I’ve got nothing to say to defend God. Not this time.
It’s a strange situation to be in as a Christian, because our instinct is to make God look good. We call it ‘glorifying God’. We want to show off his goodness and greatness and perfectness to all the rest of you, those who aren’t so sure about God, or are pretty set against the idea of him. We want to tell you, with great confidence that ‘no matter what I’ve been through, God has never let me down.’
Except that anyone who’s been a Christian for any length of time has felt let down. We won’t tell you, because we won’t risk God’s reputation, but it’s true. We’ve felt abandoned and confused and betrayed.
I want to tell you what it’s like, when all your excuses run out. When there’s no explanation that makes sense of God’s absence and indifference. It bloody hurts. Here’s how it goes:
Last week, I prayed. I got down on my knees. I confessed all the sins that I could think of. I told God I knew I’d been a bit crap recently, but now, of all times I needed him to come through for me. I had a request, and it felt to me like the most important thing I could ask him.
So I came to my heavenly Father with all the authentic faith I could muster and I poured out my heart to him.
He didn’t give me what I’d asked for. And I started to work through the excuses we usually make on God’s behalf:
He hasn’t answered ‘no’, he’s answered ‘wait’. Just be patient.
This was a particularly time-bound request. It was specifically about this weekend. It didn’t happen. I’ve prayed for longer term things and tried to hold on to hope for the future, tried to persevere. But this train’s been and gone. Waiting won’t change anything.
Someone else might have been praying the opposite to happen. God sees the bigger picture.
Nope. Not buying it this time. This was a prayer for good, and absolutely no-one could argue otherwise.
Maybe you had selfish motives in your prayer. God works for his glory and your ultimate good, which is to make you more like Jesus.
I’ll take that, most of my prayers are selfish. But this one wasn’t for me. It would have made me happier had he given me what I’d asked, yes. But not just me; the request was for the benefit of everyone affected. And so I don’t just feel let down for me, but for them too.
If God says no, it’s because he has something better for you.
Again, I’ll take it as far as to say, yes my weekend actually worked out pretty well despite God ignoring my request. But I can’t help but believe it would have gone better had he said yes to what I’d asked. There was no better option here.
God loves you even more than your earthly father, and only gives good things.
It’s a really strange one, this one. There’s a verse in Luke 11 that says essentially ‘if you as earthly fathers know what it means to give good things to your children, how much more will God give good things to you as his children.’ The good thing it’s referring to is the Holy Spirit, but I can’t help thinking there’s more to good parenting than that. I know for a fact that if my dad (on earth) had the power to give me what I asked for last weekend, he would have. And he’s a good dad. So what was God playing at in saying no?
Perhaps you didn’t pray hard enough. God likes to teach perseverance and truly earnest prayer.
You should have been there. I cleared my bed. I cleared my diary. I knelt on my wooden floor and sobbed. I pleaded and begged. I cried to my Father, that if he knew me at all and loved me at all, would he please give me this one thing. I felt like Hannah praying for Samuel. If a priest had wandered over and seen me at this moment, he’d have had the same reaction that Eli did. This was ‘groans too deep for words’ prayer.
No, there are no excuses that seem to do it this time. I’m tired of having to justify God when he doesn’t answer. Sometimes (often) the pain of unanswered prayer is much more real than the theological reasoning. Sometimes there’s nothing left to say.
It’s where Job ends up. He loses everything and suffers more bitterly than most of us could imagine. His friends come along and make excuses for God, they offer reasons why. They try to justify God. Job resists it. Nothing can explain or justify what he’s gone through; the reasons are nowhere near enough.
And when a silent God eventually speaks, it’s Job who he affirms. Not the friends who tried to protect his reputation. Not the friends who knew the theodicies. Job, who suffered and cried.
Job, who acknowledged God’s sovereignty but refused to defend God’s actions.
It’s hard to be a Christian. We share the same crap as everyone else; life doesn’t get any easier. And at the same time, we have to deal with the belief that God is all-powerful and could step in at any time. So often he seems to choose not to.
I promised myself I’d leave this post in a place of pain, because that’s where I am. But even now I can’t squash the instinct to praise. There’s something in me that, despite pain and disappointment and grief, has to say God is still good.
I don’t know what to do with that when it hurts. I have no idea. But I know that Jesus begged too. I know he pleaded and wept. He knelt and cried ‘if it’s possible, take this away from me’. And he heard a resounding silence.
Jesus didn’t give up on God. He grit his teeth and plodded on through the tears. I trust him enough to do the same. But I won’t hear the excuses. Not this time. I pleaded with everything I have and everything I am. God said no. I don’t understand and it hurts like hell.