Why God Can’t Be TrustedEssays, Featured — By Heather Kopp on April 5, 2012 at 9:17 am
Today I heard from a friend in Oregon I‘ve known for decades. Kim and her husband have always been wonderful Christian parents who pray regularly for their kids. Now she tells me that her oldest son—who I’ve known since he was two—is a heroin addict living on the streets in Portland.
I won’t try to describe her anguish.
We’ve all heard these stories. Some of us have lived them. Parents pray faithfully for their children’s safety and well-being. And then something truly horrible and tragic happens.
So why bother praying? Can God really be trusted?
I used to think so. For many years, a critical part of my faith hinged on the idea that my prayers would influence God to intervene in the world on behalf of those I love. If I just prayed hard enough, often enough, and made sure to throw in plenty of thanksgivings before and after, God would come through.
When He didn’t, I pretended not to notice, maybe because it felt awkward and embarrassing to point out to God how much He had let me down.
Or I told myself that God had declined to do my will for good and loving reasons I might understand later.
Or I told myself that I just hadn’t prayed with enough faith and fervor to move God to act on my behalf.
Or, especially during my drinking years, I concluded that of course God doesn’t answer prayers from drunks like me. But would God punish other people just because I prayed for them and he needed to say no to me?
It was all very confusing.
And then it got even more so. By the time I got into recovery in my early forties, my oldest son Noah was in deep trouble with drinking and drugs.
For years I anguished. And I prayed. And I fasted. I offered up all kinds of affirmations predicting God’s help—as if pretending my faith was firm could make it less like the jello it really was.
One morning, I got a phone call from Noah. He was in such a dark, scary place that I had no idea what to say to him. And every word I did say sounded hollow. Tragedy seemed imminent. If my son didn’t die of an overdose or a car accident, I feared he would take his life.
After we hung up, I couldn’t help wondering how long he could hang on.
Or how long I could. Sitting there in my office chair, cradling the phone, something about this whole prayer-of-faith formula—at least as I’d been practicing it—began to enrage me. I just couldn’t bear the responsibility of praying hard enough to save my son anymore. Neither could I deny any longer the betrayal I felt about the very idea that I had to twist God’s arm harder to make Him care more.
I began to cry. More truthfully, I wailed. I told God that I was sick and tired of feeling like I was being forced to repeatedly watch my child about to fall off a high cliff, knowing that no matter how fast I got there, it would not be soon enough to catch him.
And then I felt myself being led where no mother wants to go—deep into the territory of worst-case scenario. In my imagination, and more important, in my heart, my son died. I cried and keened and wrestled with God. I don’t know how long this went on, but I finally arrived somewhere outside of and beyond my faith.
For the first time, I realized that I could not trust God to keep my son—or anyone’s son—out of harm’s way. Because God can’t be trusted to deliver a particular outcome. He can only be trusted with, or in spite of, any outcome. He can only be trusted no matter what.
But “no matter what” is a dagger to a mother’s heart, because it means that your only hope is to surrender all hope. “No matter what” is a place you never want to go. Now I saw clearly that it would have to be everything or nothing. Either I trusted God with Noah’s entire life (and his death if it came) in a way that surpassed my understanding of what is good, or I didn’t trust Him at all.
That morning, I decided to place my son and all my hope in the hands of a God whose love is so vast and incomprehensible that it encompasses everything— even tragedy. I decided to put my hope in a God so good that one day, if only in eternity, even death and suffering will make some kind of beautiful sense.
Of course, I didn’t resolve all my questions about prayer that day. But something shifted. I determined that I would no longer pray to a God who was a puppet on a string, His will being tugged this way or that, depending on how hard people prayed or if they managed to stay awake.
I still pray. I still ask God to intervene. I still think that kind of prayer has a place. Why else would “Help me!” fall from our lips so often and so naturally? In fact, my entire recovery from alcoholism rests on my belief that God does intervene, that He can and will do for me what I can’t do for myself.
A couple weeks ago Noah celebrated four years of continuous sobriety. He’s a walking miracle, working hard on his own recovery, and every day I’m grateful. But the way I see things now, he probably wouldn’t be where he is today if he hadn’t hit that terrible “bottom” I had been begging God to save him from.
I keep this in mind today as I pray for Kim’s son. Really, I’m not just praying, I’m pleading. I’m begging. Not because I think God needs to be persuaded to care more, but because I know He already does.