When God Lets You Down
Dr. Jim Denison
Ed Diener, a University of Illinois psychologist, has news which may be bad or good, depending on your point of view. He compared the overall happiness and well-being of the billionaires and millionaires on the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans, and the Maasai herdsmen in East Africa, and found no significant difference. It seems that $40,000 a year is the threshold. Once you’re making that amount, no increase in income will increase your happiness. Life is more than green paper.
By any standard, our congregation and community would be considered affluent. But let me ask you: where has life disappointed you recently? Where was money not enough? Where are you dealing with unhappiness, discouragement, frustration and pain today? Why has God allowed you to hurt?
Our text tells us that God heals and helps his people. Our problem is, why doesn’t he always? What do we do when he lets us down? You’re Terry Schiavo’s parents keeping vigil outside her hospice, praying for intervention which does not come. Why not? I think of my father’s death; dear friends in our church who were not healed; difficulties and pain along the way. I prayed, but God didn’t work as I wanted him to. Why not? What do we do then? Why be committed daily to a God who lets us down?
Limit God’s power.
The first character in today’s story is a leper. There were several skin diseases classified as “leprosy” in the ancient world. The most common was Hansen’s disease, a disorder which affects the skin and nervous system. Over time the person loses the ability to feel his fingers or toes. He wears them off, bloodies them, infects them. And they simply rot and die.
The disease was incurable until the late 1940s, certainly an impossible disease to treat in the first century. At least, for everyone but Jesus. He touched this untouchable man and healed him. If he could heal leprosy, he can heal any disease, anybody, any problem. The wrong answer is to limit God’s power.
Limit God’s love.
Our second character in the story is an even more unlikely candidate for a miracle from a Jewish rabbi. He was a Gentile, considered by the Jews to exist only so there would be firewood in hell. And he was a “centurion,” a Roman military officer in charge of 100 soldiers. Part of the force occupying and enslaving their land. Part of the army which forced them to pay exorbitant taxes to Rome, and subjected them to pagan, idolatrous oppression.
Imagine an impoverished Jewish rabbi helping a Gestapo officer, and you’ll have the picture. But Jesus answers his prayer and heals his servant, to the shock of the incredulous crowd of hostile Jews. The wrong answer is to limit God’s love.
Blame the person suffering.
Now a third person enters the story. Peter’s mother-in-law is so sick that she cannot get out of bed. But Jesus heals her so fully that her strength is instantly restored and she makes them all a meal.
There is no indication of any sin on her part, anything wrong which she has done. We live in a fallen world, where disease and disaster are inevitable. Some suffering is our fault, as with an alcoholic with liver disease. But the wrong answer is always to blame the persons suffering. We often make their pain worse.
Blame the will of God.
Now the demoniacs take their places in the story. As best we can tell, Satan and his demons are fallen angels. They steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10), seeking to devour (1 Peter 5:8). They are looking for people they can control and malice they can cause.
And we have the freedom to let them. God created us to love him; love is a choice before it is anything else; if we misuse our choice, sin and suffering result. These demoniacs in some way participated in their plight, gave control of themselves to evil. And now they are paying a horrible price.
So we discover a fourth wrong answer to suffering: it is always the perfect will of God. The Lord is sovereign, so everything that happens must occur by his will. It is therefore his will, his choice, his fault that you must endure this pain, heartbreak, setback. It must be part of his will for this to occur. We blame the coach when he calls the wrong play and our team loses. We blame the boss when his business plan fails. So we’re entitled to blame God whenever bad things come our way.
But not everything that happens occurs by the perfect will of God. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9); he wants all of us to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). And yet not all are saved. Some misuse their freedom and choose to reject the saving love of the Father. When this occurs, they experience not his perfect will but his permissive will. All that happens comes by his permission, but not all by his perfect plan. We are fallen people in this fallen world. It is a wrong solution to blame always the will of God.
So what are we to do when it doesn’t seem that God has answered the prayer we prayed, that he didn’t heal when we asked his help, when our leprosy did not get better, the servant did not recover, the mother-in-law died, the demoniacs were not healed?
Judge the dark by the light.
The leper and the centurion both called Jesus “Lord,” as they should. The word translates “kurios,” and was used of Caesar, kings, owners, those in control. Jesus is Lord. And he didn’t change when my father died, or my friend committed suicide, or my hero was fired. He is still on his throne. He is still Lord.