So I’m on this aforementioned trip of a lifetime, through Canada and then out to Hawaii. I’m currently on the Hawaii leg of that trip.
I try not to think about why I’m a little bit angry at God. I’ve tried to ignore it. I’ve stopped going to church, I’ve stopped speaking to Him, even acknowledging His presence in everything. But the message I heard at Granville Chapel over the weekend, stirred up my feelings once again, and I feel like maybe I need to get it out.
If you are a Christian and reading this, please comment and leave me answers. My intention isn’t to put this out there, not to hear back – a rhetorical blog (as I do with many of my blogs) – but to put this out there and ask for feedback and help.
I few years ago a very dear friend of mine got sick. Not like a 24 hour sickness bug or man-flu, he was diagnosed with cancer. He was given several months to live, and I made a decision to pray like I’d never done before. I fasted in prayer for him. I made the decision not to doubt God’s power but to completely and fully believe in his restorative power. So often I hear speakers and churches/conferences saying they’d hoped Jesus would heal when they prayed, but they didn’t 100% believe it. I, on the other hand, knew my friend was going to get up out of bed one day, cancer free: the miracle I was praying for.
Unfortunately this wasn’t the case. In fact, it so completely wasn’t the case. He died. And it tore my heart out. Not just because I’d lost a friend and (I’m a very empathetic person) I felt the pain for the close family, but because a little part of my faith died that day too. I was angry at God. I wanted to shout at Him “I believed in you! You can save people and you took an active choice not to! You raised Lazarus from the dead! Why couldn’t you save my friend?!”
I didn’t get an answer.
It’s been a few years now, and I’ve heard many stories like the one I heard on Sunday at Granville Chapel. The story I heard was this:
The pastor had a friend. He was involved in an accident or something (I wish I was listening better for the sake of this blog, but I was tired to the point of delirium on Sunday morning) and his body was broken to an incredible level. The doctors were talking of taking bones from one part of his body and moving them to another part – it was all going to be a huge task to get him back into any kind of shape. (I imagine the doctors were Doctor Strange – I was nodding off…)
So the pastor asked his friend if he could pray for him. He said he thinks his friend thought he’d pray for him privately at home, but he sat next to his bed and laid hands on him. He prayed that when the doctors opened him up, that the extent of damage wouldn’t be anywhere as near as bad as they had thought, and the extent of the surgery they had planned wouldn’t be needed. He prayed for these things in Jesus name.
He confessed to us, that he knows Jesus’ healing power – that He can do incredible things, but he wasn’t truly believing it. He said it was more that he hoped this would be the case than anything.
His friend went in for surgery and he said that he was quite busy so didn’t check in with his friend straight after the surgery, but a mutual friend asked him if he’d seen his friend – that he wanted to talk to him. He was intrigued but busy, and didn’t have time. He saw his friend’s wife, and she said that her husband really wanted to talk to him. Soon, almost everyone was saying this to him.
So he went to the hospital. And his friend was so excited to see him. He said “The doctors couldn’t believe it! Tell me about this man whose name you used when you prayed!” Just as he had prayed, the doctors were amazed at the healing they had witnessed in this man’s body. It wasn’t improbable, it was impossible.
So the pastor told his friend all about Jesus, and his friend was so excited about what Jesus had done for him. The pastor went on to say how his friend now throws parties to evangelise to anyone who will listen about the man who saved his life – Jesus.
How amazing is that story? How about this one:
I was at Colour Conference in 2017 and Lisa Harper was one of the guest speakers. She told a story where she was in Haiti (I believe, I might have got the location wrong, but the following story is correct) and she was praying for people and a person (can’t remember if it was a man or a woman!) came up to her with a seriously swollen knee.
She had been telling stories about Jesus – the redeemer, the saviour, the healer – and this person came forwards and asked for prayer. She was terrified. She said she was happy to talk about it, but when it came to the action of praying, she wasn’t sure the Holy Spirit would deliver. So with doubt in her mind, she laid her hands on this person’s knee and started praying.
She asked out loud that Jesus heal this person, whilst her internal dialogue went something more like “please God, I want to show these people your almighty power, this would be a real good time to demonstrate it… please, please, please! Or y’know what? Maybe make a doctor available, one of those ‘Doctors Without Borders’ initiative doctors, who can heal this person. If you could make it so a doctor could come out, that would be brilliant.”
