Sometimes even when you really want it, God's answer is, "No."
One of the most difficult questions to answer in the Church is how a loving God could, ultimately, not answer "yes" to a request we believe would be inside the Will of God. For example, when the faithful 40-year-old hopes for marriage and a family but finds themselves wifeless and childless, or when the pastor prays faithfully and the newly planted church doesn't succeed, or when the faithful wife prays and her husband doesn't come out of depression and ends his life, or when the faithful mother to two baby girls doesn't get healed from cancer.
In these moments, it seems incomprehensible that the God we have come to know would allow this kind of suffering. It's in these moments we feel hurt, we get angry, we question why. In these moments, you are not alone. Centuries ago, Job felt hurt by a God he was faithful to, he got angry at God, and he asked God why.
Job, in a moment of anguish after losing his family, his home, his finances, and everything else in his life, asked God, "Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the plans of the wicked?" (Job 10:3, NIV)
It is hard to wrap our mind around why God would allow times of great suffering, especially when He knows our hearts, our desires, and our faithfulness to His Will. In American culture and throughout even Americanized Christianity, we aren't as accustomed to real suffering- until it happens. And we falsely identify suffering with punishment for unfaithfulness or sin. For the most part, American society has been built around convenience, comfort, and rides on success. It is no wonder that this narrative has seeped into some of the sermons we hear on Sundays, the songs we sing in worship, and can have effects on our own personal view of God.
When hard times come, we tell people to pray to a God that will provide, will heal, and will bring a miracle... But we don't talk enough about the God who might say, "No." While God is able to do all these things, the more difficult reality is that sometimes God chooses to stay silent and not to act. This was a hard lesson for me to learn in my faith walk, and one that still surprises me every now and then.
"Though I cry, 'Violence!' I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice." (Job 19:7)
Job's story is one of great loss and agonizing suffering in the Lord's silence. In Job 38, the Lord finally responds.
"Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand." (Job 38:2-4) God's perspective is infinite, while ours is merely finite. "Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread its wings toward the south? Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high?" (Job 39:26-27) God's power is sovereign. And we go on to learn through God's response, God's purpose is guaranteed, God's promise is everlasting, and God's presence is ever with us.
We tend to hold onto promises God never made and feel disappointed. God never promised us a life without real struggle and God never promised us the miracle. But what God has promised us, as faithful believers, is victory in the end over sin and death. God has promised that in the last chapter, He will make all the others make sense. But we shouldn't expect all the chapters to be good.
After wrestling with God in his questions, doubts, and anger, Job falls down in awe of His majesty. When we stand in awe of His majesty, we stop focusing on the why, and start trusting in the Who.
Accused of defiance to worship other gods by King Nebuchadnezzar and standing before the fire, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego spoke these sure words with their lives on the line, "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)