Not exactly what I wanted

It’s been over a month now that my nephew has been in the hospital after suffering a traumatic brain injury. He’s been unconscious until just recently when he’s begun to show signs of responsiveness and it’s looking like he’ll recover, thank God, but he still has a long road ahead.

Almost every day I’ve prayed, please God…let today be the day he wakes up. And the day would end with my nephew still in another place. Scores of people have been praying for him and though his vitals have been good and he’s made progress, there’s been no miraculous healing and nothing about his progress that can’t be attributed to purely natural causes. So are our prayers going unheard?

All believers pray, and some non-believers too, and though many of us have never experienced any divinely direct response, many have, including me, which I talked about in this post. Stories of providential and outright miraculous interventions in response to prayer abound, if you’re willing to look for them. I’m currently reading Lee Strobel’s The Case for Miracles in which he chronicles a number of divine healings but mostly relates his discussions with prominent individuals who have investigated modern-day miracles and accept them as such, as well as a popular skeptic who discounts them as unreliable.

For atheists and skeptics an a priori commitment to naturalism rules out the possibility of miracles necessarily. But for those who are willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads, even to the supernatural, miracles are more than possible. They actually happen. But they don’t happen to everyone who prays for one, and many simple prayer requests go unanswered as well, leaving the impression for some that prayer is a colossal waste of time. It might surprise the skeptical non-believer to read that believers are among that “some.” It’s discouraging to pray repeatedly for something that never comes. So why do we keep the faith and continue to pray anyway?

The fact that there is good evidence that God sometimes answers prayers in miraculous ways is part of the answer. But for me it’s more so my conviction, from the evidence, that God is good and so his invitation to ask and receive cannot possibly be a heartless ruse, a cruel tease, or a mere platitude. That’s simply illogical. God would not tell us to pray and then ignore us when we do. The reason we don’t always receive what we ask for in faith must be because denying our request will result in something better than what we are asking…in the same way that we might deny ourselves that donut we crave for the better pleasure of good health and a slimmer figure. And because God loves not only us but the world, the better something may actually be for someone else. My sister has humbly received her son’s trauma as a situation allowed by God for a reason, confident that the reason includes the spiritual impact it is having on others and will have on her son. She is no less confident that God is walking through this trial with her, and as she experiences his presence and provision her faith is being strengthened. That is a huge blessing but it is one that must be given through suffering.

God is hearing and answering our prayers for my nephew, though not always exactly the way we would like. We’d like immediate and complete physical healing but God’s desire for him and us encompasses so much more than that. If we are wise we will acknowledge that he is wiser. If we love we can know that he loves us more than we love anyone. And if we have faith we must believe that a God who describes himself as “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” is a God who can be trusted to work all things for good.