Have you ever prayed for someone who was sick? Did you ask God to heal that person? In recent years, two members of my wife’s family passed away. Many prayers for healing were offered on their behalf, but Melissa’s mother passed to her rest in October 2019, and her older sister passed away in August 2020, leaving behind a two-year-old son. We have witnessed God intervene in our lives in answer to prayers on a number of occasions, but in these particular cases, it appears that He chose not to intervene, and we don’t understand why.
I know this is an uncomfortable conversation for Christians, but I believe it is one we need to engage in. We believe God answers prayer. We believe He is all-powerful and loves us and wants what is best for us. Yet we are continually confronted with the reality of suffering and pain. Jesus told a father who was desperate for his son to be healed, “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23). Does this mean Melissa’s mother and sister were not healed because those of us who prayed for them did not have enough faith?
I would be tempted to believe this lie, if not for a number of Bible stories that demonstrate that sometimes, in His infinite wisdom, God chooses not to intervene in certain situations for reasons we may never fully understand in this life. For example, John the Baptist was not delivered out of Herod’s prison (Matt. 11:2-6). Lazarus was not healed according to Mary and Martha’s request (John 11:3-6). God did not protect Job’s children, possessions and body from the attacks of Satan (Job 1-2). James, one of the twelve and brother of John, was killed by Herod for political reasons (Acts 12:1-3), even though Peter shortly thereafter was miraculously delivered by an angel out of the same prison (vs. 6-11).
Did God fail to intervene in these cases because those praying lacked faith? The Bible doesn’t seem to hint at this at all. On the contrary, Scripture seems to commend John the Baptist, Mary and Martha, Job and James for their faithfulness to God. So what do we do with Jesus’ statement about “all things” being “possible for one who believes,” or with His promise, “Ask, and it will be give to you” (Matt. 7:7). These passages need to be understood in the light of 1 John 5:14, where the apostle writes, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”
Okay. I guess that makes sense in theory. Sometimes it’s God's will to heal, and sometimes it’s not. But that raises a new challenge. Why would He want to heal or intervene in some situations and not in others? Is God partial? According to Peter, He’s not: “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). Countless other passages in Scripture agree with this statement. So why did my mother-in-law and sister-law die, our prayers notwithstanding?
I have to admit I don’t have an answer to this question. So why do I still trust in God? Why do I still believe that He is all-powerful and that He is love? These questions are fair and logical. Here is my honest answer, and I believe I speak for Melissa when I say this. Though God has acted (or failed to act) in ways we do not understand, He has given us sufficient evidence to base our trust in Him. He has proven Himself good and trustworthy in so many ways. In countless situations, He has revealed His heart to us, and we cling to these tokens of His goodness when our world seems to fall apart and nothing appears to make sense.
In many ways, it is like a good marriage. A healthy, long-lasting marriage doesn’t exist because of a lack of misunderstanding. Conflicts due to miscommunication surface in any good relationship. How do some couples survive? I believe couples not only survive but thrive in spite of occasional miscommunications when both husband and wife are settled in one important truth—my spouse loves me and would never intentionally hurt me.
My belief that my wife would not never intentionally do anything to harm me is crucial to overcoming our trials. The same goes for her. I’ve done and said many things that were hurtful. But I love Melissa and would never want to harm her in any way. She knows that. And because she is so settled in that fact, she is able to look beyond my mistakes and not lose her trust in me when I do things she doesn’t understand.
I’m not suggesting that God makes mistakes. But often, let’s be honest, His failure to act appears to be a mistake, at least to our finite, limited understanding. So why do we still love and trust Him? Because we are settled in the truth of His love and goodwill towards us (Jer. 29:11). Is this faith a blind leap in the dark? Not at all. I trust in His love and care because He has given me enough evidence of this in my past experience. And in my moments of doubt and uncertainty, when everything seems dark and confusing, I cling to these tokens of His love and press on, fully believing that “in the future life the mysteries that here have annoyed and disappointed us will be made plain. We shall see that our seemingly unanswered prayers and disappointed hopes have been among our greatest blessings” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 473).
Whenever I’m disappointed and frustrated with the way God is handling a situation, I intentionally choose to believe that “God never leads His children otherwise than they would choose to be led, if they could see the end from the beginning and discern the glory of the purpose which they are fulfilling as co-workers with Him” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 479). Melissa and I have good reasons to believe this is true.