Too often I see people misinterpreting scripture, thinking that whatever they ask of God, sometimes with the caveat that they must “claim it,” will direct our Guide to respond as their servant. How do they reconcile their disappointment in “unanswered” prayer with their belief in an all-knowing God?
Our prayers are essential to communicate with our Counselor, but leaving the results to God’s will and judgement, despite our discomfort, shows a greater understanding of how God works in this world. Nothing we encounter lies beyond the range of God’s redemptive power.
The Strength of Alcoholics Anonymous
After trying many faulty cures, the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, finally understood the irony. He reached the unshakable conviction, now a cannon of 12 step groups, that an alcoholic must “hit bottom” in order to climb upward. Wilson wrote to his fellow strugglers, “How privileged we are to understand so well the divine paradox that strength rises from weakness, that humiliation goes before resurrection: that pain is not only the price but the very touchstone of spiritual rebirth.”
The irony continues throughout recovery. Although an alcoholic may pray desperately for the condition to go away, very few alcoholics or other addicts report sudden, miraculous healing. Most battle temptation every day of their lives. They experience grace not as a magic potion, rather as a balm whose strength is cultivated daily by conscious dependence on God.
God Uses Our Weaknesses
Every person on earth lives out a unique script of hardship: singleness when marriage was always a goal, or a physical disability, or poverty, childhood abuse, racial prejudice, chronic illness, family dysfunction, addiction, divorce. If I envision God as Zeus-like, aiming thunderbolts on the wretched humans below, then naturally I will direct my anger and frustration at God, the immediate cause of my hardship. If, on the other hand, I perceive God as working from below, under the surface, calling out to us through each weakness and limitation, I open the possibility for redemption for the very thing I resent most about my life.
How do You Respond to Circumstances?
“Good and evil, in the moral sense, does not reside in things, but always in persons,” wrote Paul Tournier. “Things and events, whether fortunate or unfortunate, are simply what they are, morally neutral. What matters is the way we react to them. Only rarely are we the masters of the events, but (along with those who help us) we are responsible for our reactions. Events give us pain or joy, but our growth is determined by our personal response to both, by our inner attitude.”
Tournier, in fact, wrote the book Creative Suffering to explore a phenomenon that had always puzzled him. The most successful people are often the products of difficult and unhappy families. A colleague investigating leaders with the greatest influence on world history had discovered that almost all—his list of 300 included Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Louis the 14th, George Washington, Napoleon, and Queen Victoria—had one thing in common: they were orphans. It baffled Tournier that whereas he spent his time lecturing on the importance of a mother and father cooperating to produce a nourishing family environment, these leaders all emerged from a state of emotional deprivation. An orphan himself, Tournier began to look at hardship as something not simply something to be eliminated, but rather something harnessed by redemptive God.
A relationship with God does not promise supernatural deliverance from hardship, but a supernatural use of it. Only by pursuing the Way of Christ, progressing through joys, hardships, and apparent detours, can the Pilgrim arrive at the destination.
God Values Character
For whatever reason, God has let this broken world endure in its fallen state for a very long time. For those of us who live in that broken world, God seems to value character more than our comfort, often using the very elements that cause us the most discomfort as his tools and fashioning that character. A story is being written, with an ending only faintly glimpsed by us. We face the choice of trusting God along the way or striking out alone. Always, we have the choice.
In my own spiritual life, I am trying to remain open to new realities, not blaming God when my expectations go unmet but trusting him to lead me through hardships towards renewal and growth. I am also seeking to trust that “the Father knows best” in how he runs this world. Reflecting on Old Testament times, I see that the more overt way in which I may want God to act does not achieve the results I might expect. And when God sent his own son—sinless, non-coercive, full of grace and healing —we killed him. God himself allows what he does not prefer, to achieve some greater goal.
You can find a very relevant post at:
Why Doesn’t God Answer My Prayers?
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:15)
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey