Wednesday, February 12, 2020 -
A friend of mine recently wrote to me: “A very successful pastor of a colleague of mine was just diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. Humanly speaking, he has less than one year to live. Thousands are praying for his healing. By coincidence, I happened to be reading some of what C.S. Lewis taught about prayer. See the print out on the next page. I’m interested in your opinion of what Lewis writes there.”
I now insert what C.S. Lewis said: “It would be even worse to think of those who get what they pray for as a sort of court favorites, people who have influence with the throne. The refused prayer of Christ in Gethsemane is answer enough to that. And I dare not leave out the hard saying which I once heard from an experienced Christian: ‘I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning: before conversion, or soon after it. As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not even more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic.’
“Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, ‘Why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ When God became man, that man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.” – from “The Efficacy of Prayer,” The World’s Last Night.
My friend continues, “I suspect that many of us can affirm the observation of that ‘experienced Christian’ that C.S. Lewis quotes. Lewis says that this is a mystery, why God seems more often to work more miraculously among the ignorant in India than among His life-long servants like you and me and our wives. Perhaps because we do not need miraculous answers in order to glorify God through our experiences? That is a tough, perhaps even a cruel, conclusion, and not one I would share with everyone. But it seems supported by Jesus’ experience (and the experiences of His first apostles). Another more reasonable conclusion is the one the Lewis addresses, that we not get puffed up when our prayers are answered as if God is elevating us above other believers who are not blessed in this way.
“So perhaps God refuses some of our prayer requests not because of our lack of faith but because we already have faith? Hmm…”
My friend goes on to make some other observations and ask a few other questions, but what I have provided here is plenty!
I was, after reading this multiple times, reminded of the account that appears in Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9 of the incident which confronts Jesus, Peter, James, and John, after their coming off the mountain experience of the transfiguration. The disciples who had stayed at the foot of the mountain were in the hot-seat because they were not able to cast a demon out of a boy, and it had turned into an argument. But the desperate father, when he sees Jesus, turns to Him. In Mark’s account, we see that there is still some doubt in the father’s faith, “If you can…” (Mark 9:24). He then says to Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” Doesn’t that sound like you and me at times? Perhaps, as C.S. Lewis brings forth in what we read, the pride of the disciples played a role in their being unable to cast out the demons, as we find in Luke 9:46-47 and the opening verses of Matthew 18. We also saw in Matthew 13:58 that where the people did not believe, Jesus did few miracles. Yet clearly the purpose of Christ’s miracles was to prove that He was the Messiah, the living Christ. So were the crowds of people culpable for discouraging the disciples with their skepticism? Was it the unbelief of the disciples themselves? Jesus, in Matthew’s account, calls them “little faiths” (literal translation). In Mark’s account, after the father expresses doubt, Jesus says, “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23). Note, He says all things are possible, not all things are certain. That means that once faith overrules the impossibility, the outcome is still determined by God who is omnipotent. The impossible is removed from our belief system through our belief in God’s omnipotence! Just because something is humanly impossible does not mean it is impossible with God. Yet possibility doesn’t necessarily mean actuality (see Matthew 17:20).
Yet I believe that everything which happens in a believer’s life has a purpose. All prayers are answered, yet not all prayers are answered as we wish. At times much suffering is involved. Yet I Peter 5:10 says, “And after you have suffered for a little while, the Lord of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” Is that not what is happening on this occasion with the demon-possessed boy and his father?
I agree with Lewis that often the answer that we recite is a mystery to us, and we may never know in this lifetime God’s purposes. Yet they are always in place, and our faith must also entail faithful confidence that God indeed knows what He is doing.
A good friend of mine, who has ALS, was part of an experimental program, one of many, of a cure to stop the progress of this horrible disease that seems to be quickly zapping her speech and mobility. I have been praying for her healing, as I know she, her husband, and Kathie have been praying. Yet she does not seem to improve but seems to get worse. I, however, got to thinking that her faith, and our faith, is able to endure either outcome. Perhaps she received a placebo and someone who needed to witness the miracle of a new cure got the legitimate cure if one did in fact exist. Again, it is a mystery, and in this life, we may never know the answers. Yet this does not mean we are to stop believing! So yes, I believe God uses miracles when it serves His purpose, and that purpose often is to draw people to salvation who would otherwise never hear or believe.