Why does the Lord allow a situation to get worse after we pray about it? Part 1

“When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ ” John 11:4

In recent months all of us have been reminded that life is short. As of today (September 21, 2020), there have been over 961,000 confirmed COVID-related deaths in the world with over 31 million cases. 1  Since January 1, 2020, there have been over 30,826,000 unborn babies murdered in the world through abortion procedures. 2 These statistics alone are alarming.

On a more personal note, when we were living in the Philippines, fifteen college students died in a bus crash in Tanay, Rizal in February 2017. A few months after that, a Korean pastor was murdered near our subdivision when he confronted a thief breaking into his home.

It is normal for us as human beings to ask “Why?” Why has God allowed so many lives to be lost through the global pandemic? Why does He permit innocent babies to be killed before they begin to live outside the womb? How can He allow such young people to suddenly die in a bus crash? Why does He permit someone who accomplishes so much good to be murdered by a thief? I believe it is okay to ask these kinds of questions. God is not disturbed by such questioning because He knows it will foster growth.

Another question that comes to my mind as I ponder these deaths is, “Why does God sometimes allow situations to get worse after we pray about them?” Why does our spouse or child who is sick, become sicker after we ask the Lord for their healing? Why does our job situation become worse after we plead with the Lord to make it better? Why does that unresolved conflict worsen after we beg the Lord to help us resolve it? Doesn’t God care? Doesn’t He hear us?

These kinds of thoughts probably raced through the minds of two of Christ’s dear friends when Jesus allowed the situation they faced to become worse after they asked for His help. From these verses in John 11, we will discover several reasons why the Lord sometimes allows a situation to become worse after we pray about it. Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it?

The first reason is to DISPLAY MORE OF HIS GLORY (John 11:1-4). Because the Jews were seeking to kill Jesus in Judea, He went beyond the Jordan to Bethany of Perea (John 10:40; cf. 1:28). During this time, a tragedy fell on a household at Bethany, a small village located about two miles southeast of Jerusalem. This is not the same Bethany where Jesus was currently staying on the east side of the Jordan River. This household had often given Jesus hospitality when He was in Judea.

“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.” (John 11:1). John records just how close Jesus was to this family in the next verse. “It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.” (John 11:2). These were not casual acquaintances. They knew and loved each other very much. This is why the sisters sent for Jesus. “Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.’ ” (John 11:3). This sickness must have been very serious since they called for Jesus to return to the area. The sisters assume Jesus would come right away when He heard that their brother, Lazarus, was sick because Jesus loved him.

When a godly Christian became seriously ill, several friends gathered around his bedside to ask God to restore him. The last one to pray spoke of the faithful service of this man, and concluded his prayer by saying, “Lord, You know how he loves You.” After a moment of silence the sick believer said to him, “I know you meant well, but please don’t plead for my recovery on that basis. When Lazarus was ill, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus, but their request was not based on his affection for Christ. They said, ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.’ It’s not my weak and faltering allegiance to Him that calls forth His attention, but His perfect love for me that is my constant strength and hope.” 3

Mary and Martha’s plea for Jesus to come heal their brother was based upon Jesus’ love for Lazarus, not Lazarus’ love for Christ. From the perspective of the two sisters, “If you love someone, you will drop what you are doing and come to his aid.” But look at Jesus’ response. “When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ ” (John 11:4). Jesus did not view Lazarus’ sickness as a crisis. He did not see the final outcome of Lazarus’ illness to be death. Instead, He saw it as an opportunity to display God’s glory. Lazarus’ illness was not because of a specific sin in his life or a lack of faith, but because it was going to be used to reveal God’s glory as the “the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25).

If someone thinks that a Christian walking with the Lord cannot become ill or contract a disease, that person is either ignorant of the truth or just downright wrong! Lazarus’ sickness was not a means of punishment nor a sign of rebellion. Instead, his illness had a higher purpose.

Think about it. What would bring God more glory – to heal Lazarus or to resurrect him? What would lead more people to believe in Jesus – to raise a living person from his sickbed or a dead person from his grave? One of the reasons God may allow a situation to get worse in our lives is to bring Him more glory when He answers our prayers. Sometimes God makes us wait until it seems that the answers to our prayers are impossible so that He gets more glory!

Our tendency is to think that God does not care about us when He does not answer our prayers immediately. But the truth is we do not often understand His timing and purpose because His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). What He asks of us during these times is that we trust Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your ways and Your thoughts are so much higher than mine. I cannot understand Your timing and purposes much of the time. But this does not mean I cannot trust You when I face difficult times. I truly believe that You allow situations to grow worse even after we pray about it so You can display Your glory in greater ways. You demonstrated this by permitting Lazarus’ situation to grow worse so You could reveal Your Person and Power in a greater and more meaningful way. Even now, as more people die of COVID or other causes, more people will begin to think about their need for You and fall on their knees begging You for mercy. Lord, the Scriptures clearly tell me that You are still on Your throne when bad things happen on earth. Your purposes are still being fulfilled. The Bible is still true when it says with God all things are possible. Please continue to use the bad things in the world to get peoples’ attention so they can believe You are the Resurrection and the Life, Who guarantees a future resurrection and never ending life to all who believe in You. In Your powerful name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. https://ourworldindata.org/covid-deaths#what-is-the-total-number-of-confirmed-deaths

2. https://www.worldometers.info/abortions/

3. Dave Branon, Hymns: 90 Devotions From Our Daily Bread, “His Love Not Ours.”

Why is there pain and suffering? Part 1

“Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.’” John 9:3

When I was working as a security officer at a high school while church planting, I got to know my fellow officers quite well. One such officer was approaching sixty years of age and told me he once believed as I did about Jesus Christ and the Bible. But now he said he no longer believed in God. When I asked him why he stopped believing, he told me because he could not reconcile how a God of love could allow so much pain and suffering in the world. He believed that if God truly existed, He would not allow pain and suffering especially among people who seemed to be innocent.

