When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 12

This is the last posting of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn that began as In the Shadow of Death. Despite their best theological certainty that God would heal her, Lynn passed away from metastasized breast cancer. Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but also with his view of a God he was certain would heal her.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan, July 31, 2019 (96 days after first email):

This has been a series of awful days as far as the devastation of grief is concerned. The reality of Lynn being dead is so horrific. I am quickly losing hope and lacking any reason to have it. God is silent. I am all alone in this world. People respond, “Oh, Alan, you’re not alone.” But I realized the other day that I do not know anyone in Lynn’s and my peer group that has ever lost a spouse. Many of them have lost a parent or friend but no spouses. I’m glad for them. I would not wish this on anyone. But at the end of the day, no one knows what to say.

Hope is non-existent.

I have been listening to some of your messages online trying to convince myself that God is not punishing me. Then my mind goes to all the ways I was unfaithful to the precious gifts God gave me. I never committed adultery with another woman, but in my position as a part-time disc jockey at a big country music station, I had myriad opportunities to flirt with women who called in to my show and flirted with me. I have done and thought and fantasized things that said, “Father God, I do not appreciate this precious woman.” Things that I looked at online were a disgrace to my wife.

So, here I am. Harvest time for Alan. Wife dead. God knows all of these things, and I feel that I am reaping corruption that comes from sowing to the flesh.

Your message is “living loved.” How can he “interact with me as His beloved,” and sit by in silence as my wife dies? Knowing He could have healed her in this realm with a breath or a word or a thought and yet when I poured my heart out in prayer, when Lynn poured hers out in prayer, He essentially said, “No.” How is that love at any level? Are we as believers – as his children – only to expect that he’ll be there to help us pick up the pieces when life crashes, but not to intervene to keep things from shattering?

Why did the apostles say to pray? We have a God, a Father. Isn’t there some benefit associated with that that unbelievers do not have? God let Lynn die. He took her. Yes, she is blessed beyond measure and likely not even aware of my pain. But he could have healed her here; he didn’t. I’m left in an avalanche of empty, lonely searing pain. I try to pray for others who are going through battles with cancer, and I wonder what is the use?

The other day I was listening to a teaching and how God delivered Israel from Egypt after 400 years of bondage. 400 years! What about those who lived and died and essentially had their cries for freedom ignored during all those years? At the end of the day, God is sovereign and will do what He wants when He wants, and we are best served by living with no expectation of answered prayer. We can only hope that we don’t end up too broken. My mistake was having too much hope and faith.

Paul went through tribulation. The apostles died horrific deaths. Where is the hope, the evidence in this life that having a Heavenly Father is even real? When does my mourning turn to joy? When will He give me gladness for sorrow? Lynn loved God and trusted Him, and I am confident even in her pain and death, she never had these cynicisms that I have. Her heart was never tainted with what she didn’t understand nor with the questions that I had. She often told me in frustration to trust God when I would be at a crossroads. But, it seems that we are just to shut up and try to be obedient and never get our hopes up even though we are supposed to have faith to please Him.

Wishing I could tell her “Happy Birthday” again in this life,

My response

I know, Alan, and my heart breaks for you this morning.

The first year of grief is always the most painful—first birthday, first anniversary, first holidays, first vacation, all the things you do the first time without her will feel hollow and horrible. Grief comes in waves. That’s why you’ll have good days, where you think you might be getting beyond it, and then WHAM! A special day, a memory, a place you both thought special, or a random rush of pain will cross your path, and the grief rushes back in. Take hope in this, the painful days will, in time, grow less intense and less often, and the better days of celebrating the love you shared will grow more frequent, sweeter, and more prolonged.

The only way through this is through it. Great wisdom, eh? As much as you might want to run from it, embrace it. One person said when the darkness overwhelms you don’t chase the sunset because you’ll never catch it. The fastest way to the light is to head toward the sunrise, away from the setting sun and the light will yet appear again, sooner if you head east than if you chase it hopelessly to the west.

How I wish you could just grieve on the days that seem so dark and invite your loving Father into that grief! Instead, what you believe about God takes you to a different place. Instead of having God as a comforting presence inside your pain, you beat yourself up for every bad thing you’ve ever done or mistakes you’ve ever made. Do you really think God would kill your wife to punish you for something you did wrong? Do you really think God would say, “You looked at another woman years ago, so I gave your wife cancer?”

