Then [Job's] wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die." But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
—Job 2:9-10 ESV
I came back from the men's retreat I was on this weekend, but I did not return as I had hoped. Instead, I came back home weeping on the inside.
This is not the fault of the good men I grew closer to this weekend, but it has everything to do with the knowledge that even in the midst of good company, people truly do grieve alone. And I'd be lying if I claimed I was not grieving.
How long I've been grieving is a more difficult assessment. Or even what I'm grieving. Grief doesn't always announce itself or its intentions, we just know it's there, brooding. However, having the opportunity to get away and think a little may have jarred loose a few answers to both questions of "How long?" and "What?"
I'm grieving answers to prayer.
I'll say right away that you won't find a doctrine on this anywhere in the Scriptures. If you're the kind of person who detests what you might perceive as extrabiblical conjecture, then reading on will only anger you, so better stop right here and skip to another post. For anyone else, all I ask of you is to listen with the Spirit.
Anyone would think another a fool for grieving those answers to prayer that led to sustained blessings, and he'd be right. What's hard is dealing with answers to prayer that resulted in a firm No. Harder still is the answer that led to blessings that were later taken away before they bore fruit.
The accident that renders the promising athlete a quadriplegic. The new husband who loses his bride to an aneurysm only a month after their wedding. The career dream that was reached, only to be snatched away. The ministry that failed. The stillborn child.
We grieve them, don't we? Olympic glory. A love built for the future. The dream we put our sweat into all these years. The heeded call of God put into action. The child of hope. Once they seemed so beautiful in our thoughts and prayers, but what now? There is only grief.
It's popular in many Christian circles to counsel people that it's perfectly fine to get mad at God. But what of Job's response? He called such advice foolish and did not sin with his lips by giving in to such hellish temptation. Grief, though, was permitted, and so he grieved in the sackcloth of his acquired poverty and the ashes of his dreams.
Job's question is a penetrating one: Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? As for me, I believe Job is right, but I must also believe that grief is allowed when the prayers of the righteous result in something other than their intentions.
I was once told the story of a teen who was one of those extraordinary few who God revealed the purposes of her life. He gave her an enormous burden for the African people, so much so that her whole heart was given to missions at a young age. Upon graduating from high school, she worked hard to raise support and was richly blessed by the many people who loved her and caught her vision. When she was selected to join a team going to the African interior, the joy was palpable. She boarded the plane, set foot in Africa, and promptly died from a fever within days.
As far as anyone knows, she never got to share the message of Christ with anyone there. Thousands had prayed for her, hoped for her, and supported her. But what of all those prayers?
I used to think there was always a lesson in happenings like this, but I'm not certain I do any longer. Some things just are and perhaps all we can do is grieve those answers to prayer that we do not understand. I know people who have driven their faith into the ground looking for a lesson from some horrid injustice that pierced them, but what if there is no lesson other than the way of suffering? What if grief is its own lesson?
Some things make no sense. I know that I reflexively must understand why something is the way it is. None of us says, "Thy will be done!" easily, particularly when that will seemed to lead to ruin. Why did that bright girl with a heart as big as the world start and end her journey the same week? My only response is grief for a prayer answered in a way I cannot comprehend.
We in our household appear to be receiving an extra portion of these questions whose only answer is grief. The way of the cross? I would like to think so. Maybe this is the ultimate meaning and source for that manner of grief, but like a fog it rolls in and obscure everything else before burning off in a shimmering morning that paints diamonds on the grass.
Let us accept good and endure evil. And may our faces be turned to the Son.
9 thoughts on “Grieving Answers to Prayer”
Sorry to hear you’re going through it, Dan.
Even in the midst of suffering and the absence of specific answers, there are over-arching principles which guide our troubled trek. Hebrews 11, the Hall of Faith, speaks of the saints who “died in faith, not having received the promises” (vs. 13). We can find consolation in the sad tale of the girl who died from fever in Africa, because she desired “a heavenly country” (Heb. 11:16), and died looking to it. Who knows but that her tale would inspire others, even the readers of this blog, to turn our eyes there. At the least, she died trying which, I hope can be said of each of us. Hope I don’t sound preachy. I enjoy your thoughtful entries.
Dan, I do think there’s something about knowing Jesus in the fellowship of His sufferings that we (or at least, I) resist. I’d rather know Him any other way—every other way—than that one.
I appreciate your post so much, and I’m praying for you today.
I know what you mean. There have been several untimely deaths in the circles I move in lately— a baby, a child, a mother. I fall back on the hard truth that God’s ways are higher than ours.
There are several people to whom I would have given, I think, 25 years off my life to so they continue on. They could have accomplished so much had they lived, but they died so young.
Dan, thanks for the post.
What about the lament/complaint psalms? One-third of them are either lament or have lament in them. This is akin to what you’re talking about, I think.
People in hard times are asking hard questions to God, but in a way that is holding on to him. Job did that as well- chapter after chapter after rebuking his wife. I guess her take was to curse God and be done with it. Certainly not a posture of faith. But those who lament and complain to God are being honest and not telling him everything is wonderful when it is not.
The end result is more like what happened with Job. Did he ever get over the loss of his first children? Certainly not. I doubt that he really understood that well except to see the good that God worked in all things.
Dan, may the face of God shine bright enough that through the fog and the seemingly endless darkness, you can still see light. I know what you are speaking of. I have personal experience too and I just say that if you can’t stand, kneel, and if you can’t kneel, prostrate yourself. He will hold you.
We recently left a “third wave” church in which spirituality did not seem (to me, anyhow) to allow one’s life to be on minor key, at least not for long. What I think I’m trying to say is that you needed to be on major key at least most of the time to be considered “Spirit-filled”. This is not entirely fair to that church. But it does make a valid point, I think.
The alternative seems to be for people to simply throw in the towel. But there is a better way. This way, Dan, you are talking about.
You learn to accept, but not without a depth coming from grieving you’ve never had before. Maybe like the writer who wrote “It Is Well With My Soul” (having lost his daughters at sea).
God save me- to know more of your comfort in those depths, that I may be, in your grace a comfort to others, really your instrument of peace by which you bring your healing.
Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (NIV)
I’ve never heard anyone preach on this verse. It is certainly an embarrassment to our pragmatism to find out that “nothing works.” (As I type this, I am listening to the pipes playing “The Massacre at Glencoe” — try to explain that!)
“My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal.
Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes.
Cling to him and do not leave him, so that you may be honoured at the end of your days.
Whatever happens to you, accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient,
since gold is tested in the fire, and the chosen in the furnace of humiliation.” Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 2:1-5
Unfortunately, not in the reformation canon.