I just finished reading a national bestseller on prayer that, frankly, was very hard to finish. What grieved me most was a story about a pastor who counseled a young couple of a child with autism. The pastor opened his Bible to a random page, read a random passage of scripture about Abraham’s offspring forever speaking God’s word, and then claimed it as a promise that this couple’s nonverbal child would speak. “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” he concluded, apparently an example to the reader of a theological job well done. But the couple’s story ends in deafening silence, the outcome unresolved.
Such experiences happen. It has happened to our family. And it begs the question, what do we do when someone tells us God has promised our child will be healed, and then they are not? What do we do with the implied possibility that we have not prayed with enough faith or that God is withholding a miracle because of sin in our lives? What do we do when others tell us, like Job’s friends, that our child’s challenges are somehow our fault?
A long-time friend once told us that our son’s autism and ADHD was a result of parental neglect –an explanation he heard from a pastor on the radio. He told us with assurance that our son could be cured if we repented. Another friend, who has suffered from debilitating clinical depression for years was told by her elders that her ongoing problem must be the result of too little faith or because of unknown sin in her life.
This propensity to shoot our wounded is not new. Jesus had to correct his own disciples’ thinking when they asked whose sin caused blindness in a young man asking for healing. “No one,” came Jesus reply. And yes, he then healed the young man to reveal God’s glory and help lay the groundwork of salvation for those who would believe in his resurrection. God sometimes heals physically, and He is glorified when He does.
But God is also glorified in our weakness. Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not removed, despite his prayers, and yet his words fill most of our New Testament and have helped change the course of human history. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness,’ therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so Christ’s power may rest on me.” (1 Cor 12:9) Similarly, in their weakness, lowly fishermen were empowered by God to speak before kings. And in poverty, a widow’s mite was more powerful in God’s divine economy than the millions of the “righteous.” His power, through their faith, shone brightly in their weakness.
I am not suggesting God cannot or will not perform a miracle in our lives. My daughter has witnessed a miraculous healing, as have some of my closest friends. I know God is able and for purposes not always within our understanding, heals some and not others in ways we would wish. But when I hear of Christian brothers and sisters compounding the pain of parents with promises and assumptions that are not theirs to make, I am dismayed. I grieve for their pain compounded by needless guilt and doubt and confusion. And I especially grieve for the false image it paints of our Abba, Father, as if He plays a kind of spiritual game of “chicken” with His children, waiting to see how long and far and hard they will pray and suffer before He may or may not say “yes”.
Our God, no matter our Church tradition, is still the God of Hagar, the God who sees us. The God who loves. The One who knows our hardships because He, too, suffered, just as He now is with us in our suffering. He is both the God who heals, and reveals His strength in our weakness, that we may know His power and experience His grace.
Healing prayers and promises? Oh, yes. Ultimately, by His wounds, we all are healed. That is a promise we can count on.
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