How are we to handle the unanswered prayers of our prayers for our children, our spouses, our intimate friends, and even for ourselves? Has God failed to hear us (Isa. 1:15)? Has He heard us and said “No.” (Deut. 28:15, 68)? Has He delayed His response (Jn. 11:6)? Have we failed to ask for the right thing (Jas. 4:2)? Do we ask with the wrong motives (Jas. 4:3)? Has God answered our prayers in ways that we have overlooked (Gen. 28:15-16)? Or has He some other grand purpose in mind (Jn. 9:1-3)?
Often, in times of tribulation, we ask why? But why not? Speaking for myself, I was not born on the planet Krypton. I have no superpowers. Like many I know, I have suffered illness, survived the death of loved ones, and should the Lord tarry in His appearing, I will one day die. I do not dare say that grief is fungible. I do not pretend to know the intimacy of your loss or the weight of your trial. However, I do know that God is faithful (1 Cor. 1:9).
Furthermore, where would we be without tribulation? Could we ever be truly empathetic, steadfast, or even complete human beings (Jas. 1:2, 4)? Would we develop any strength or enduring character or anchored hope (Rom. 1:1-5)?
We know that God is omnipotent (Jer. 32:27) and that He is sovereign, superintending every aspect of His creation (Lk. 12:6). Yet, He allows calamity (Isa. 45:7). And if the Lord has allowed trial to come our way, should we not as believers rejoice in God’s good purpose and wise judgment (Jas. 1:2)? Do we forget that all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28)? And when our grief has so overwhelmed us that we do not even know what to pray, His Spirit intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26); turning even our groans into petitions that God hears (Rom. 8:26-27). Moreover, the Spirit testifies to us in His word that no matter how deep our grief or how crushing our trial, God’s future for us will overwhelm our past (Jn. 16:21) and our last state will be incomparably better than our first (Rom. 8:18). Nor do we have a God who is far from us (Rom. 10:8-10), but rather, we have a great High Priest over our household (Heb. 10:21). He intimately sympathizes with our burdens as He, Himself, was tempted in like manner, yet remains without sin (Heb. 4:15). To endure trial without sinning is to endure tribulation’s fullest force. And when we lack, He comes to our aid (Heb. 13:5) and provides the way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13).
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt. 26:39, ESV.)
In this, the Holy Spirit allows us the privilege of overhearing perhaps the most intimate and heartbreaking moment in Scripture. The Spirit reveals this tender conversation between the Divine Father and His Son at a time of unparalleled grief. And what does He teach us? Even with the weight of the world upon His shoulders, Jesus subordinates His human will to that of the Father’s. And what was the effect of His obedience? Can any child of God who has read the last page of the Bible be anything other than an ardent optimist (Rev. 22:1-5)?
By His blood, He purchased our salvation, our righteousness, and our inheritance—a glorious and incomparably bejeweled city where the gates are pearl, sickness is vanquished, tears are dried, and even the pavement is gold (Rev. 21:1-7, 10-21). Our Lord has prepared it especially for us and promises to take us there Himself (Jn. 14:1-3). God our Father is there as is His incomparable Son, and we live in His house because we are His children. There we experience the zenith of our professions, the joy of our desires, and the quarantine of every evil. And we have been brought there through the finished work of Christ, sanctified through the working of the Spirit in the very trials we presently face and the heartfelt petitions we now pray. Consider it all joy, indeed.