Is that how you interpret sowing and reaping, that reaping is God giving you a penalty for some weakness or failure? Can you appreciate that when your mind goes into that dark hole, it will seem as if God is silent, even when he is not? His beckoning to you with great compassion is drowned out by the way you view him.

I can assure you the God who loves you was not silent through any of this. Unheard, maybe, because some things you’ve believed about him made it difficult to sense what he was saying to you, especially in the crisis you were in. In the flood of great waters, we can lose sight of who he is because we are so focused on our disappointment or feeling betrayed. I’ve tried to reflect some of what he has been speaking to you in my words through these many emails, and you have recognized that at times. He has been there with you. My words have just been imperfect reflections of the deeper love and wisdom in his heart for you. That’s why I struggle so against religious thinking that puts God on the other side of our pain, as the cause of it whether it be through punishment or “allowing it” through a lack of concern. I reject both of those.

You were not the cause of Lynn’s cancer; this is not punishment from him. Jesus took all of that for us. If he’s still punishing you for your mistakes or imperfections, then Christ died in vain. Sowing and reaping are not about punishment for past actions, but the simple consequences we face for the choices we make. Sow generosity, reap generosity. Sow indulgence, reap emptiness and pain.

I pray you can come to see God as the one who loves you more than anyone on this planet ever has or ever will. I want you to see Jesus as the loving Shepherd teaching us to live in the increasing freedom of the Father’s reality and growing us out of the places we got stuck and twisted. None of our failures surprise him, and none of them cut us off from his love. All of us can go back in our lives and pick out every mistake, bad thought, sinful action, or indulgence and think any of them exclude us from his love and care, but it still isn’t true. He’s the only one that can shape the trajectory of our lives and draw us out of the darkness and into the light. We won’t hear him do that if he’s condemning us for the darkness.

He celebrates our progress toward the light, not holding our past mistakes against us. How could we grow if he did? Ask him to help you let go of the past, not the good parts, but the mistakes and failures. You are his child—today! He is the rescuer in your story. No, that rescue did not include Lynn’s healing in this world to our great disappointment, but she has it now in another. And now he wants to rescue you through the grief and reveal himself to you in ways you’ve never imagined.

Don’t stay in the past, focused on your failures. Wake up every morning in the fresh mercy of a loving Father. Follow him each day in the simple things he nudges your heart towards. He will lead you beyond the grief to all that he still has planned for you in your days on this earth. Let who he really is sink in past your disillusionment with him. You are being dis-illusioned. You had illusions about God that were never going to serve you well. He wants you to know him as he really is, and that is far better than either of us could conceive.

So, lean into love, Alan. It will be there for you every day. He’s closer than we know. Ask him to open the eyes of your heart to what is true of him, and for the God of all comfort to hold you in those moments you despair of life, just like Paul did (2 Corinthians 1).

I’m praying, too, Alan. I think you’re making significant progress, but I know that may be tough to see from where you sit, especially today.

———————————————————–

This is the last blog I’m going to do in this series. Alan and I have continued to be in touch, and I see signs of new life springing up in him as he continues to move forward. What’s more important is that he does, too. Here are a couple of snippets he sent me toward the end of August.

… I had a cool moment yesterday as I was going through some of her CDs and found the original one where I first heard you. You were in Wisconsin talking about living loved, and it is terrific. I’m listening to it multiple times, which seems to be a habit I’ve developed of late – listening to teachings that minister to me over and over.

… I am in a weird place. I am still grieving hard for my sweet bride. But I feel like God is putting me back together. A friend spoke to me and said that they felt like God was showing them that I am like a big tree that has had the bark blown off, and that has been nearly obliterated. But there is still a deep root. And that root is springing forth new life, and the tree will grow again. I don’t know, but I am thankful more and more for Lynn and her strong, steadfast faith.

If there’s a significant development here that extends the story, I will add it in a future blog. But I think Alan is finding his footing again and it will just take time for the grief of Lynn’s passing to be overwhelmed by the new creation that will continue to spring up in Alan’s journey. I want to thank “Alan” for giving me permission to share his emails, and thus his vulnerability and pain, with all of us. There were some raw moments in there that were real, and I know they resonated with many of you as you sort out God’s goodness in the face of him not doing what you thought love, or your theological convictions, would compel him to do. Our best intentions and misguided expectations can so easily block out our ability to sense his presence and see his fingerprints unfold in our days.

