Saturday, January 17, 2009

To Pray Or Not To Pray

"...theology must not try to be any clearer about God than God is about Himself." Mike Mason, The Gospel According To Job

Grief is a wicked cocktail: loss, pain, confusion.  All thoroughly mixed up. 

Would good theology make our grief any easier, I wonder? Would answers ease us into acceptance?

We keep coming back to the same old nagging questions. We admit that God did not cause Rachel to die. We acknowledge that a selfish, drunken woman killed her. But did God allow it to happen? That is the unavoidable issue of the Book of Job that we are studying in our Sunday School class. Job did not deserve to suffer, any more and probably much less than any other merely human that has ever walked this earth. His suffering was “caused” by the devil working through natural, human and spiritual agents. But it is also made clear that God allowed it. Satan had to get God’s permission in order to “test” Job with horrific loss and pain.

The night Rachel was killed, her car failed to start. It had never failed to start before. She and her friend Andre waited and tried to start her car three times before they finally succeeded, delaying Rachel’s departure for half an hour. If the car had started on the first or second attempt, she would be here with us now. If it had failed to start the third time, she would be here with us now. It is a seemingly small thing for God to accomplish: the timing of the ignition of an automobile. Of course, we did not pray that prayer specifically, but we did pray daily for Rachel’s safety. We prayed for her safety early in the morning of February 21, 2008, not knowing she was already dead.

Either God can answer prayer or He can’t. Either God does answers prayer, or He doesn’t. If He can’t or He doesn’t, why are we enjoined to pray? If He can and does then why did He choose to disregard our dearest request, the one we most cared about in this world? We are not perfect, and neither was Rachel, but none of us deserved this. If God can’t be trusted with our “big prayers,” our most heartfelt desires, why waste our breath nagging Him with the insignificant details?

I don’t have the answers. When I don’t understand, all I can do is fall back on what I do know. God did not rescue His own Son from the plans or the hands of evil men though He cried out to His Father to be delivered. We have to conclude that either God is so ineffectual that He could not even help His own beloved Son, or else He chose to allow it. Could we be callous enough to suggest He didn’t care? That would be contrary to what we know of parental instincts. We love our children. We are concerned for their welfare. We do everything in our power to keep them from coming to harm and to spare them unnecessary pain. God, if He is God, must be at least as good a parent as we are.

Of course, God has a plan. But did it have to be this way? 

Evil is a choice. Goodness is a choice. We can choose to work with God to build His kingdom or we can work against Him. God often accomplishes His purposes in spite of the choices we make. He uses the very worst intent of the most evil of His rebellious creatures to achieve His good purposes. There is some mysterious alchemy here we cannot fathom.

My daughter is killed by a wicked woman. God’s Son is killed by wicked men. I can’t imagine God scrambling behind the scenes for a contingency plan. I don’t think it works like chess with each player constantly adjusting their game in response to their opponent - God backed into a corner, wondering what move to make next, sacrificing pawns to achieve His ultimate conquest...

The questions are too big, and too confusing. My mind is stretched beyond my capacity to follow my own crooked line of reasoning. 

I must resign myself to the fact that I am not God. And I am not big enough or smart enough to judge Him.

Maybe we don’t have to understand. If we did, God would probably have made us smarter than we are, with eyes good enough to see a bigger picture.

I fall back on what I do know - what I have been taught and what I have learned through experience.

The morning Rachel was killed, Jill and I read in our One Year Bible that “God is good. His faithful love endures forever.” We choose to accept or reject that statement, and we are confronted with it again and again in the Bible - and in our own lives. I have learned it is a matter of faith. When the evidence of our experience doesn’t correspond with the truth God has revealed about Himself, we have a choice to make. Like Nicolas Cage to Diane Kruger in National Treasure, God is asking, “Do you trust Me?” 

“ the evidence of things not seen.”

I had a conversation soon after Rachel’s death with a good friend of mine, Josh Moreland. I explained to him that I had grieved the death of my best friend, Erik Kolar,  rejecting God, (not that He wasn’t there and ready to embrace me - In my anger and pain I rejected the comfort of His loving presence). And I had grieved the death of my sister, Vanessa Elliott, embracing Him. I have learned it is better to grieve with faith in God’s goodness and love than without it. It is better to trust in Him than to trust in myself. 

I don’t know why God allowed my daughter to be killed by a drunken fool. I think it may just be part of the bargain of being. My contention is that I would be offended by any possible explanation. No reason would be good enough for me to allow my daughter to be killed. I am not God...or Abraham even. I would not sacrifice my daughter to achieve any conceivable good. Myself maybe, but not her. 

I think it is better that I do not know. I let the question go. Perhaps, someday, with better eyes I will see, with a better mind I will understand. But I resign myself to the fact that I may never know. Rachel is God’s daughter; I ascribe more significance to my contribution than I deserve to take credit for her life. 

What I have learned is that presence is better than understanding. When we are in pain we need comfort, not a lecture. That is why Job’s friends were better to him in their silence than in their speech.

Job never understood what was happening to him. He was never given any answers, and the deaths of his children were never justified. Nevertheless, Job clung to God in the darkness for dear life. Of the people who speak in the book, only Job bothers to pray. He continues to pray, and his prayers are not nice, Sunday School prayers.

I believe God is good. I believe His faithful love endures forever. I believe He loves me and He loves Rachel. I don’t understand, but I will cling to Him in spite of my confusion. I pray because it reminds me of my dependence on God for everything I have and am. I pray because prayer reminds me of His loving presence. And that is a comfort.

As Job said, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  Amen.


I went back to bed and slept in the middle of writing this. I dreamed of an angel telling me, “learning is the head catching up with the heart. You are learning,” she said, and she smiled a beaming, beautiful and loving smile, the kind of smile that blesses your whole day. 

I know: it is only a dream...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have struggled with these same issues since I lost my seventeen year old daughter, Amanda to a drunk driver in 2004. I have come to believe there is free will that we as parents have no control over.
I don't believe God allows these thing to happen.