer,
congenital heart problems, and other disorders. But
most of them are shielded-and don't realize it. Then,
as the years roll by, one day it happens. Without
warning, the membrane tears and horror seeps into a
person's life or into that of a loved one. It is at this
moment that an unexpected theological crisis presents
So what am I suggesting-that our heavenly Father
is uncaring or unconcerned about His vulnerable sons
and daughters, that He taunts us mere mortals as some
sort of cruel, cosmic joke? It is almost blasphemous to
write such nonsense. Every description given to us in
Scripture depicts God as infinitely loving and kind,
tenderly watching over His earthly children and guiding
the steps of the faithful. He speaks of us as "the
people of his pasture, the flock under his care" (Psalm
95:7). This great love led Him to send His only begotten
Son as a sacrifice for our sin, that we might escape the
punishment we deserve. He did this because He "so
loved" the world (John 3:16).
The Apostle Paul expressed it this way: "For I am
convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor
demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any
powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in
all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of
God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).
Isaiah conveyed this message to us directly from the
heart of the Father: "So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will
strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with
my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10). No, the problem
here is not with the love and mercy of God.
Nevertheless, the questions persist.
My chief concern at this point, and the reason I have
chosen to write this book, is for my fellow believers
who are struggling with circumstances that don't make
sense. In my work with families who are going through
various hardships, from sickness and death to marital
conflict and adolescent rebellion, I have found it common
for those in crisis to feel great frustration with
God. This is particularly true when things happen that
seem illogical and inconsistent with what had been
taught or understood. Then if the Lord does not rescue
them from the circumstances in which they are
embroiled, their frustration quickly deteriorates into
anger and a sense of abandonment. Finally, disillusionment
sets in and the spirit begins to wither.