He had received a death sentence; at least the kind doctors deliver with estimates of how many months he had to live. There are no glib answers with that kind of visit, so I listened. He did not want to die. He had many things he still wanted to do and felt like he should do. He prayed for a cure. He said, “I believe God is able to cure me, but I know that He often chooses not to cure.” We prayed, and later, I conducted his funeral.
I do not believe in some kind of “Christian deism” – God acted to get things going in the church, and then after the first century A.D. withdrew from His world to no longer act. No, I don’t expect the signs of the apostles (2 Corinthians 12:12), they were unique to those special messengers. Yet, I still believe in the providence of God. J. D. Thomas defined providence as “God’s interposing in man’s affairs or influencing man’s life in ways different from the ordinary workings of natural law and other than through the written word.”1 God is still intimately involved in this world and in the lives of His people.
Prayer changes me, but I believe that it also changes the world too. Jesus teaches us that we have a Father who sees in secret and rewards. We have a Father who knows how to give good gifts, better even than our earthly fathers who would not even dream of giving snakes for fish or stones for bread. Yet prayer is not magic. God is not the cosmic vending machine – insert prayer, press the right button, and requests dispensed.
I believe that cures sometimes happen in answer to prayer, yet I wonder why God doesn’t wipe away every tear now. Why do good people suffer and die? I suppose my questions begin to sound like Job’s. After all of Job’s laments, God appears and asks him all kinds of questions about the creation that Job could not answer. I suspect it is God’s way of telling us that we don’t have enough wisdom to run the universe. How do you balance free will and intervention?
I suspect that God doesn’t answer all of our prayers the way we wish, because He desires a world in which we seek after Him in faith. I suppose that if prayer did seem like magic, our faith would actually be sight. Who could resist such evidence? But God seeks to woo us not compel us to love Him.
A paradox of faith is that Christians may give the strongest testimony by their suffering and death. Grace, faith, patience, and love in the midst of suffering make an indelible impression. Metals refined by the fire and character tested in the crucible of suffering are precious. After all, we follow the One who suffered.
The ultimate answers are in the Age to Come. God will reverse the curse of sin and death for those in Christ. He will wipe away every tear. But in the meantime, I still pray.
1J. D. Thomas, The Spirit and Spirituality, p. 27.