Sometimes I think we like to treat God like a Genie. Rub the lamp this way and then that way, then God has to do what we ask. It’s a tempting thing to do and I’ve been there so I would know. We want what we want; God should provide. Right?
And some denominations teach along these lines. Pray this way, and God will have to do this. Bow this way, and God will have to assist. I’ve even heard a story of a chaplain walking into a hospital room where someone was dying of cancer only to say that, “if everyone believes, she will get well, BUT if a single one of you doubts, she will die.” – only to have her die and the whole family agonize with guilt about how maybe they were the one that killed her.
And yet, God is not an ATM. We don’t get to just mash buttons, put in the pin code, and receive. That’s not how God works in scripture, and not how God works today.
NOW – we can ask God for things. That’s true. And we do see in scripture how God listens to his people and their wants and their pleas and their hopes. And sometimes God changes God’s mind to meet those people and their needs. In Sunday’s reading from Exodus, God wants to kill everyone for making a gold calf and yet Moses convinces God otherwise. (Way to go Moses!)
OTHERTIMES – God hears people’s pleas and hopes and continues on with what is already at work for the greater good. We can think of Jesus’ own words as he is about to go to death. You know, the ones, “maybe let this cup pass from me”, only to say, “not my will but your will be done.” And then Jesus goes to death to break the power of death. Painful, and not something I’d want to do either, and yet, “may your will be done”, right?
As a pastor, I don’t pretend to understand the messed up stuff in the world. There’s a lot of pain caused by our own human sin and greed, and violence. That’s on us. But then there is the other stuff, the things that happen that I don’t quite get. And so I ask, “Why, God?” That’s the question I pray, and I feel it’s a totally appropriate Christian question. And sometimes the answers do come for us, and sometimes they just don’t.
Is that frustrating? Yep, it can be. But I also get that God is God, that God’s got us for something good and eternity. And we can ask for things in the meantime, and God listens, and God may act, but whether God does or doesn’t is up to God; and I, or you, are not him. Amen?