Some of you remember my friend Mikey. Like 2 years ago he was given 3 months to live. Today he found out his cancer is in remission! FTMFW!! [For The Many Faceted Win, you dirty minded people that are scouring for something to judge… don’t worry, I’m sure by the end of this post you’ll have at least 5 other things]. I’m so stoked! It’s awesome. But his FB profile has been flooded with people talking about answers to prayer, and praise for Our Powerful God. He’s talked about how hard he’s prayed for this. One of my other good friends wrote about feeling guilty for not believing, deep down, that God would actually save Mikey. Don’t get me wrong, I wept huge, real, tears of authentic and ecstatic joy when I read the news, but the follow-up has left me hurting. It seems other people have this amazing push-button Saviour that they use. If they just push hard enough, everything will get better.
Can I have your Jesus? Mine’s broken…
I can remember when my Jesus Button broke. It was when I lost my cat.
My wife and I had to leave the country for several weeks. It was the dead of winter, and it got away from us as we were bringing it from the car to the friend’s house where it was going to be watched. We chased it for hours until it disappeared and we had to get to the airport or miss our flight. We prayed. We sought God. We read scripture. We prayed more. We prayed hard. We prayed with faith. We believed that God could, and would, return our cat to us when we got back. The cat did not come back. WTF? [Yes, that F means what you think it means].
Since then, the button’s been dropped, kicked around, sat on, run over, and fallen in the toilet over the course of five miscarriages. We believe that life begins at conception. Alongside our beautiful son, we’ve had five babies that died. Five. Figurative hands up if you believe that we didn’t pray our metaphorical asses off. One of them died at 9 weeks. We didn’t find out until 12 weeks when we had an ultrasound that showed a very still baby with no heartbeat. The pregnancy was at 17 weeks before the miscarriage was completed and I held my tiny, inch-and-a-half long Sayuri in the palm of my hand. In those intervening weeks we PRAYED. We believed that God would work a miracle and we’d go for a confirmation ultrasound and they’d be like “hey, a heartbeat… our bad”.
Seriously. I’m pretty sure I learned in Sunday School that if you pray for something and really believe that God will do it, he will. Unless it’s important for our discipline. If God wants to teach us a lesson, then he’ll say no. Because it’s not In His Will. Real people say that. Well meaning Christians will stand next to someone wracked with grief and tell them not to worry, because it’s Part Of God’s Plan.
To which I now respond: “Bite Me.”
Don’t tell me it was God’s plan to kill my baby. Don’t tell the mother left paraplegic after being hit by a drunk driver that it’s her fault she can’t walk because she just doesn’t have enough faith in God. Don’t tell the 5 year old with the dead father that if he had only prayed and believed, his dad would still be around. That’s bullshit. That’s exactly what you’re saying every time you credit fervent prayer to God as the reason for a person’s recovery. It mocks and belittles the prayers of all those who have gone before, who have died or been left bereaved waiting for a God who never came. God doesn’t work that way. He’s not sitting up there waiting with his Grovel-ometer to see if we’ve reached a sufficient level of begging to warrant his attention.
How can I even be a Christian then? How can I be a pastor who doesn’t believe that God answers prayer? Well, for one thing I never said I don’t believe that God answers prayer, and shame on you for drawing that conclusion. Nor did I deny the healing power of Christ or the reality of miraculous intervention. I just don’t believe that they have anything to do with the force of your conviction or the number of times you say “Lord God” in a three-minute interval.
Scripture tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” [Romans 8:28]. It doesn’t say that all things are good. It doesn’t say that God causes those things for our good. It says that in them, in our time of bitter grief, God is with us, caring for us, and working in the background for our Good. That’s what lets me be a Christian. It’s not having some vending machine god that I can put a prayer coin in and pop out a happy day; It’s belief in a Christ who was known as the “man of sorrows”. It’s having a God who has suffered ultimate loss, betrayal, and pain walking beside me through mine.
For anyone out there reading this who has felt abandoned by God, because you sought him in your hour of need and he was nowhere to be found, when you were battered and beaten, when you had a loved one on their death bed, when you were waiting for a miracle that never came, I’m sorry. My heart goes out to you. Here’s the hope I offer you, and while sometimes it may feel empty, it isn’t: God’s heart goes out to you too. He has compassion. For anyone that needs a vocabulary lesson, that means “With/Alongside Suffering”. God suffers with us. He is the friend who sits with us in the dark when all we can do is cry. He’s the hand that holds our hair while we’re puking. He’s the strength in our legs that lets us crawl and the force in our lungs that keeps us breathing when we can’t even do that anymore. He is the reminder that there is more. There is light. There is hope. We are not alone. We are loved. Having that is more important to me than having a button to push. That’s my Jesus.
Hopefully more Funny next time. I’m just not feeling it right now. Mikey, I really hope that when you read this it doesn’t bring you down. Be happy. Praise the God who’s carrying you through this. I definitely am!