Every week my inbox is full of people facing horrible tragedies, and it is also filled with lots of stories of people who have been through those tragedies and come out on the other side more alive in Christ than ever and more transformed to embrace who God really is. Finding our security in his love, especially when the foundations of our lives are shaken, is quite a process. Pain has a way of dulling our spiritual senses, but God’s Spirit is even better at helping us embrace reality and find that God is bigger than our disappointments in him.

Dave Coleman, my co-author on So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, often tells me that he thinks 90% of Christians live with an undercurrent of anger towards God for not answering their prayers. Many have lost children, spouses, marriages, businesses, or friends in sickness, accidents, betrayal, or just unforeseen circumstances that sidetrack our joys or hopes.

The only absolute reality is that we are deeply loved by the God who made us and he wants to be inside the most brutal moments of our lives with us, helping us resolve our pain and draw closer to him. To do that, it will help if we lean on him at such times and not push him away by our false judgments about him or his motives toward us. He can handle our honesty, our disappointments, and our fears and walk us out to a place of freedom. That’s not a given, however. Brutal times can make us defensive, bitter, and isolated, or they can open our hearts to compassion, humility, and transformation.

I don’t believe God causes sickness and disease or withholds healing to make us better people, to punish us for our past mistakes, or to teach us much-needed lessons. He doesn’t have to. This broken Creation causes pain enough for all of us in various seasons. How we navigate them inside his care is way more important than trying to figure out why they happen, or why he doesn’t fix them the way we want.

I have been overwhelmed with email, blog comments, and FB postings that many of you have shared as this story has touched something in your own journey. I do think we’d be better off if we talked openly about these things—prayer, healing, death, disappointments. And our own mortality. Growth comes in such exchanges.

On this side of the Resurrection, we are all mortal. Until Jesus comes again, you and everyone you know will die. That’s how we get from this realm into the next. Death is so excruciating for those it leaves behind because of the vacuum it creates when their love and presence departs.

We forget, however, that for those who die in Christ, it is just the beginning of the greatest adventure ever into the unrestrained depths of God’s love!

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6 Comments
  1. Colleen Kennedy August 28, 2019 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    Thank you so very much, Wayne, for sharing this email exchange with Allen. While I have not lost someone I love, the journey of life has been a difficult one for several years, 14 yrs to be exact, with very stressful financial challenges which have included the selling of our homes and resulting moves twice, ongoing personal health issues, unexpected circumstances with one of our children having twins who they are now raising as a single parent, extended family conflict, and all in the midst of trying to follow God’s leading to complete a Master’s degree to change career paths and to become a licensed psychotherapist (which I did complete in 2014).

    My health issues in particular of the last 3-4 yrs. have striped me of my self-reliance. A very painful experience on a physical, emotional and spiritual level! In my own darkness and depths of my pain at times I have had desperate periods of wondering where God is and why He has ‘allowed’ the circumstances to be so hard for so long. However, approximately 3 years ago now, I read “He Loves Me”, and it was a like a glass of cold water for my parched and weary soul, reminding me that I was desperately loved by God. So, in the midst of it all, perhaps the most precious experience has been to learn that I AM NOT ALONE! HE IS WITH ME, and He will not let all that happens in my life consume or destroy me! He has become my refuge, my Abba Father who knows me intimately, and He is inside me to be my Peace! Circumstances have not lightened in many ways, but I have changed from the inside out! Change in me has impacted the way I counsel others, and I believe God has asked me to lead a therapy group in the near future which is focused on, “Where is God in our Suffering?”

    I am still very much in process and can’t say I have all the answers, but your God Journey blogs and conversations with Brad have been a huge support and immeasurably important in my journey. Thank you for your humble honesty and for allowing others to have a glimpse into your own relationship with God and His working in your life. It has given words often times to my own emotional confusion or provided enlightenment as I have wrestled through multiple questions with God, and as God gently moves me towards deeper trust and obedience to His leading day by day.

