By Shawn McMullen
Many Christians who pray faithfully and expectantly for health and healing—for themselves and those they love—don’t receive what they ask. We can argue, and rightfully so, that perfect health and healing are guaranteed to God’s people in the life to come, and ultimately that is where our prayers will be answered.
But what do we do in the interim? How should we respond when what we hope happens, doesn’t happen? What should the watching world see in us?
The prophet Habakkuk models one positive response. Habakkuk asked God why he wasn’t answering his cries for deliverance—why violence was rampant and justice perverted in Israel (Habakkuk 1:1-4). God explained that he was not overlooking Israel’s sins, and that he would hold them accountable for their actions by allowing another nation, the wicked Babylonians, to conquer them (vv. 5-11). Habakkuk then questioned the fairness of using such an evil nation to bring punishment on Israel (vv. 12-17). God explained that in due time the Babylonians would also be punished—by the Persians (2:2-20).
As Habakkuk came to terms with God’s sovereign plan, he declared his submission to God’s will and his commitment to wait patiently for God’s perfect plan to unfold. He affirmed, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (3:17-19).
Habakkuk is saying, “Whatever happens, Lord—even if things don’t go my way—I will never stop rejoicing in you.”
Author C.S. Lewis provides another perspective. His book, The Screwtape Letters, recounts a fictional dialogue between two demons—a seasoned demon named Screwtape and his inexperienced nephew, Wormwood. Wormwood is doing his best to discourage a young Christian and he looks to his uncle for advice. Screwtape warns his nephew that God (referred to as “our Enemy” here) can be glorified even among the most disappointed followers of Christ. He writes, “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
What should Christians do when what we hope happens, doesn’t happen? We express our disappointment to God honestly and respectfully. We keep praying in the hopes that God may still grant our request. We reaffirm our devotion to him. And as we wait, we live joyfully and obediently, knowing that whatever happens in this life, one day our great and gracious God will make everything right.