And remarkably – she could feel the swelling go down beneath her hands. She was afraid to open her eyes, in case she was just imagining it, so she kept praying and asking God to do what only he can – and when she eventually opened her eyes, the swelling had gone entirely. The person’s knee was normal!
I’ve head dozens of these stories, and what I come back to is – what’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with the way I pray, and what I ask for? Why couldn’t you save my friend?
On a separate note, long before I believed in Jesus, I believed that everything happens for a reason. It’s a comforting thought mostly – when a jackass pulls out in front of you and almost drives you off the road, knowing that they’ll get their comeuppance is a nice thought. Or the person who eats the last slice of pizza without asking if anyone else wanted it. Or the person who walks into you when they’re chatting to their friends 3 abreast in the opposite direction and you’re just one person as far over on the path as possible… a lot of things I need the universe to correct, I believe are in some way.
I’ve also found, that in the most dire of circumstances, there is a glimmer of hope. There’s always a little bit of good in the bad. Not that the good outweighs the bad, but there’s something that comes out of it that you wouldn’t have if the bad thing hadn’t happened. Like, a restaurant only serves Pepsi so you try something else on the menu you wouldn’t try usually. Or you need the toilet so you nip into a coffee shop and feel obliged to buy something, and it turns out it’s the best bun you’ve ever tasted.
Or your friend is really sick and you get the opportunity to evangelise and save his life (mortal and immortal). You break a leg so you can’t go skiing on your holiday, but instead you eat in different places and try different things you weren’t expecting to.
The good things are usually minute details, but sometimes they’re bigger things. They’re not always easy to find, but they’re always there.
The other thing that makes me question my faith is that I’m yet to find that nugget of good in my accident at work. I lost my dream job, I left the city I loved, and the church I was growing as a Christian in, because of one split second. The only things I’ve gained are chronic back pain, severe depression and anxiety, and a prescription list longer than anyone my age should have. I can’t find what the good thing is.
After hearing the pastor’s message, it made me angry at God again. So I said it outloud in the car to my mum, sister and brother-in-law. As I said it, I felt so juvenile, and reflecting on it here, I feel really childish. So I used a technique I learned in counselling, and tried to think of my thoughts and feelings presented in a friend, and how I would respond to them (as I am my harshest critic).
My bog standard answer wasn’t cutting it: we don’t know God’s plans, so we sometimes don’t know why things happen. But I thought about it some more. I had been satisfied with knowing that the universe was going to correct the slights of the general public against me (see above), so why couldn’t I accept this with the bigger things?
I remember reading somewhere that God answers all prayers, you just might not like the answer (I think that might be a paraphrase of a quote from the preacher on Deep Blue Sea). When He says ‘yes’ we love it, when He says ‘no’, we don’t. Sometimes He wants us to be patient (like my constant prayer for a partner) and as humans, we are a very impatient species (some of us more than others). He always answers, but we might not like it.
So my friend wasn’t saved for a reason, I was hit by that truck for a reason. Knowing a little about time travel (I do love a good sci-fi), I know that every decision and every little choice we make creates a path, that if we’d done things differently, we wouldn’t be who we are today. For example, if my grandad hadn’t bought me Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, would I ever have read the Harry Potter series? Would it mean as much to me without my beloved grandad’s hand in it? Probably not. Would that change the person I am today? Yes. Harry Potter (as absurd as it sounds) has had a huge impact on my life. Just because my grandad saw it in a shop and thought I’d like it.
Even the smallest of things can change lives, so big things will have even bigger consequences – right? That small decision my grandad made, didn’t have an impact on his life. He did a nice thing for his granddaughter, but that was the extent of the consequences to him for his actions. For me, the consequences were huge. So maybe there consequences of my friend dying, and my accident at work are not something I will necessarily see – but will work in someone else’s favour.
Or maybe I will see the consequences at a later stage in my life. I’m reminded of the film Sliding Doors, where you see the two different paths of Gwyneth Paltrow’s life – one where she got on the train and one where she missed it, and the ending of each story is dramatically different.
But ultimately, who knows. It turns out my bog standard answer is enough, because it’s true. We don’t know how things connect to each other, we just need to trust that they do, and God knows exactly what he’s doing with each strand, carefully braiding them into a beautiful pattern that we can’t even fathom.