An Ineffectual God
Several weeks ago, I shared with my friends and family a blog post on the outcome of our pregnancy with our second-born daughter Alisa. I titled that post When God Says No, detailing our journey of prayer and faith for Alisa's life and health, finding out in the end that she does in fact have Down syndrome. What I did not anticipate was how our story would spread so quickly as a result of this blog post. Largely, the response was positive. Many of you could relate to our journey because you, too, have had a similar experience with your child, family member, or friend. Others responded because you were drawn to the honesty of praying to the Lord with desperate prayers, only to find in the end that He said "no" or answered in ways much different than you desired. Whatever the reason, God has used our journey to bring together thousands of people who have wondered at the mysterious ways of God's work in our lives.
I was, however, contacted by some who did not resonate with my message of faith in a Supreme God who said "no" to my prayers. One person wrote these words to me: "Ineffectual prayers and an ineffectual god go hand in hand." Another challenged that I was making excuses for the God I serve, who was, in that person's opinion, powerless in the end to do as I had requested. These comments were not attacks, but they do reflect the fact that we have different worldviews and belief systems. Still, I have pondered their words over the last few weeks. To a world that does not know the God I serve, might it seem that He is impotent, powerless to change things? To one whose worldview might see the Christian God as unloving, distant, or nonexistent, does my faith seem weak and God seem ineffectual?
At the root of all these questions, I have come to the place of asking why. It is a question I certainly have asked before in this journey with Alisa. Why was my daughter born with Down syndrome? Logically, it does not make sense. Neither Trey nor I have a family history of birth defects like this. My age did not put me in a higher category of risk. I am healthy; he is healthy. So why? We absolutely adore our Alisa, and we do not regret for one second choosing life for her. My days are not spent wallowing in disappointment and grief that she has Down syndrome, either. I do not look at Alisa and only see Down syndrome, for she will always be Alisa the person and not defined by Down syndrome. She is my precious daughter, and come what may, we are committed to her life.
Still, it is only human to sometimes wonder at these deeper questions of "why." Our difficult journey has led me to be more sensitive to the suffering of those around me, too. I hear the often unspoken questions of "why" that drift throughout our days. You can see it in the eyes of those you encounter; perhaps you see the question in your own eyes when you look in the mirror.
Why did my child die?
Why did that storm take all of my earthly possessions?
Why did my spouse leave me?
Why do I have this disease?
Why did he molest me as a child?
This past weekend, Alisa was hospitalized because of an upper respiratory illness. She was not critical, but she needed IV fluids and regular suctioning to help her breathe. As I looked at my two month old infant in that tiny hospital gown, a different version of the same nagging question surfaced again. Why in the world do we even have a need for these tiny hospital gowns? The question honestly felt like a burning anger in the pit of my stomach. I wasn't angry at God or anyone in particular; instead, I was just angry at the reality that we live in a world that needs baby hospital gowns.
It seems so unfair and so wrong that such tiny lives are at times required to done these gowns. They should be healthy and vibrant, embracing the newness of life in its beginning! The reality is, though, that sometimes babies get sick. Sometimes babies are affected for the rest of their lives by illnesses that strike at a young age. And sometimes, babies die.
As genuine followers of Christ, the ability to honestly approach and address these questions allows us to be real with the world around us. Genuine faith in Christ does not ignore the raw and immense human suffering in this life with a blithe "God is in control" mantra that never goes deeper than that. Instead, our faith allows us to face these questions and to wrestle with their meaning. God, in fact, is unafraid of the question "why," even allowing this question to be found in the pages of His own inspired scriptures. For example, it is recorded that Gideon asked of an angel, "Please sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?" (Judges 6:13). The psalmist begs of God, "Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" (Psalm 10:1). Even Christ Himself cried out to God in His greatest hour of desperation, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46).
Would you journey with me as we face these deep and uncomfortable questions? I can promise you up front that we probably won't find the exact answers for which we are looking; others before me have already tried. Still, the benefit of asking and searching is worth the journey. I don't claim to be a scholar or a theologian, but I do claim to be a genuine follower of Christ, and I would like to boldly face these questions with you. I would like to bring our stories out, to hold them up in front of us and to simply say..."why?"...not in an angry or resentful manner, for that isn't the purpose of this blog. But we can still face these questions and search for God in the midst of heartbreak, tragedy, and confusion. We can still honestly stand before the Lord and wonder at the awfulness that happens in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
If there is one thing I am convinced of, even on the front end of this series, it is that God can handle our questions. He can handle our searching. If there is another thing I am already convinced of, it is this: the God that I serve is not ineffectual. I have seen His power and His goodness enough in my life to know this is true. Is there such thing as an ineffectual god? Sure, but it isn't the Sovereign God of Christianity. But how can I say this with such confidence? That is what I would like to explore in future posts. Are you "in"?