‘Just Have More Faith;’ How Bad Theology Hurts the Suffering, by Vaneetha Rendall Risner, posted March 21, 2019 at: http://www.desiringgod.org
Why does God answer yes to some prayers and no to others? Why does God miraculously heal some people and not others? Why does disaster strike one city and not another?
I’ve been pondering these questions since Hurricane Florence devastated much of eastern North Carolina last year. I live in the center of the state, and contrary to the foreboding predictions, we were relatively unaffected. In response, a friend said, “I know why we were spared catastrophe and the storm circled our area and went south. I was praying that God would keep us safe and he answered my prayers!”
I had no words.
I know that God answers prayer. And we need to pray. God tells us to ask, and it will be given to us (Matthew 7:7). But my friend’s words made me wonder if she thought that no one in eastern Carolina was praying. I know people whose livelihoods were destroyed in the storm. Everything they owned was gone. They escaped with their lives but nothing material left. Some of them begged God to spare their city.
What are we as believers to infer from these natural disasters? Can we simply draw straight lines between our requests and God’s answers? Years ago, I heard a pastor tell of his cancer that went into remission. When he told his congregation the good news, several commented, “We knew God would heal you. He had to. So many people were praying for you.”
While the pastor was thankful for others’ prayers, he also knew God did not owe him healing. Faithful believers throughout the ages have earnestly prayed and yet not been healed. The apostle Paul was not healed in order that God might show that his power could be made perfect in Paul’s weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
And then there was my own son, Paul, who died as an infant. We had prayed, fasted, and asked friends to pray for his healing. Several years after his death, we met a man who said when he learned of our loss, “Don’t take this wrong, but we prayed for all of our children before they were born. And they were all born healthy.” We had no words.
In considering the question of when and why God chooses to rescue, I was reminded of Acts 12 which begins, “About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also… So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:1–3, 5). Peter was then rescued the very night that Herod was about to bring him out, to presumably kill him as he had killed James.
Why did God let James die and Peter live?
Peter, James, and John were three of Jesus’s closest disciples. These three were often selected to be alone with Jesus. Yet their earthly lives after Christ’s resurrection were markedly different. John was the last of the disciples to die, Peter was rescued from prison in Acts 12, but church history records that he was later martyred by being crucified upside down.
James was the first of the disciples to be martyred. The Bible records that Herod killed James with no elaborating details. We simply know that Peter was spared while James was not. What are we to make of this? Did God love Peter more than James? Was James’s life less important? Did James have less faith? Were people not praying for James? (continued…)