Why does God allow pain and suffering in the world? That is, how can a God of love allow such things in His world as war, sickness, abortion, rape, disease, and other types of suffering and death, especially among those who are apparently innocent? For example, why does He allow dedicated Christians to be slaughtered by radical Muslims in the Middle East and in Africa? Why does He allow babies to be born with deformities? Or why does He allow unborn babies to be torn apart in the womb through abortion procedures? Why does He permit a madman to shoot and kill many people gathered outside at a concert? Why are thousands of innocent people killed each year from earthquakes and typhoons? Unbelievers claim, “Either He is not a God of love and is indifferent to human suffering, or else He is not a God of power and is therefore helpless to do anything about it.”

This is a difficult question for Christians to answer. Certainly, atheism or agnosticism are not the answers to this dilemma. However, in John 9, we will discover that Jesus was asked a similar question. After claiming to be the Light of the world and the eternal I AM in John 8, Jesus encountered a man who was blind from birth. “Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth.” (John 9:1). The words “as Jesus passed by” do not tell us the exact time frame or location for this miracle. It may have taken place as Christ left the temple (8:59) or somewhere else. This man’s blindness was congenital and was not expected to be healed. He had lived in darkness all his life. No doubt he experienced helplessness and hopelessness as a blind person.

From birth, however, all people are spiritually blind, hopeless, and helpless without God. All non-Christians lack the ability to see Jesus spiritually. The apostle Paul writes, 3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they do not believe in Christ. God must remove the veil from non-Christians so they can believe in Jesus. No amount of education or information is going to remove the spiritual blindness of the lost. God must be the One to give them spiritual sight.

Christ focuses on the blind man. His disciples probably would have gladly passed by the blind man, but Jesus would not. I imagine at this juncture, the disciples had no idea why Jesus focused on this man when there were thousands of beggars in the temple area.

“And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ” (John 9:2). The disciples ask a theological question, not a compassionate question. “Why does this man deserve blindness?” they ask. It was insensitive of the disciples to ask this question within earshot of the blind man. The Jews, like many people today, believed that all suffering was caused by specific sins. So, either this man sinned in his mother’s womb (Genesis 25:22; Ezekiel 18:4) or his parents sinned (Exodus 20:5; 34:7). Examples of children suffering for their parents’ sin today include babies born to a drug-addicted or alcoholic mother, or to a mother with AIDS. They can suffer from physical and mental impairment. Children whose parents are verbally, physically, or sexually abusive suffer deeply. The disciples wanted to look backward to find out “Why?”

Isn’t that what we want to do? We usually want to figure out the cause of our pain before we decide how to respond. Jesus redirects the disciples’ attention and ours. He points forward instead of backward. “Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.’ ” (John 9:3). Jesus says this man’s blindness is not due to his sin or his parents’ sin. Instead, Jesus answers a different question. He does not address the backward-looking questions of “Why?” He points to hope for the future. A human tragedy, like blindness, can be used to display the power of God at work. This man was born blind to demonstrate the power of Jesus. Why does God allow pain and suffering?

The first reason is TO DEMONSTRATE CHRIST’S POWER (John 9:1-3). Sometimes the work of God is manifest through a dramatic miracle, as with the man born blind. Sometimes it is not. Suffering always offers an opportunity for us to display God’s work. A sick person is not unspiritual, rather he is a vehicle through which Jesus can demonstrate His power. God’s work is a miracle to man, but normal work for God. It is unbiblical to assume that all suffering is the result of a specific sin. It is also wrong to conclude that all suffering is allowed by God so He can heal the person. This is the reason for this man’s suffering, but we cannot conclude this is the reason for all suffering. Notice that the disciples focus on the man’s blindness as an act of God’s displeasure, but Jesus sees the man’s blindness as an opportunity to display the power of God at work. 

How do we respond to someone with an emotional or physical handicap? Are we condemning by asking, “Who sinned?” Or are we compassionate by asking, “How is God going to show His power at work in this situation?” The first question focuses on the problem. The second question focuses on the solution. Regardless of the cause of this blind man’s affliction, he was a picture of all people who are born spiritually blind and in need of a Savior.

In summary, God allows suffering and pain to demonstrate Christ’s power. He may not perform a dramatic miracle as with the man born blind. But He may transform our attitude or heal a broken relationship. He may lift the burden of guilt and legalism off our shoulders so we can serve Him freely without shame. Whatever the form of our pain and suffering may be, God wants to show us His loving power if we will let Him.

Prayer: Father God, many people are asking, “If You are a God of love, why are You allowing so much pain and suffering in the world today?” Your answer is clear. It is because You want to demonstrate the power of Jesus in the midst of peoples’ suffering. It may not be an instant fix as it was with the healing of the man born blind. It may involve a process of gradual healing and transformation whereby You walk with people through their pain. The suffering that we experience may be Your way of bringing us to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Like the man born blind, all people are born spiritually blind and unable to see Jesus as the Savior of the world. They need You, Lord, to perform spiritual cataract surgery on their eyes so they can see Christ for Who He truly is – the Eternal I AM Who can wash away their sins and give them everlasting life the moment they believe in Him. They do not have to clean up their lives any more than the blind man had to clean up his. They simply must believe in Jesus, and He will do the rest. Thank You my Lord and my God, for the simplicity of the gospel. In Jesus’ name. Amen.