Thursday, September 23, 2010

Last Sunday morning's Bible study lesson was on prayer. Specifically, praying for those who are sick. A difficult topic, since many in our group have lost loved ones to cancer and other cruel, debilitating illnesses.

We pondered the whys and why nots of God's methods of healing - complete recovery on this side of heaven, complete recovery on that side. Of course, we say this to spin it in such a way that God says, "Yes" to our request for healing. It makes it a little more comfortable, however placating, answer of hope for believers in Christ. But, the truth is, the latter is a "No" answer. And human nature being what it is, we don't like to hear, "No."

I've always heard that God answers every prayer: "Yes" "No" or "Wait." That may be true. While we make out like waiting is the hardest of the answers, I think we're only fooling ourselves. "No" is the answer we simply don't want, because it may not have rationale to follow. At least with "Wait" we can usually see why in hindsight or gain a glimpse of the steps that had to be taken to bring the circumstances to bear. But "No" is so final. So "because I said so." So uncontrollable.

It's the "No"s that trip us up. They cause us to question God's goodness of character, the depth of his love, his dependability and/or his rightful place as sovereign Lord. But a God who won't say "No" is no more authoritative than a parent or employer who won't, and a God who can't say "No" is not really in control to begin with, so why should we bother to ask him to work at all? God knows it's a risk to say "No" to us; we may reject him altogether. That's a risk he is (and many parents and employers should be) willing to take.

The thing that always bothered me was that Jesus didn't know what it was like. I mean, every time he prayed, the answer was "Yes." He prayed for people to be healed...boom...a blind man could see. He prayed for the dead to be raised...boom...a little girl sits up from her bed, hungry. He prayed for food to be multiplied...boom...5000+ people are eating fish sandwiches on a hillside. He prayed for the agony of the cross to pass from him (Mark 14:36)..............and it didn't.

The answer was "No." Jesus did get a "No" from God. And his "No" wasn't "for his own good." (That's a reason I hear all the time. "God said, 'No' because he knew you didn't need that; it wouldn't be good for you." Sometimes that's just baloney.) God's "No" to Jesus had nothing to do with him, personally. It certainly wasn't because there was sin in his life. (That's another reason I hear: "God said, 'No' because you need to suffer the consequences for something you did once." Thanks, that's so helpful.) God's "No" to Jesus' plea had eternal, world-wide ramifications. If he'd said "Yes" what hope would you or I have for salvation?

Now, I'm not implying that every "No" we hear from God will result in someone's salvation or change the course of history as we know it. But it is helpful to know he has a reason, even if we don't like it. And his reasons can't make him mean or uncaring, because to be unkind is impossible for him. He is defined by love, the very fruit of his Spirit's nature is joy, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness (to name a few).

So when God says "No" to healing on this side of heaven, it might make us feel better to believe he really said, "Yes" to healing over there, but it helps me more to know Jesus knows the pain of hearing "No," too. And I believe, in his humanity, he didn't like that answer any more than I do.

Later on Sunday, a woman privately asked me a difficult and unanswerable question: Since there is complete healing in heaven for those who have received Christ's atoning sacrifice in forgiveness of their sins (based on Rev. 21:4), does it necessarily follow that those who die from a debilitating disease and chose to reject Christ's atoning sacrifice will endure that suffering in hell for eternity? In other words, if a Christ-follower dies of cancer and is thereby healed in heaven, does a non-Christ-follower who dies from cancer endure its effects forever in hell?

I'm going to do everything I can to make sure no one has to find out first-hand.

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