“Stuff happens” might not be precise theological language. But it sums up precisely not only that unwanted things happen in life, but also the power those things have to bewilder us.
Unanticipated difficulty can cause us to resort to the usual – sometimes unhelpful – answers. Deficient spirituality is often the explanation we latch onto in the face of unanticipated difficulty: “I was lacking in faith” or “there was hidden sin that attracted the displeasure of God or gave Satan a foothold”.
Sometimes that does explain where we are at. Letting go of faith instead of letting loose our faith when difficult days come will cause us to flounder – like Peter when he took his eyes of Jesus and began to sink.
And sinful choices sometimes lie behind the difficulties we find ourselves in.
I would suggest, however, that we need some discernment before we jump to either of those conclusions – especially before we pronounce them the reasons for the problems others are facing!
Or we default to the safe but sometimes unsatisfying answer of sovereignty: “God is sovereign – stuff happens, we don’t know why, but it’s all part of God’s purpose.” Again, there are times when there is no option but simply to accept that we don’t know why, but God is still good.
There is however another approach to unanticipated difficulty. It’s one that we find in 2 Corinthians 1.
Paul and his friends went through circumstances that caused them to fear for their lives.
Writing to the Corinthians, Paul reflected on what he had experienced and reveals how he processed it: it was a lesson in trust:
“But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” 2 Corinthians 1.9
Paul’s difficulties were designed to deepen His faith in God – the God who raises the dead.
Our unanticipated difficulties might just be a lesson in trusting the God who raises the dead. Difficulty can be the doorway to a fresh revelation of who God is and what He can do. And it can also provide fresh spiritual resources for ministry: Paul and his friends were comforted and this comfort was now available to others (2 Corinthians 1.4).
The difficulty also caused Paul and company to press into their relationship with the Corinthian church: they needed their prayers (2 Corinthians 1.10-11). Discovering the God who raises the dead is a team effort.
There is no simple answer for why stuff happens. We can be sure however that sometimes it happens to cause us to lean harder into the God who raises the dead.