September 11, 2017
Jim Denison has written a blog post: “Trusting God in Hard Times: A 9/11 Reflection” on this the sixteenth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history. Since 9/11, there have been at least sixty Islamist-inspired terrorist plots against our country. Just this year, Americans have suffered from wildfires, tornadoes, floods, and Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Christians have prayed for Americans to be spared from these unprecedented storms.
Denison says that when God does not do what Christians ask him to do, we usually decide (1) he will yet answer us, or (2) we did not pray according to his will. In the latter case, we trust that he will give us whatever is best. And we remember his word: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD” (Isaiah 55:8).
Then Denison asks—but what if unanswered prayer is evidence that there is no God to answer it? Many of us have wrestled with this problem. We believe that the Bible is true and that we may have a personal relationship with the God who inspired it. But when he doesn’t answer our prayers as we wish, we can become frustrated or worse. In our dark days, we can question whether he even exists.
British philosopher Antony Flew was a famous atheist. He stated that religious faith claims are based merely on subjective opinion rather than objective truth. He would tell us that unanswered prayer should show us that the God to whom we pray is either uncaring, impotent, or nonexistent.
But nowhere does the Bible promise that we will avoid suffering. To the contrary, Jesus warned us, “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Nor does the Bible promise that God will always give us what we ask. Paul prayed three times for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” but the Lord refused (2 Corinthians 12:7–10).
What the Bible does promise is that we serve a risen Lord. We serve a living God whose ways we do not always understand but whose love we can trust. (By the way, Flew later turned from his own atheism, writing There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.)
What does this mean for those of us praying for God’s protection in hard times? It means that we can continue trusting what we don’t understand to the God we do. In Acts 12, King Herod murdered James, one of Jesus’ leading apostles. He then arrested Peter, intending to execute him as well. The church did not reject the God who allowed such attacks on his people. To the contrary: when Peter was imprisoned, “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church”.
During these hard times, may we continue to pray and may we take action to be the love of Christ in our broken world.