Monday, October 25, 2021

Anonymous Asks (168)

“If God knows I’m hurting, why doesn’t he help me?”

The answer to the first part of this question is perfectly straightforward: God knows. Of course he knows. He’s God. How could he not know? “You discern my thoughts from afar,” wrote David. “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” The only being in the universe with full knowledge of the human condition is humanity’s Creator.

The second part’s a little tougher to answer. There are just so many possibilities ...

Let’s eliminate the obvious. Have you asked God to help? It may sound like a silly question, but I know plenty of Christians who moan to everyone who’ll listen about what’s going on in their lives but won’t spend ten minutes on their knees about it before God. I’ve done it myself. James writes, “You do not have because you do not ask.” So if you’re hurting, ask God for help, and persist in asking. Jesus taught his disciples always to pray and not lose heart.

But let’s assume you are praying, and praying earnestly for relief. What else could be going wrong?

1/ Iniquity Regarded

One prime candidate is unconfessed sin. David again: “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Now, David’s prayers were not hindered. He rejoiced that God had answered his request. But he acknowledges that he could have been stopped dead in his tracks if he had tried to come into God’s presence with a heart full of concealed guilt; if he had failed to get real with God. This can be a major problem even when we are hurting. After all, sin has consequences, and consequences can be painful. The most painful consequences may be the ones we bring on ourselves unnecessarily.

That brings up the oft-asked question, “What if I don’t know I’ve sinned?” I don’t think you need to worry about that. David is not talking about forgetting to confess a boneheaded moral error of the sort we all make half a dozen times a day — loss of temper, insensitivity, lack of charity, responding too harshly, and so on — he is talking about cherishing iniquity: fixing your attention on something you shouldn’t. If you’re doing it, you’ll know it, and if you really don’t know it, you can trust God to reveal it. He is not interested in punishing you just for the sake of it.

But let’s assume you have a clear conscience before God: you’re not holding a grudge against anyone who has asked for your forgiveness; you’re not in an “unequal yoke” relationship you refuse to give up; you’re not persistently doing something you know you shouldn’t be doing.

What else might account for God’s apparent indifference to your pain?

2/ Hurting Over the Wrong Things

A possibility: you may be hurting because you want something that’s bad for you. Often this happens with relationships. We set our hearts on partnering with the type of person who would make a less-than-stellar spouse and hinder our walk with the Lord, then ask God to sort out the mess we’ve created for ourselves when they don’t love us back the way we had hoped. This can happen even when the person we love claims to be a Christian, but is carnal, immature, incompatible in temperament or just not growing in the knowledge of God.

We need to recognize God is not bound to help his children do things that are not in their best interests, and that he is especially not bound to help his children do things that are not according to his revealed will. John writes, “This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” James says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

Unfulfilled desire can be very, very hurtful. The way to avoid that kind of heartache is to determine to desire only the things that please God.

3/ Lacking Faith

Another common problem with unanswered prayer is lack of faith. James writes about asking for wisdom without asking in faith, but the same principle is true of all requests we make to God. He says, “the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind”. It is necessary to believe both that God exists “and that he rewards those who seek him”. The key here is to be seeking God himself, not just some predetermined outcome. We cannot ask in faith if we doubt God’s love for us or his motives in allowing conflict and difficulty in our lives.

Sometimes God brings great sorrow into the lives of those he loves very much. Ezekiel’s wife died, and he knew it was coming. Job lost ten children and everything he owned, and he didn’t know it was coming. Paul served Christ for years in the knowledge that he would suffer, suffer and suffer again. Each man gained greater knowledge of God in the process of going through terrible losses, and Paul at least declared that it was all worth it.

Becoming a Christian doesn’t guarantee we will never suffer; in fact, it is highly likely we will. What we can guarantee is that Christians do not suffer meaninglessly, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God. But in order to truly enjoy the comfort of that promise, we need to believe it with every fibre of our being.

4/ Failing to Recognize Help Provided

Yet another possibility is that God is actually offering help you aren’t using or appreciating. This can take many forms: the lonely person who rejects people willing to spend time with her because she only wants a certain type of companion; the Christian who longs for direction from God but never reads his Bible so that the Holy Spirit can speak to him; the believer who is troubled by circumstances in his life but has never bothered to discuss them with mature Christians who might be able to offer him sound advice; the Christian who prays for deliverance from a bad habit but keeps putting herself in places where she is most likely to be tempted.

When Paul prays to be relieved of his “thorn in the flesh”, God’s response to him is interesting: “My grace is sufficient for you.” It sounds very much like God was already helping Paul, and Paul just needed to recognize that God’s help did not consist in taking Paul’s problem away, it consisted in enabling him to bear it and eventually come to adopt the right attitude toward it.

Maybe you are overlooking help that God has already sent your way because you have fixed your sights on a single solution to your pain and are unprepared to look at other options.

5/ Oversensitivity

A final possibility: maybe you need to toughen up a little, or at very least learn to look at your pain differently. If that sounds harsh, consider this: sometimes we hurt because we obdurately refuse to acknowledge the real state of the world. I have a friend who is constantly distressed because her ex behaves horribly toward her despite her persistent decency toward him. The fact is that her ex is just a nasty piece of work, and he’s very unlikely to change any time soon. Expecting good things from bad people is a fool’s game. She needs to learn from experience and manage her dealings with him in the knowledge that they may not ever improve, rather than hoping for a different result every time she comes in contact with him and being crushed with disappointment. Prepare for the worst and you will never be disappointed. You may even be pleasantly surprised once in a blue moon.

God told something similar to sensitive Jeremiah when he was constantly surprised and grieved by the wickedness of people around him, including members of his own family. “If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan? For even your brothers and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you; they are in full cry after you; do not believe them, though they speak friendly words to you.”

In short, sometimes we need to get used to the pain. It may be the cost of living like Christ in a world that is bitterly opposed to him.

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