Some years ago I received several prank calls, the ones where the phone rings and there is no one on the other end.
It was rather unsettling to answer and find silence, when I expected a voice. For some of us, there are times when God appears silent. Maybe we have made an emergency call to God in the form of a desperate prayer and God didn’t seem to answer: we didn’t get the job we hoped for; the health of a loved one did not improve; or the conflict we faced got worse, not better.
In wrestling with God in prayer, we must recognise that God is not a divine Santa Klaus whose main job is to favourably answer all our requests. God is not at our beck and call. Disciples of Christ are invited to serve God and others, rather than behave like religious consumers who think that God should always be serving me.
Sometimes, I think that prayer is paradoxical; God answers prayer and God does not answer prayer. Jesus taught us to have a faith that will move mountains, not just smile at them. In the garden of Gethsemane, perhaps Jesus’ darkest moment before the cross, he agonised about doing God’s will. His trust in God is amazing, he cries out, “Abba Father, all things are possible for you”.
Jesus did not downsize God in moments of pain. God was still omnipotent, a God of miracles and might.
Aaron Kushner’s excellent book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, reflects on the death of a child. Kushner believes that God loves, but in the face of suffering we should reduce our expectations of what God can do. While I have every sympathy for Kushner’s point of view, I think Jesus’ teaching and example show that we should never reduce or limit the power of God.
Virtually every line in the Apostle’s Creed hinges upon a miracle: the creation of the world; the virgin birth; the resurrection of Jesus from the dead; the ascension of Jesus into heaven and the bodily resurrection of the saints. Christian faith affirms that Jesus was not simply a religious social worker, but a miracle worker. Recent research bears this out.
Professor John Meier in his magnum opus three volume work, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the historical Jesus, spends over five hundred pages sifting through the various historical data that point to Jesus as a healer and miracle worker. He makes a huge case for the authenticity of the miracle tradition in Jesus’ public ministry.
Having affirmed the love and power of God, our experience teaches us that there are dark moments when God’s love and power seem to have dried up. In the Old Testament, Job experiences a litany of agonising, tragic moments in his life. God appears to Job, God does not say to a grieving and confused Job, “Sorry I’d like to help, but I can’t”.
Quite the reverse; God rolls back the clouds to reveal to Job an awesome vision of God’s power and authority.
God asks the question, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth?” (Job 38). Job does not get a direct answer to his suffering, but his epiphany of God’s power evaporates Job’s need for a full explanation to suffering and the seeming silence of God.
In recent weeks, I have lived with the prayer paradox. God is love, God is powerful, yet God sometimes says ‘no’ to our prayers. We are called to faith, hope and love and sometimes our prayers and our questions are not answered. Such is the life of faith.
Rev Steve Francis
Moderator of the Uniting Church WA