    I do have a question regarding this idea of God ‘allowing’ pain in our lives, which you eluded to several times in your exchanges with Allen. Being raised in a conservative Christian home, with Calvinist theology well ingrained in my spiritual psyche, I was raised to believe that God is in control of everything, and that the things that happen in our lives are specifically designed by Him for spiritual growth (‘discipline’ according to Scripture) and our ultimate good. Basically, then, if I could figure out the point of the lesson and learn it well, I wouldn’t have to stay in or re-visit that kind of trial but move on in spiritual maturity. Sounds rather pious now! It makes it sound like I had all the control over my life and spiritual growth! I just needed to do the right things! It, therefore, all depended on me to pray the right prayer, have enough faith, or be as faithful to God as I could be so that He would bless me with a positive answer to my requests. It was a relationship of performance, not love! Instead, now, I am seeing that the point isn’t getting past the trial as much as being in a love relationship with Jesus in it, Who carries me through whatever the trial may be, for as long as it takes… abiding in Him and He in me, with Him being my peace and giving me His wisdom to navigate the trial if practical issues arise along the way. I certainly don’t have big or perfect faith, nor am I a spiritual giant, but I am simply learning that I don’t have to have big faith because He is also the author of my faith, I simply thank Him that He will do that too!

    With regards to what God ‘allows’, however, isn’t there evidence in the story of Job that God allowed Satan to cause the trials in Job’s life? Did Abba also not allow the suffering of Jesus for our redemption? Scripture also states that as a father disciplines a child, so God disciplines those He loves. So it would appear that God does have control over our trials, with a purpose in mind for our growth. I have wrestled with God, however, as I have heard horrific stories of childhood sexual abuse, perpetuated on innocent children. How could that be for their growth? My experience as a therapist speaks to the fact that it often damages an individuals concept of God, let alone relationship with others? How is there redemption in that? It is a question I still wrestle with God over, but I am still convinced that He is Love, and that somehow His love is big enough to reach into that kind of pain. If you could explain further your thinking around why you don’t believe God ‘allows’ things to happen in our lives, it would be appreciated. Thanking you in advance for your time!

    • Wayne Jacobsen August 29, 2019 at 9:47 am - Reply

      I think you’re right, Colleen. If God “allows” all our suffering, for the purpose of discipline or teaching us a lesson, it makes no sense when it comes to child abuse, people suffering in war or under a tyrannical dictator or any number of other things. If is volitionally choosing to let those heinous acts continue, he is the most abusive presence in the universe. God’s sovereignty does not mean he controls everything; it means he will get the last word on everything. It is fallen humanity that “allows” wars, abuse, poverty, illness, racism, etc., etc., etc. We have put that on God and then nothing makes sense after that, because how do you go to God for help if he’s the cause of it? That’s where religion has to employ a lot of double-talk to survive. God is sovereign. He does discipline, but all suffering isn’t attached to that. Sometimes we’re just victims of our own flesh or that of others. Putting that on God horribly disfigures his nature and character.

      And the Prologue of Job is the worst place to go as a prooftext for that thinking. The book of Job is a play about an innocent man suffering and his inability to understand that, since most of the Old Testament assumes, “Do good, get good; Do bad, get bad.” This is the first book of the Bible that is attempting to say, God is not responsible for our sufferings, and they are not always the consequences of evil. The book of Job is an early play, worked out with three advisors giving Job bad advice for 36 chapters, and that separating him from God. Finally, God shows up and Job comes to his senses. Are we meant to learn from that that God will barter our lives with the devil to prove a point for himself? Everything else in Scripture argues against that conclusion about God or his nature, and it wasn’t the point of the book. It was just the set up for a story from a group of people that didn’t understand God very well and didn’t yet have an accurate view of Satan.

      People who appeal to this Prologue as proof that God orchestrates or allows our sufferings to teach us lessons or punish us for bad behavior, are misreading Scripture and have no clue who this God is. He’s the rescuer in the story, always, not the destroyer. He’s not “allowing” evil in the world for some higher purpose; he’s seeking our redemption from it. Even when Jesus says that Satan has “demanded permission” to sift Peter like wheat, he’s not setting a principle here about all our suffering and pain and Satan always getting permission from Jesus to torment us, and Jesus giving it. We don’t have the details of the negotiations here, but I’m sure Jesus had some kind of protection around those disciples in this tragic weekend. He doesn’t allow it in this case to reward the devil’s gambit, but to rescue Peter from his dependence on his own flesh. Jesus could have prevented this but he knew Peter would be a far more effective apostle after he came to the end of himself.

