When God Does Not Answer

“Because you inclined your ear to me, I will continue to call all my days”.

 “I called on the name of the Lord:  O Fount of Life, pray save my life!”  

“When I was brought low, you saved me.” 

“You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling”—that could be any kind of deliverance, couldn’t it?  It could be deliverance from any grave or threatening or hopeless situation we have passed through.    

Individual declarations of praise are common in the book of psalms.  What is not so common is the opening of this psalm:  I love the GOD WHO SAVES.  Only one other psalm, Psalm 18, uses love language with respect to God: “I love you, O LORD, my strength.” As accustomed as we today are to hearing and saying, “I love God”, the psalmists did not often use love language.  More often they are extolling God for mighty deeds, for tender care, for victory over enemies, for protection, and so on.  In his commentary on the psalms, one of my beloved seminary professors, Dr. James Mays, sees this whole 116th psalm of praise as a declaration of love.  God has clearly rescued this writer from grave circumstances, and the response is to, declare love and appreciation for God.  I love the verb used by Gafney in the line of the psalm that reads:  Gracious is the Saving God, and righteous; our God mother-loves deeply.  The verb she translates “mother-love”shares a root with the word for womb in Hebrew.  It is the kind of love that comes from deep within, from the place where life begins.  God mother-loves so much that God saves, rescues, heals, and lifts up.  Think about the love that is deep in the womb of a mother who is not only emotionally bonded to her child, but also physically attached to the developing child.  That is deep love, love that flows through the entire body, love that brings life.

The writer is a living witness to the healing power of God.  The writer tells us again and again why he or she loves God—because God heard her cry, because God inclined his ear to him, because God has snatched her from the jaws of death.   I am sure you have heard a friend or a loved one tell again and again when there is an unexpected healing or recovery from illness.  It is the kind of thing you can not keep to yourself!  I know that those of you who have experienced a similar second chance at life repeatedly give your thanks and praise to God for rescuing you from death. 

These inspiring words of praise and gratitude spark a question in my mind.  I wonder about those who did not survive the illness or the trauma, the childbirth or the emotional breakdown.  What about all the people whose cries were not answered with restoration, who did not live to write down their prayers, who never were able to share a story of life renewed?  There had to have been people in ancient Israel whose prayers were not answered with deliverance.  You know as well as I that all of our prayers for help are not answered by an immediate rescue from God.  There are plenty of times when we pray and pray and pray and it seems that there is no answer. Or maybe it is that we are not getting the answer that we are hoping for.  Sometimes the answer is no.  Sometimes the answer is not yet.  That doesn’t mean that we stop asking.  That doesn’t mean that we stop looking to God in our tough times. 

A question for us, when it seems that God is not answering, is this:  can we still offer praise and thanksgiving?  When God is silent, when God is not rescuing us or our loved one, when God appears to be removed or aloof, can we still recognize what God has done and what God is doing right now in our lives?  There are times when the road is difficult, and it is hard to climb over and under and around the obstacles that block your way kind of like the crumpling of a road after an earthquake.  Making our way on a road like that is tiring, it is stressful, it is scary. On that jagged and jumbled up road, we cry out to God for help, for relief, for hope, for life.  And we should not stop crying out.  When God is not answering the way we want, not giving us our request, what happens next?

I want to share with you the message I heard from a brother in Cuba at a Cuba Partner Network Steering Committee meeting this past week.  Pastor Alison Infante, serving a congregation in Cardenas, told us that although this time of the virus, the food and medicine shortages, and the sky-high inflation has brought severe hardship for most Cubans, the Cuban Presbyterian Church is grateful.  He told us that they are praising God in the midst of trying to navigate this jagged and jumbled up road. They are grateful for the increased ability to communicate and to serve the church and the community by using digital communication.  Through the chat feature on WhatsApp and Telegram, they send out caring words, uplifting and encouraging passages of scripture, videos of music and dance, prayers, and personal messages of hope and love.  I am in the WhatsApp group with members from Sagua, and the stream is constant—prayer requests and reports of answered prayer, a request for a specific medicine needed by a family member, and so on.   Pastor Infante is grateful that wi-fi capacity has expanded greatly in Cuba, and they are able to reach more people than they ever could before.  The older members of the community can stay connected.  Everyone can “converse” and stay safe at home.  They are seizing this virtual platform as a new way to be the church, to share the gospel, to connect with one another.  In addition,  in the midst of these difficult times, a much more positive relationship between the Presbyterian Church and  the Cuban government has been developing. A key government official actually attended and spoke at the Synod meeting two weeks ago for the first time ever.  Better communication and understanding between church and government is opening up new doors for shared projects and the possibility of government support. 

God knows our Cuban sisters and brothers have been praying hard for an end to the virus.  They have been praying hard for an end to the US embargo.  They have been praying hard that their dinner tables will soon hold something other than rice and beans.  They pray hard, and it may seem on the outside that God is not answering—after all, new variants keep popping up, US-Cuban politics continue to be at a standstill under the current U.S.  administration, and the prices of the available food items are out of their reach.  But in this difficult time, they are growing in a new area, finding that the GOD WHO SAVES is offering rescue in different ways than they would have expected.  The road is still jagged and jumbled up. The economic and health crises have not disappeared. Yet they can find reasons for giving thanks and praise to God.

I wonder if the words of our Cuban family members might echo the refrain of praise of the psalmist, but with a different verse. Maybe the prayer would be:  “I love the GOD WHO SAVES, because she has heard my cry and supplications.  Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. I am suffering hunger and illness; my future is bleak.  Yet SHE WHO IS LIFE brings new opportunities to connect and serve, she fills me with strength and power to influence the direction of my country. Gracious is the SAVING GOD in surprising ways.  I love the Lord because he has heard my voice. I am confident that I will walk before the LIVING GOD in the land of the living.”

I wonder what our prayer is when it appears there is no answer.  I wonder if we can find a way to continue to praise as we walk along the jagged and jumbled road.  I wonder.  Amen.

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