I’ve lashed out twice in the past week. Okay, well, I guess I wouldn’t really call it “lashing out”. I like to think I’m a little more articulate than that. And hopefully a little more gracious. But sometimes, that’s probably not true.
The one thing that gets my blood boiling, my hands shaking, the words primed like bullets on my tongue is the topic of prayer. Not prayer, in general, but the telling of a half-story. The kind that misrepresents and causes so many to lose faith when prayers go unanswered.
This half story is this: God is God in life.
This is the gospel of “where two or more are gathered, it will be done”. It’s the gospel of “faith that will move mountains”. It’s the gospel that, in it’s worst moments, tells people that if they had enough faith, their prayers would be answered, or if they just followed this magical formula, then things would be different. At it’s best, this half gospel can bring people to their knees, surrendering their hearts and lives to Jesus and asking humbly for what they need in his name. It’s a beautiful story when people are healed and prayers are answered in the way we ask. It’s a very attractive gospel in a broken world.
I loved this gospel, and I used to buy fully in. This was it. This was the only message needed.
Until I sat on the other side of praying daily for my little boy and still losing him. Until I met hundreds upon hundreds— probably reaching into the thousands— of grieving parents who prayed and prayed and their prayers for healing were not answered in the way they wanted. Most are furious. Many have left their faith. Others have been further solidified in the belief that there is no god. They’ve heard the half gospel, and it just hasn’t stood true.
They are the primary reason that I cannot sit silently. The primary reason that the other half has to be told.
The whole story is this: God is God, in life and in death.
It’s not exclusive to one or the other, but the truth is that sometimes healing happens on this earth, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes prayers are answered in the ways they were prayed, and sometimes they aren’t. But we rush and we fumble as we search for answers and band-aids to cover up the pain that so many feel, but we have to realize that our answers fall short. Sometimes life gives impossible situations that we cannot understand, and sometimes God’s ways refuse to be reduced to human words or explanations.
Sometimes things are bigger, and sometimes doors close, and our hearts break, and nothing we do or say can fix it. Those are the times when half gospels don’t work. The half story of God answering every prayer as long as we have enough faith doesn’t stand in the face of unfathomable loss. It begs into question if the person who prayed didn’t have the same amount of faith as the next. Or it begs into question the character of a god who picks and chooses who he will save and who he will heal.
When we choose to see the whole story— that God is god in life AND god in death, we find a solution. It’s not pretty at first glance— I’ll give you that. God being the god in life is the attractive part. The fact that God might not heal on this earth or answer our prayers in the way we have prayed is devastating. It’s hard to swallow, and it’s certainly not very marketable.
Thankfully, by the time my son was born very ill, I had enough theological foundation to stand on and understand that even when God was silent, it did not compromise his character and goodness. God and I had an understanding. He made me stubborn, so I would pray and fight like hell, and he would make sure that we were all taken care of— whether that was on the dry earth or with him in glory.
And if Charlie lived, it would be by His hand.
And if Charlie died, He would have to keep me breathing.
It’s as simple as a promise. He is good. Even when it’s hard to see. Even when it doesn’t make sense. It’s not something I’m here to preach, but it’s an unchanging promise to which I’ll hold him. The whole story is this: God is God in life and God in death. He is above time. He is all good. All powerful. Loving. Perfect. Savior. And sometimes things don’t fit into boxes our hearts can comprehend.
He’s not just God in life. That’s a half story— a half gospel. That’s more harmful to the hurting than most can comprehend. He is God in death, as well. He is good in death. He is good in all circumstances, even when our fervent prayers fall on seemingly deaf ears. He’s the God who chose the path of great pain to bear the burdens of our sin so we wouldn’t have to pay the ultimate price— complete separation from him. Hell. Eternal brokenness. That’s the promise— being with Him. Not an easy life. Not a perfect path. Not coming out unscathed. It’s about realizing there is more. It’s about realizing that he is God in life… and God in death.
God, bigger than human explanation.
God, who holds us, even in the broken and the messy and the ugly, ugly, ugly.
The whole story. Yes, He can, but yes, He holds you even when it all crumbles— He’s there, crumbling a little with you, yet standing firm, hurting and loving every step. And He’s strong enough for that.
Half stories are good, but they don’t stand. The whole, messy, broken, redemptive, beautiful story is much, much better, and it’s one that we need to cling to, even when it’s hard to swallow or understand.
God in life and God in death.
This is it. Let’s tell whole stories.