      I’ve had sufferings in my life that I know God allowed to move me to greater places of freedom. I have had sufferings in my life created by my own selfishness and blindness to it. And, I’ve had sufferings foisted on me by the dishonesty, greed, or brokenness of others. I don’t think God gave permission for everything that happened to me or that he was somehow behind it. What we need in all of this are not principles to employ to figure so we can figure out what is going on in our circumstances, but a Presence in us leading and guiding us through the perils that come our way. Who caused them isn’t important, and certainly seeing God as “allowing” all the evil in our world is completely untrue. To think in the face of unanswered prayers that God is making a volitional decision NOT to heal my cancer, stop my abuser, or fix my finances is just wrong. I’ve found that God is always doing things beyond my imagination and learning to lean into that space, however foggy it may be, is the best way to live in this broken age. He’s always my rescuer, not always the way I’d want to be rescued, but in the best of all ways that serve his purpose in the earth and his purpose in me. Often, it is years before I can look back and understand why his ways were better than mind.

      That God “causes” all things to work together for good, does not mean he “causes all things”, but that in whatever circumstances I face in this broken world he can work tremendous good out of them. And just because he uses something evil to accomplish something good doesn’t mean he allowed the evil in the first place. Last week, Sara and I were with a friend her lost her husband to cancer ten years ago. We were with her in those early days of pain and frustration and why couldn’t her husband still be here. So, I was shocked last weekend when she said unbidden, “I am so grateful for what God has done in me these last ten years. I’m a completely different person and none of that would have happened if Paul hadn’t died.” Then she added quickly, “Don’t get me wrong, I still wish my husband was here, but I am so grateful at what God has done in me through it all.”

      As one man told me years ago about his service in Vietnam and all he learned about himself and God there, “Those are good days to have behind me.” I have things like that. What others did to me out of deceit and darkness, led me to places that have made my life rich and full. Of course, God could have done it other ways and I wouldn’t want to go through that pain again for anything, but those, too, are good days to have behind me.

  2. Marie Horngren August 30, 2019 at 10:30 am - Reply

    Everything that happens in our life is for our good,for teaching us, because God is Good for us.Somebody who loves cannot want to hurt you.If God is Good for us it’s because He loves us more than His life,..and nothing bad can come out of love.After many sufferings, So many questions as Job did, I definitely beleive, as Abraham ,offering his child beleiving God could do a resurection if HE wants..I anderstand now that God wanted to teach me To have the SAME faith as Jesus had in His Father.If I had HIS faith in God,I was SAVED!!nothing would be talking HIS peace away from me..He teaches me how HE thinks, how He feels,how He loves so I can do the same ..this School never ends…and sometimes teaching is difficult when we don’t understand..

  3. Sarah Kistner September 1, 2019 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    Just thank God there is someone in this world who thinks like me! That’s all I have to say….or thinks like I want to think….or hear that still small voice giving me these thoughts when I ask Him to bring my thoughts into agreement with His thoughts (proverbs 16:3) Anyway, thank you for the peace that passes all understanding Jesus!!!! And thanks for my brother Wayne!

  4. Dave September 1, 2019 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    What a blessing it is to be able to see the real side of God’s church. The ones who truly hunger and thirst to know Him. What I have come to discover through the pain of life’s challenges and God bringing me into Wayne’s inights of His love for me is I tend to find His presence and peace when I am reminded that this is about God’s kingdom coming, NOT MY KINGDOM COMING. It’s no longer about my expectations but waiting by faith on God to illuminate His expectations to me. I grind so much more when it’s about trying to get my idea of a kingdom coming, that never will. It normally takes us a while to refocus when we’re deep inside a trial but I know when I do that’s when I sense the peace of His presence and leading, even though I don’t know anything else. Rest in His kingdom coming, not ours.

  5. JUDY NICHOLAS September 8, 2019 at 2:52 am - Reply

    It’s all about where your hope is really I suppose. I have three sisters, two of whom firmly believe that Christians are entitled to healing and wealth and who are both banking on divine intervention. The older of the two has five children, one of whom died a few years ago at the age of 42 and two of the others are suffering from a progressive muscle wasting disease. Of these two, one has had all his three children diagnosed with the same disease. I asked her how she coped with this and she told me that she was certain that God would heal them and that she reiterated that to her children and grandchildren when they became negative. I felt unable to take this from her as it seemed to be a blow too far, but am praying that both of them will eventually know what god is up to in their lives in a deeper way.

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