Monday, March 15, 2010

When God Doesn't Answer

Or maybe I should title it ... When God Doesn't Answer the Way We Want.

A friend was telling me excitedly the other day about her grandson's surgery, and how things worked out perfectly, and how the right people were in the right place at the right time to discover his birth defect. There were so many ways God provided for physical healing and sustenance for everybody concerned. That is a beautiful and happy blessing for which we thank and praise the Lord!

But there's always this little bit of me that shudders inside whenever I hear people say, "You could really tell God was there, working" when temporal blessings abound.

What happens when it doesn't work out the way we want?

My god-daughter was born with a serious heart defect. She was baptized minutes before the Flight-for-Life helicopter whisked her away to the humongo Children's Hospital. Not only was Bethany's congregation praying for her, but so were all the churches in our circuit, and churches across the whole country.

Five and a half weeks later, Bethany died.

Her daddy said that he was asked again and again, "What did we do wrong? Weren't we praying hard enough? Why didn't God answer our prayers?" And again and again, he was given opportunity to confess that God had indeed answered our prayers, that He had granted Bethany the new birth, that He had drawn her to Himself, and that her little body was awaiting the resurrection.

Thanks be to God that He gave physical healing to this little boy that's connected to our church family. But even if He hadn't, He still would have been there, He still would have been caring, He still would have been working. God did not forget us when Bethany died; He did not turn His back on her but opened His arms to receive her, just as He had opened His arms to spread them out on the cross to die for her and cleanse her of all her sin.

I still don't know how to respond to a joyful expression of "God was really there with us!" when things go our way. Because it's true. He is there with us when things go according to our wishes.

But He's there, too, when things hurt and when things go contrary to our desires.

The Lord giveth.
The Lord taketh away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord!


  1. Well said, Susan. Thank you.

  2. Oh Susan, I can't count how many times I have shuddered after comments like that, and wondered exactly the same thing! Our first son died just 36 hours after birth. There were a multitude of prayers going up for that beautiful child, yet we did not get to keep him. I know God did the best thing, because God is God. I know God was there with us each and every terrible moment of that 36 hours, and in the painful ones after. Maybe those of us who have had such experiences are called to remind people that God is always with us, even in the sad times. Maybe it is as simple as the fact that people don't like to shout about the sad times like they do the good ones. I also think that I am hypersensitive to these issues because of my experience, so I try to smile and be quiet...but maybe that isn't what I am supposed to be doing. Anyway, thanks for the post.

  3. I know what you mean, Susan. I shudder at that phrase, too. But I also understand it. I think what it boils down to is our limited human perspective. In life we "see through a glass, darkly"; we see only "in part." So because we are selfish and sinful and want what we want we can really see God "working" when things are going right. But of course, God is always with us, working all things for good, even when it doesn't seem so, and some day when we see "face to face" His work in the bad times will be as clear to us as His work in the good times.

    I think when someone says that we can give assent, and to do so does not suggest that we think God is not also there in the bad times. In fact, I think I have heard the other end of the spectrum--that God was there working in the midst of tragedy and sadness--as often as I have heard that He was there working in the midst of joy. Both are true, and both can be affirmed.

  4. Cheryl, most of the time (not all, but most) when I hear people say that God is working in the bad times too, they're actually referring to temporal blessings that haven't arrived yet. Pastor gives the example that a guy's wife died, and isn't it terrible, but time passes, and God gives him a great new wife. Or we're in a car accident, but the blessing turns out to be that we get a new car.

    When God is "working all things for good," it may or may not include temporal blessings (even the ones that are not tangible, such as relationships). It's not about every cloud having a silver lining, because some clouds have nothing but darkness (as far as what we experience in this life). When God works all things for good, it's actually about the creation and sustenance of faith in Him.