I was surprised when I first dared to tell people about some of the answers to prayer I have seen. I expected a negative reaction from people whose worldview doesn’t give them a grid for things that don’t fit into an observable/measurable/repeatable frame. Frankly most people who demand evidence will usually dismiss or ignore it when you do go to the trouble of fetching documentation anyway. At best they may grudgingly offer a “not-yet-explained.” Fine. Not my job.
The people who surprised me were the church-type folk or nominal Christians who accepted the possibility of miracles, in theory, but became suddenly angry when told of something way beyond the norm that happened — to someone else. They brought up examples, either personal or involving poor children elsewhere, which ended tragically. One person said, “What kind of God would heal a sick, rich Canadian kid when thousands of poor kids die in third world countries every day?” Then the real issue, “Why did he answer your prayer and not mine? I guess God shows love -but not for me.”
The temptation at this point is to jump in and try to defend God’s reputation.
Not my job.
Who knew God’s love could be so offensive? Millions of words, written by thousands of people more credentialed than I, attempt to address this topic of disappointment with God. I have only three words: I don’t know.
We can say, “It doesn’t hurt to ask,” but yes, sometimes it does. Asking raises the possibility of risking hope and even the Bible says that hope deferred makes the heart sick. One of our greatest fears is the fear of disappointment.
For some reason this week I met several people whose hearts long for a soul mate. Some suffered enormous disappointment when the one who swore to love them abandoned them. Others are tired of being overlooked because they don’t fit society’s ideal standards of beauty, or status, or the mystery “it” factor. A lot of great people can relate to the classic Gershwin song, sung by Eileen Farrell, “They’re playing songs of love -but not for me.”
Now there are some obvious factors that could be blocking romantic love, but when lovely unmarried friends ask, “Why am I still alone when I have prayed and prayed?” I have to say — I don’t know.
I do think God cares more about our character than our comfort, but he is not opposed to giving his children good gifts like health and loving embraces by someone with skin on. To say someone is not receiving an answer because they haven’t cooked up enough faith, or because they have some character flaw he can only fix by throwing something nasty at them, is just cruel, in my opinion. On the other hand, it doesn’t take much faith or hope, or perseverance to look around and see pain or suffering or loneliness or poverty. When I talk about the good things I have seen I am not oblivious to pain and suffering. It does require effort to look at God’s marvelous actions and not be offended by them. It would be easy to sing, “They’re playing songs of miracles –but not for me,” but those kind of thoughts focus only on our pain. They keep us from raising our hopes.
All I can say is that I know God is good and that I have noticed that people who doggedly pursue a relationship with him, believing he is good, who are not offended when he answers someone’s pleas and not their own -but rather who genuinely thank God for his goodness to them, see more of his active intervention in their worlds than those who don’t pick up the broken bits of hope and push through the pain of disappointment to find the treasure beyond the valley of trouble. I realize that talking about things I have seen and experienced may cause some people pain, but I have to give glory to God for what he has done. My intent is to offer hope.
I was struck by Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 this week.
I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (vs. 17-19 NLT)
Jesus admitted he was a stone of offense to some people. It takes strength and power to be able to perceive and receive his love and not be offended by it. He doesn’t play by our rules. He wants relationship. He wants us to ask him the hard questions. We can pound on his chest in our pain and frustration and he won’t love us any less -or any more.
God is still love. May your roots go deep.