My children played around my bed as I pleaded with God for some relief.
But none came.
Their squeals of delight contrasted my discouraged spirit. I started a new treatment for Crohn’s disease in which I solely ingest predigested drinks. Instead of bringing relief, each day I found myself even sicker than the day before. On the fourth day, I was so weak I couldn’t function and was forced to stop the treatment. Frustration now welled up inside me. How many times have I begun medications, treatments, surgeries, supplements, or modified diets only to find disappointment at the other end.
I felt so confused. “Now what?” I believed that God was all-powerful and could turn this around in a moment’s time, but after 14 years of struggling with illness, doubt threatened my faith. I wanted to keep praying for healing, but it almost felt pointless. I longed to keep singing praises, buy my soul felt weary. More than anything, I desired to honor God in my suffering, but felt like at this too, I was failing.
Amid my despair, a sermon by Matt Chandler came to mind. In it, he commends the response of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in a very uncertain plight. They were given a choice to deny God and worship other gods or be thrown in the fiery furnace. They didn’t know the outcome, but they knew that God was able to deliver them, that He would deliver them, and that even if He didn’t, they would be faithful to their God.
I had never really considered the seeming contradiction of their statement. They knew God had the power to deliver them. They had faith that he would deliver them. But, they concurrently upheld God’s sovereignty in the situation and humbly submitted themselves to God, refusing to bow to an idol, even if God did not rescue them.
I identified immediately with the tension of these statements. It seems almost impossible to believe them simultaneously, too risky to be completely committed to each of them without knowing the outcome, without seeing. Without Faith.
God is Able
Sometimes I lay awake at night and imagine God doing a miracle. Just like that. I can see it, I can imagine, almost feel it.
“God,” I cry, “I have faith! You can do all things, nothing is impossible for you!”
I know this because God has proved it to me in my own life. I was diagnosed with an Atrophied Pancreas (as scary as it sounds) in 2014. The doctor said the case was too difficult for him and sent me to the Mayo Clinic. After a week of many tests, my husband and I sat stiffly in the doctor’s office waiting for the report. Anticipating bad news, I inhaled deeply and clutched my husband’s hand. But looking quite perplexed, the doctor reported that my pancreas looked completely normal. My husband pressed the doctor for an explanation, until he finally said, “In clinical language, this is what we call a spontaneous recovery.” Stunned, we communicated to him that we call it a miracle! Why God healed my pancreas and not the rest of me remains a mystery, but I know without a doubt that God is able to heal.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego believed that God was able to deliver them from their fiery fate1. But as they were being led to the furnace, doubt may have crept in their minds. Doubt is part of being human. Our finite minds just cannot comprehend the expanse of God’s power, especially in a state of weakness or suffering. It’s so interesting how we can believe and doubt at the same time. This is why what the father of the boy with the unclean spirit pleaded when asking Jesus to heal his son, is so beautiful: We use his example and cry out in prayer: “I believe; help my unbelief!” 2
God will heal me. I can say that with confidence. Of course, the timing is up to Him. I pray every day that it is before I see His face in glory. I pray that things would be on earth as they are in heaven. I believe God‘s heart and desire is to remove our suffering; how and when this is accomplished rests in His infinite wisdom and perfect plan.
But, I don’t think God will ever condemn us for having too much faith. On the contrary, he delights in our faith, wants us to believe even when we don’t see. To not lose hope, this perspective is vital. I don’t know when this mountain before me is going to be moved, but I am confident that my story will not end in defeat. God will come through. God will deliver.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were delivered out of the fiery furnace unharmed. Sometimes God delivers us from the fire, sometimes He walks with us through the fire. But, eternity will bring every follower of Jesus final and complete deliverance from suffering. So, we can say with conviction, “Yes, God WILL bring me deliverance from this suffering.”
But Even if He Doesn’t…
This last phrase almost sounds like defeat, but is far from it. What a miracle to continue pursuing and loving God through unexplainable suffering. It is not the same kind of glory as a miracle of deliverance, but a different kind of glory. A glory in not being delivered, yet remaining faithful 3. There is something truly amazing about a person undergoing suffering who is still pursuing and worshiping God.
When Satan was discussing Job with God, he pointed out that Job’s fear and worship of God was rightly placed as God had blessed Job immensely. Satan had high doubts that Job would continue to fear and serve God in the midst of pain and suffering. Yet, the very first thing Job did after calamity struck, was to kneel in worship. Of course, he struggled with his lot, but he continued to turn to God in his pain. His worship had new meaning.
Many days and years have I cried out this Psalm, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” 4 Fourteen years feels like a long time. I honestly don’t even remember what it feels like to be well. But, I do feel a deep longing and desperate desire for God, and I would not trade that for anything.
So, what do we do while we wait for deliverance? Hold everything with an open hand. Be expectant for God to work with every new day. Ask for more faith. Pour out our hearts to God in our pain just as Job did. Ask Him how He wants to use what we are going through for His glory. And declare with confidence that God is able to deliver us, that He will deliver us, but that even if He doesn’t, we will continue to hold faithfully to our God.