One of the laments that I most commonly hear from earnest, honest, aching devout Christians is this one: I prayed so hard, but my loved one still died. I don't understand. And now, I'm angry with God.
In fact, I think it's the one thing most, if not all, of us want to know. Why doesn't our prayer always work? Why don't we get what we agonizingly ache for? Didn't God say that if we prayed in His name, He'd do it? Ask, and we shall receive?
Why, then, do bad things still happen to those who pray?
First, if this is you - if these are your questions and this is your ache - you're not alone. You're in fact in very good company, as this is the most pressing question Christians have always faced, and it is one that troubles the hearts of many. You may hope that I'm about to settle the question for good; I'm not, but I'm going to offer what minimal wisdom I have here in the hopes that it might serve as some kind of balm. If it doesn't, keep asking. Keep aching. Keep wondering. It's okay.
Second, if this is you, know this: it is not a reflection on how much faith you don't have. For far too long, we have blamed these questions on ourselves (and the church has blamed them on us), saying that if we just believed a little more or had a little more faith or perspective, then things would be different. That's a bunch of junk, and all it does is wound the hearts of the wounded. Don't listen to another word of that trash. Ever.
Now, here's what I know: Jesus changes everything.
There are a number of stories of healing in the Bible, a great number of them. You'll notice, if you look at them, a distinct shift from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Overwhelmingly, the life-threatening situations are healed in the Old Testament, while the quality of life troubles are handled in the New. Yes, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, and Peter is said to have raised a man in Acts, but by and large, if you're looking for those who should have died and didn't (or died and then lived again), the Old Testament is the place to be. If you're looking for the blind, the deaf, the lame who see and hear and walk, head into the New.
What's up with that? It's fairly simple.
Before Jesus, the people of God did not have a reference for life after death. They didn't know what resurrection meant, and they didn't have the promise of eternal life. The hope, maybe, but it was a distant hope that rested in a yet-unarrived Messiah that they might not ever get to see. The mightiest acts of God, then, were to save them from this death and give them the only life they knew.
Because of Jesus, we now know a new life; it is the life that happens after death, the wholeness of restoration in resurrection. All of a sudden, our best bet...isn't here. It's not this life. There is not a way, by any stretch of the imagination, for God to restore us to the kind of life here that we will have there, not by a long shot.
And so we pray. We pray earnestly and fervently and achingly for our loved ones who are suffering. We pray for their healing. We pray in God's name. And our God gives them the most incredible healing that He knows how; He takes them home.
It doesn't seem fair to us. It hurts. It sucks. When we prayed for healing, what we really wanted was our loved ones back. We wanted them to breathe again, to live and to love with us for a little while longer. We wanted God to soothe our souls by giving us our family and friends and neighbors back with the fullness of life in them.
Yet, we know because of Christ that the truest fullness of life is not possible here. Not in this broken world.
And we get mad at God. We get angry. (And that's okay - God can handle our anger.) But could we really expect anything different from Him, if truly we are praying in His name and His will? How could a loving, gracious, merciful God ever decide that the fullest way to heal a man is to put him back in a broken world? How could we expect God, in being consistent with His own heart for His people and with His character, to choose a fallen earth over a glorious heaven as the very best place for any one of us to be? Yes, we have purpose here. Yes, our lives have meaning. But in those moments when our life dances between one place and another, between mere recuperation and real, vital, glorious healing? There's no comparison.
It doesn't soothe the ache. It doesn't take away the hurt that we feel, we who are left behind. It doesn't make our hearts stop breaking. But it's a comfort nonetheless. For God has done exactly what He promised to do and what we have prayed for; He has healed someone we love so much.
May He also come and comfort our grieving souls.