26 February 2016
At the end of a very bad week
Emma Fowle is freelance writer and blogger from Cornwall.
If God is good, and God loves us, and God doesn't 'make' us ill, and God always hears our prayers, then why do bad things happen?
There have been books written about it and probably a zillion sermons preached. Long talks and tears shed and hearts wrung out around kitchen tables over the illness and suffering that we see around us in the world, and the collision that it causes in our hearts when the promises we read in our Bibles don't seem to stack up against the realities of life.
I feel it when I read about refugee camps being bulldozed, and young girls in Rotherham being groomed and sexually assaulted by men who should know better. I feel it when I read about the little girl who died from meningitis, and I, along with many other parents, sign our names on a piece of paper and pray we never go through that sort of pain.
I feel it even in my everyday. Not the big things, not in people dying or real trauma even, but just the everyday less-than-perfect. People hurting. Issues at work that I can't put right. Words spoken and pain inflicted and this longing that somehow – somehow – things should be better.
If only the Bible were a more complete how-to manual. Step-by-step instructions. Do this, then say that, and 1-2-3, hey presto! Healing comes, forgiveness flows, injustice is righted and wrongs overcome.
Instead, we are sometimes faced with unpredictability and fear and a sometimes-sense that we have absolutely no idea what we're doing or praying, questioning if anything will ever change, anyway?
The problem is, that although a 100 per cent results guaranteed how-to manual on effective prayer techniques would be very useful at times, He never is and never was our genie in a bottle. That's not to say that God is sitting up there in heaven, randomly selecting when to hear our prayers and when to not, like some sort of celestial game of Russian roulette to keep us on our toes.
But perhaps, when Jesus admonished the crowds in Galilee for always demanding signs and wonders of him, he touched on something that relates to us now as well as it did then. Will we – can we – believe in God when things don't always go our way?
The hard-to-bear truth is that I don't know why some prayers appear to be answered and some don't. Perhaps I never will. But I do know that God is good, and that He created our world perfect. That He walked and talked and dwelt with us there until we chose to disobey Him. And in doing so, opened up our world to good and bad, to death and decay, and since that time we've lived with the consequences we see around us every day.
And I know that one day, that pain and suffering won't be there anymore: that God has already set the wheels in motion to end death and illness and suffering forever. And I know that while I don't understand why prayers sometimes go unanswered, I have a God that feels the pain of my suffering, too.
Hebrews 4:15 says: "For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize and understand," because He too suffered, saw suffering, experienced pain. And yet endured, that one day there would be pain no more for any of us.
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying: 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.' And He who sits on the throne said: 'Behold, I am making all things new.'" Revelation 21:3-5.