“Do you really love me, God? Because right now, you feel more like an abusive parent.”
These were the thoughts Rebecca had as she rocked her screaming preschooler who had just defecated and spread his feces all over the walls. When she looked at her autistic son, her heart broke because she knew he was hurting and he couldn’t communicate what was wrong. “I prayed and prayed for a break-through, but God wasn’t answering,” she told me.
“But then I remembered God’s Word says he is good and his love for his children is great.” Rebecca was faced with a choice: trust that God is loving and good, in the face of harrowing circumstances, or turn away from him in anger.
She chose to trust. After many years of therapy and sacrificial love, her son was able to communicate at the age of 13 and brighten a room with his smile. But, it wasn’t an immediate answer. It took years of tears, grief, and wading through answers from God that she did not want.
God often doesn’t give us the answer we want, but he gives us the answer that is most necessary for our spiritual growth. God is not most concerned with our comfort and happiness, but with the sanctification of our souls. This does not make him cruel, but instead shows how much he loves us. He knows that when our hearts become like his, we will experience the ultimate joy of knowing and understanding the great love of the Father. Joy in anything else will destroy us.
That sounds great, but what do we do in the meantime? Here are five ways we can respond in faith when God doesn’t give us the answers we want:
1)Be honest with God and others about your disappointment.
When we fail to acknowledge our disappointment, our pain turns to cynicism. Cynicism is a mask to cover our pain.
There are many who leave Christianity behind because they cannot get over an answer God gave them that they didn’t want. I have compassion for these prodigals. American church culture doesn’t always offer a safe place for those in pain to grieve and ask questions. We falsely tell people they cannot doubt because doubt is the opposite of faith. We treat it as a grievous sin that Jesus’ blood is not enough to cover. We consciously and unconsciously teach others to cover their pain and disappointment with faked acceptance – to mask disappointment with a happy face and Christian-y sounding platitudes.
God’s word suggests a response that is the very opposite. When we read the Psalms, we see people who deeply love God be honest about their disappointments. We see them lament God’s baffling answers to their cries, but we also see them crying their pain out to the Lord and that is what makes all of the difference between a doubter and an apostate.
2) Give space for your soul to grieve and lament.
Our culture (not just church culture) silently tells us that grieving and lament is personal and should happen quickly and quietly. You need to be strong. You need to move on.
Ancient Near East cultures understood the purpose of lament. When someone died, they not only wailed publicly with neighbors, but they hired professional mourners to wail alongside them-for days. There is healing in lament and in lamenting in community. It offers us an honest closeness with God that we don’t experience without pain.
3)Make the most of every opportunity.
In Romans 1, Paul speaks of his longing to go to Rome and preach the gospel. When God finally sent him, it was in chains to face trial for preaching about Jesus. I suspect that was not the answer Paul wanted.
The ship he was on then faced a terrible storm. They were lost at sea for days and eventually shipwrecked on the island of Malta. Paul says, “all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.” Paul was disappointed in God’s answer to his prayers. He thought he would never make it to Rome. But, he believed God was with him. In his disappointment of not going to Rome, Paul still made the most of his circumstances. He healed the sick and dying people of Malta and, no doubt, told them about Jesus. (Spoiler alert: he eventually made it to Rome.)
4) Ask God to help your unbelief.
When the father in Mark 9 asked the disciples to heal his son, they couldn’t do it. In one of the shortest and greatest prayers in the Bible, the man cries out to Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief!”
This is the dichotomy we face when God gives us answers we don’t want. We believe or want to believe that he’s good and loving, but something inside us whispers, “What if?”
God is bigger than our what ifs. He is big enough to handle our questions and doubt and he is gracious to help our unbelief. In this passage of Mark, we see Jesus do just that. He helps the man believe and he heals his son.
5) Cling to God’s promises, not platitudes.
There is nothing more painful than someone telling you in your suffering that, ”God has something better for you.” God doesn’t always have something better-not physically anyway. He has something better for our souls because he always works for the good of those who love him. But in the midst of disappointment, and especially grief, platitudes are the last thing you need to hear.
Platitudes are not comforting. They dismiss our pain and make us believe our grief is not valid. The problem with Christian platitudes is that they are often masked in half-truths. They appear biblical, but they are not. Platitudes kill our souls, but the promises in God’s word breathe life into the dead places of our hearts.
Faith doesn’t mean we’re happy ,slappy Christians pretending everything will be OK. Faith is the conviction of things unseen. It means believing God is good when circumstances feel cruel. It is a dichotomy of questioning all we know about God while believing He holds our lives in his hands. It means receiving God’s answers to our prayers even when they are not the answers we want.
May you see a glimpse of the lavish love of God today, in the midst of the circumstances for which you did not ask.
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