Exodus 15:26 “For I am the Lord who healeth thee”
Isaiah 53:3 “By His stripes we are healed”
Psalm 107:19-20 “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave”
Psalm 103:2 “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits- who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases”
I grew up in a very charismatic church that believed in the healing power of an omnipotent God. I was taught to believe that God is good, that he has a plan and a future for every life, and that his will for his children is good. While I admit that this is still true, I wasn’t able to fully process the depth or the complexity of those truths until I was older. As a child and a preteen, I thought that because God had a plan for my life and was only good, then nothing bad could ever happen. Sure, little things could go wrong, but nothing completely earth shattering. After all, he is the God who split the Red Sea for the Israelites, shut the mouth of lions for Daniel, knocked down a giant for David, and stepped into the flames for Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego. I loved those stories. I remember watching them all as VeggieTales. In fact, I watched them before I learned how to read, so when I could finally read the stories on my own, I remember that I used to picture the little vegetables running around. (Imagine my horror when I discovered that in Esther, the Jews were being put to death instead of being sent to the Island of Perpetual Tickling!)
My understanding of God was that he was big, powerful, and he loved me very much and would always take care of me. Again, all those things are still true, but my understanding of “taking care of me” looked very different. The shift began to happen when my childhood friend Christopher Floyd got sick. He was only a year younger than me, and we grew up in church together. Chris was kind, very intelligent, and funny. He knew that God had big plans for his life even from a young age, so when he got sick, I honestly had no doubt in my mind that God was going to heal him. I remember thinking, “Wow, what an amazing testimony he is going to have!” Chris battled cancer with the faith community behind him. I remember one day, we had him come up to the front of the church so the congregation could pray for him, and he was offered a chair, but stood there because he knew God was going to give him the strength to stand and to be healed. He was the bravest person I knew.
Maybe it was my age or maybe it was my limited understanding of what God’s provision looks like, but I was honestly shocked when my parents told me that Chris had died. It made absolutely no sense.
God is the God who healeth thee! If you have the faith of a mustard seed, you can say to the mountain, “move!” and it will move! Why didn’t the mountain move? Why didn’t my faith work? Chris’ death affected me so profoundly because not only was he my first significant loss, but his death meant the first time that God did not behave in the way that I expected. What I read in the Bible didn’t match what I saw in real life.
I worked at Hastings my freshman year of college, and their slogan is that they are Hastings, home of the 49 cent movie rental. People would come in for our 49 cent movies, only to learn the fine print states it is only 45 cents after a 50 cent credit back if they return the movie the next day. That always bothered me. But I often felt like some of God’s promises were like that 49 cent movie: I read about it, but when I tried to take hold of them, there would be some fine print that I missed. And I don’t even know what that fine print is all the time. I just know his promises don’t always turn out looking like I first read them. It’s not that I feel cheated by God, because He’s the one who gives everything anyway. But I did struggle to understand when a 49 cent movie really is a 49 cent movie and when there is some element or some fine print that I just don’t know that keeps it from being as simple as its face value. Why didn’t the mountain move?
This tension started when Chris died, and it was aggravated each year when another person in my life would die. It became something where I would say, “Okay, God. I know you said no last time, but I really need you to come through and heal this time” and then “okay, I know you said no the last two times, but how about this time?” the last three times, and still the next year, “I know you have said No the last FOUR times, but I need a miracle here. Could this one be any different? Could you say yes? It is possible that prayer changes things?”
That fourth time was my senior year, and I watched my older sister battle, with the most grace, strength, and poise, right alongside her sister-in-law and best friend who ultimately died of cancer, leaving behind two young boys. One day toward the end, I remember I was babysitting. Watching them playing, blissfully unaware, I began to pray for the God who healeth thee to come down and part the waters for us to walk through.
They didn’t part.
So with a deeply rooted mistrust in what I thought were misquoted, mistaught, commercial promises of God (healing, for example), I headed to college. Little did I know that the most profound loss, the most painful disappointment, the most confounding questions were waiting for me in my sophomore year.
I was leading worship that year for my sorority, and I was experiencing a sweet season of growth in my faith. The bitterness, the questions, the disappointment was all starting to fade a little as I chose to put my trust in Him and even lead others to worship him.
I went home on a Thursday because my Friday classes were cancelled and I didn’t have to work that weekend. I remember I was sitting downstairs on the couch when my mom told me that my younger sister Mandi had been taken to the hospital (she wasn’t living with us at the time- see my earlier post). In a moment of indecision, I let my mom go and resolved that I would go visit in the morning. It did sound serious, however, so I remember praying desperately the same “God I know you said no before, but could you say yes this time?”
