In the last while I have had a couple of conversations about prayer. I plan to discuss the questions those conversations raised. I will be inviting you to join in the conversation. I will deal with one in this post and next week with the other one. As you read, I would appreciate it if you would share your own thoughts and comments. In the tradition into which I have been grafted – the Anabaptists – we practice what is known as Community Hermeneutic, which in its simplest form is the belief that the best way to understand scripture is in the context of community, in conversation. With that said, I believe that we will develop a better understanding of the mystery of prayer.
The first conversation began after a friend had read one of my last posts about my gratitude to God for having Iona’s PCR test arrive in time for her to be able to attend our niece’s wedding. His question had to do with whether I would have placed the blame on God’s doorstep if the results had not arrived in time. It is a good question. When things go the way we want them to, we give God the credit but are very reluctant to blame Him when things start to go sideways. It really brings into question how God relates to His creation.
We have all had times when we have prayed and prayed and heard nothing but silence from heaven. Our loved one still died. The job was terminated. The marriage ended in divorce. Why does God seem to answer some prayers and ignore others? I have read two books by Philip Yancey – Where Is God When It Hurts and Disappointment With God – and have moved closer to acceptance.
The first thing I realized is that I will never come up with an answer that will check off all the boxes for me. I will always be left with frustration and often pain when life turns sour on me. I have looked at a number of different answers and Yancey’s were much more satisfying.
Rabbi Harold Kushner dealt with the situation in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. When Kushner’s son Aaron was diagnosed with progeria at age three the situation became personal instead of academic. Progeria is a disease in which the victim ages rapidly and few live beyond their teen years. Aaron died at two days before his fourteenth birthday, yet his body seemed well over eighty. Kushner felt that he had led a God-honouring life and now his beautiful son was taken from him at such a young age. Why?
He brought into contrast two attributes of God – His goodness and His power. He asked the question “If God is both good and all powerful, why do such terrible things happen to good people?” His answer was to diminish the power of God. God would have loved to have rescued Aaron from the effects of this disease, but He just couldn’t. While comforting in one sense, it leaves us with a truncated God. We have a God who is as frustrated by some of the circumstances of life as we are, and He can sympathize with us in our own frustrations. But that is not the God of the Bible. How do we answer Yancey’s question – where is God when it hurts – without sacrificing either His goodness or His power?
Remember I said that there isn’t an answer that takes away all the pain. That pain will always be with us. Here is how I dealt with the pain that life has given me. I acknowledge that God is both good and all powerful but sometimes He chooses not to answer my prayers in the way I wanted. I have found comfort in the words of Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV) “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.” There is something going on that I haven’t been made privy to. God may be doing something that I simply couldn’t understand. To use a military term – it’s above my pay grade.
“Please tell me,” We beg, “what are You trying to do? If I understood I could handle it.” I have been fascinated by the story of Joseph. We are introduced to him as a 17-year-old who had been given dreams that his family would one day bow down to him. But that road had more than a few twists and turns. He was sold into slavery by his brothers. He was falsely accused of attempted rape by his master’s wife and as a result was thrown into prison. Finally, after thirteen years, when Joseph was thirty, the prophecy of his dreams begins to bear fruit.
Here’s what I find oddly comforting – at no time in that thirteen-year period are we told that God reassured Joseph with a repetition of His promise. Joseph had to go through that time in the dark, with only a promise to hold onto. It was his faith that got him through.
So, I hang onto the promise of God’s infinite goodness and trust Him even when He seems extremely silent. Now, you also have had times when the goodness and power of God seemed in conflict – how have you made sense of it? Or have you? Until next time, Keep the Son in Your Eyes.