Often, as they envision a loving God, a provider of good gifts, a healer, and a keeper of promises, believers will ask why he allows such things as cancer, and untimely death. Why doesn’t he answer our pleas for healing? Why didn’t he? Some will respond glibly that he did answer, but that his answer was “no”. Somehow, I never understood how this helps. If I were struggling to trust a God who fails to answer my prayer, I’d sooner believe that he didn’t hear me than to believe my request earned his intentional and unequivocal refusal. Then again, of course he answers “no”. And that is precisely the problem. Why not, God?
The “why” question, of course, presumes that God could heal, that healing is always on the table, always an option for him; and that when he fails to heal, he must surely have good reason. After all, he knows what is best for us. But what if it's not like that at all? Oh yes, in the simplest of Sunday School formulas, the doctrine of divine omnipotence rightly informs us that God can do anything. But what if his failure to heal is not the result of his choice at all? What if he does not heal because he cannot heal?
If yours is a theology similar to mine, then you will understand that we are caught up in a battle of all the ages, a conflict of cosmic proportions between good and evil. The cosmic version of this battle is not unlike the skirmishes in which we find ourselves in this life, skirmishes for which we are given specific instruction. Jesus both taught us, and demonstrated for us, how the battle is engaged, and how the victory is won: Evil is overcome by good, which involves the strange and counterintuitive battlefield tactic of turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, offering blessing for cursing, and praying for — even loving our enemy. Evil is never overcome by the display of greater force. It is subdued, disarmed, and overwhelmed by the consistent application of nonresistant love. And this tactic often involves a very high price, for it often involves suffering. For Jesus, the cost was his very life. Paul teaches us that all of creation has been thrown into a state of suffering in this conflict; and he constantly calls us to enter into the sufferings of Jesus. And so, Peter admonishes us not to think it strange when we suffer. It is part of the plan. Always was.
Such a tactic often appears to be a losing one. Love and nonresistance strike scant fear into the hearts of an opposing army. But the long story of history will prove this immutable truth: there is no force anywhere that can withstand the mighty arm of love. Love will win.
Thus this battle has rules of engagement, set by God himself: self-imposed rules which severely limit his freedom to intervene at will. But Jesus gave us deep insight into the heart of the Father when his own heart was overwhelmed with grief over the untimely death of his friend, Lazarus. Jesus wept. Rather than envisioning a wiser than I grandfather God who sometimes must say “no” lest we be spoiled by his doting, I envision a God whose heart was broken, moved to tears, profoundly saddened over Ginger’s death, and that he grieves with me and with each member of my family to this day, and will continue to do so until that promised coming day, the day of the restitution of all things.