The next morning, I awoke to several missed calls that said things had gotten much worse unexpectedly and that they were doing CPR. Now my prayers turned to panicked yelling, no longer asking God to heal her, but reminding him that he is the God who healeth thee!
Holding her cold hand in the hospital bed, I was furious with the God whom I felt had let me down. He had never said yes when I most desperately needed a life or death miracle. Why was I so naive to think that he would start now?
That “no” from God put an end to me asking him for things for a little over a year. Sure, I would pray and converse with him. I’d praise him and talk to him about life, but ask him for things? Submit my requests to the Lord? Not a chance. I resigned to the fact that prayer didn’t have any effect on God’s sovereign will. I did so much research on this. I desperately tried to logic it together. I honestly got very Calvinistic for a little while there. It was easier for me to pray that God would help me trust him and to cope with whatever decisions he made than to be vulnerable enough to ask him for what I wanted. That required putting myself in a position that could be disappointed again. It had hurt so deeply when he said no to healing Mandi (and all those times, really) that I was going to skip the part where he could potentially say “no”. I didn’t want to get my hopes up. It was a lose-lose situation, really. If he said yes to a prayer, I would’ve been so angry that he said yes to some less significant situation when he wouldn’t say yes to Mandi’s life, and if he had said no to a prayer, I would’ve considered it just another reason to trust that prayer doesn’t change things.
With time and community, I eventually became convicted because the Bible specifically states to pray for things and submit your requests to the Lord. So I made my word for 2015 “obey” and I specifically meant it in regards to prayer. I was going to start asking God for things again only because he said to. I was a teenager pouting as I cleaned my room or did my chores. I wasn’t happy about it, and I didn’t do it without a fit, but I did it.
The problem is, I am such a logical processor. I needed something to make sense. I needed some consistency. I needed answers. So, in order to pray, I came up with a flow chart that I would use any time I was going to ask for things. It started when we went on a cruise, ironically enough, with Christopher Floyd’s family. As a side note about that cruise, I vividly remember one night at dinner, we all sat at a rectangular table. The four Floyds on one side, four of my family on the other, we totaled 8. The table we were placed at had 10 chairs, which left exactly one empty chair at the end. One on The Floyds’ side. One on ours. It was incredibly sad and incredibly obvious that each family was missing exactly one person at the table.
Anyway, as I stepped onto the boat, I remember just by instinct thinking “pray for safe travel”. Then the pouting teenager living in my brain popped up and said “well maybe it’s not God’s will that the boat gets across safely. Who are you to say you know God’s will? Sometimes God’s will is for people you love to die!” Thinking through that, I wrote out this chart.
Thankfully, this chart acted like training wheels and eventually I was able to just start asking God for things without having to go through this whole mess. Instrumental to this process was Andy Stanley’s “When God” series. I highly recommend it for anyone who has related to anything in this post. Andy Stanley unpacks three different stories in the Bible in which God tells people no. Finally! I was sick of reading the gospels where all Jesus ever said to people was “Take up your mat and walk” or “your faith has made you well.” Why didn’t he ever look someone in the eyes and say, “no. trust me anyway” like he did to me all those times?
So again, this series was life breathing. It prompted me to study God’s character in a wider lens. Disagree with me if you want, but I believe God allows- and am starting to suspect that God may even cause some of the bad things to happen here on earth for his ultimate glory. Jesus lets lazarus die to show Mary and Martha that he is the resurrection. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that the miracle would be bigger and God’s power would be greater displayed (Exodus 9:16). Think about that one for a minute. God caused Pharaoh to say no to Moses so that the stakes would get higher. Pharaoh saying no led to the deaths of firstborn sons of each Egyptian family. That’s a lot of bloodshed. Of children. And the Bible says that God is the one who hardened Pharaoh’s heart to keep him from saying yes. It is possible, then, that God not only allows, but could even cause things to happen that we don’t like in order to show us something about his power and his glory? I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I know this is a theological hot spot, so I admit that I could be wrong here. I am just starting to suspect that maybe that is the case. Maybe God is bigger than the box I have been putting him in. Maybe he is bigger than my flowcharts.
What clarity I have gained through all this clouded confusion and sorrow is this: I have an unshakable trust in the ultimate goodness and trustworthiness of God’s character. Even when I don’t understand how that works. I concede that my logic can’t fully comprehend it all, and although that answer often frustrates me as it sounds like an excuse to not think through issues, it doesn’t change my deepest conviction that God is good and his plans are good.
What God has done, it is well done.
His will is always just.
Whatever he shall do to me,
in Him I’ll ever place my trust.
Here’s the link to that Stanley series: http://northpoint.org/messages/when-god