We ask in hope, but we receive in submission.
Man, was I proud of that sentence. That happens sometimes with writing. A sentence or a phrase appears, as if of its own power, and I say, “Wow, that’s good.”
That sentence appeared in a post in which I explored the tension between asking God for something in prayer and being satisfied instead with His presence and His peace. I had been praying for the return of something precious that I lost when I found my prayer had morphed into a prayer for God’s comfort in my grief, which he graciously provided.
Then there was the time when loss overwhelmed me and God stilled my frantic thoughts with the image of his arms around me, comforting and strong.
Or the time when I was stranded in a lodge in Yosemite, wracked with pain and waiting for daylight so we could make our way down the steep, dark, winding roads to the hospital. My husband reading Psalms aloud got me through that night, those ancient words of lament crying out on my behalf, ultimately reassuring me of God’s faithfulness.
And God’s presence and comfort make all those “unanswered” prayers bearable, don’t they?
People of faith have a more expansive view of healing and provision which includes emotional, spiritual, and relational restoration. Why? Because the Bible tells us so:
- “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you, he will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deut. 31: 8)
- “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34: 18)
- “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 18)
But … But what if we get neither the healing nor the comfort? God’s sovereignty tells me that he is not obligated to do one or the other, certainly not in my timing.
What if we ask in hope, prepare to receive in submission, and get …… Silence?
An Unresolved Chord
I have been living with this question for quite a while. I have been through several months of the worst physical pain I have ever experienced. Worst in terms of its severity, yes. But worst in its randomness and its fierce resistance to any form of relief. Pain that had me moaning and howling like a wounded animal, which I guess I was. Pain that had me begging for someone or something to help me endure it.
The pain was not just physical, because no help came. “Heal me or help me” was my prayer through those long nights. I waited for God to do what He had done so many times before —Give me strength to bear up. Make His presence real to me. Bring to mind His reassuring words of comfort and fidelity.
I heard words all right, but they were not His. I heard whispers of the one who saw an opportunity to pick off a wounded member of the herd.
“God isn’t helping you. Why are you even asking?”
“So much for ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…’”
“God says he is faithful, that He will never leave you, but where is He?”
I wondered what it would be like if I took the advice of Job’s wife and “cursed God and died.” Yes, I was that vulnerable, that exhausted, that disillusioned, that sad. But if I did that, I figured I’d still be in pain, but without any hope of healing or comfort. No thank you. I continued speaking into the void.
In music, there are unresolved chords and I was living in one. An unresolved chord just sounds wrong to our ears that are so used to harmony. They are used to convey tension and discord. In most conventional music, the chord ultimately “resolves” — returns to harmony — and we experience relief and satisfaction that order and beauty have been restored.
In scripture, the Psalms do this, too. Of the 150 Psalms in scripture, 70 of them are considered laments — people crying out to God in pain, distress, confusion, even disappointment with God. It amazes me that these holy howls are scripture, that God not only allows us to confront Him, but honors our pain enough to consider them his Holy Word. Of those 70 laments, all but two end the same way: in praise of God’s faithfulness, in thanksgiving for His provision, in confidence of His goodness. The most famous of these is Psalm 22, which Jesus quotes from the cross:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are yo so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”
But even this cry in extremis “resolves” :
“You who fear the Lord praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him and stand in awe of him.”
But there are two Psalms that do not end in an exhale of praise and hope. Psalms 39 and 88 are two “unresolved chords” in Scripture, two that leave us in tension, in the unpleasant and uncomfortable dissonance of waiting for the praise that does not come. There is no comfort here, at least not yet.
Perhaps when you hear my story you are as uneasy as I am. Perhaps you are waiting for the “But then I heard God, but then I felt God, but then I saw God’s hand.” You are probably listening for it like the satisfying sound of a chord resolving dissonance, moving from the cringeworthy screech of fingernails on a chalkboard to satisfying, soothing harmony.
I am waiting for that, too.