What if God Doesn't Fix it?
In the back of every sufferer’s mind is the foreboding fear of the possibility that God won’t fix our suffering. How scary is the thought that there may be no quick fix to our sorrow, our pain, our nightmare—or a fix at all! How helpless the feeling of being hostage to our illness, circumstances, or anxiety. As the powerless, we turn and lean upon the One who holds all the power to heal our hurt and restore our happiness. Yet, as the time of our suffering lags on and on the question begins to haunt, What if God doesn’t fix it?
At first, we are resolute to not go there; to not allow our thoughts to wander there. We kick the question straight out of our minds, but once it is planted it slowly grows stronger. We know—we believe—God can fix our situation, but we notice more and more those around us whose cancer was not healed, whose marriage did not endure, whose infertility was the end of their story. While, after some time now, we’ve continued to lean on a God who has all the power to fix it—but hasn’t—we can no longer hide from the haunting question, What if God doesn’t fix it? The question haunts us because if we can’t fix it and God won’t fix it, what will we do? It’s a question of despair.
The very idea that God wouldn’t answer my prayers and pleas for rescue makes me angry. The God I serve not fixing my suffering and restoring my happiness leaves me, naturally, feeling betrayed. In my experience it is here when I have been brought to the end of my faith (so I thought). It is here, in my despair and hurt that the threat of stumbling in my faith is ever present. It’s here, in anger and disappointment, I wanted to exact my revenge and betray Him whom I feel has betrayed me. But, I am reminded of a short story in the gospel of Matthew. A short story of a time when God did not fix the suffering of one of His very own. God did not fix the situation of, not just His messenger, not just a man who faithfully dedicated his whole life to the mission God gave him (and did it well for Him), but His own family member—His cousin, John the Baptist.
In Matthew 11:2-6 John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, is in prison for God, for being a prophet of God, for pointing people to God’s son, Jesus the Messiah. John has sacrificed it all for Jesus and while he’s sitting in prison he begins to wonder if Jesus is really the Messiah. Because if Jesus, John’s own cousin, were the Messiah why in the world is he still sitting in prison? Jesus, who can raise the dead and make the blind see would have surely by now sprung His own cousin from jail. John, like all of us at times, seems to question Jesus. And so, John sends his disciples to question Jesus; to ask if He is the Expected One or should they be expecting someone else.
Jesus tells them to go back and tell John this answer: “the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed.” Here Jesus is quoting Isaiah 35 which is a messianic passage or a passage foretelling what the Messiah or Expected One would do when he came. Then Jesus switches to Isaiah 61:1 and this is important here. Jesus says, “the poor have the gospel preached to them.” The reason this is important is because Jesus doesn’t finish quoting the verse here in Matthew, He just stops abruptly.
In Isaiah 61:1 Isaiah writes, "Because the LORD has appointed me to bring good news to the afflicted," which Jesus quotes in Matthew 11, namely, that the gospel or good news is preached to the poor or afflicted. However, where Jesus stops, Isaiah continues to say that the Messiah would also “bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners.” Jesus completely leaves this part of the verse out in His answer to John’s question. Jesus essentially is telling John I am the Expected One, but I'm not at all what you expected. I am not going to fix your situation in prison. For John there would be no binding of his broken heart and there would be no liberty or freedom proclaimed to him, the prisoner. This is the terrifying answer we all dread when it comes to the question, What if God doesn’t fix it?
If I were John, I don’t think I could help but feel betrayed. I don’t know how I could not help but feel God manipulated me to be His messenger to usher in the King’s arrival and once the King had arrived and He had no more use for me He hangs me out to dry. I would have taken major offense at Jesus for not fixing my suffering that was direct result of doing exactly what He asked of me.
Jesus finishes v.6 “And blessed is he would does not take offense at Me.” When Jesus, the Expected One did not act like John expects He should, John doesn’t stumble at this, but by faith he continues to endure his imprisonment for Jesus.
How will you respond when you realize that most likely God isn’t going to fix your situation or suffering? How will you react when the Expected One does not act on your behalf like you expect He should? You can be offended and so stumble in your faith or you can be blessed, if by faith you accept the plan and endure.
The question is, then, how do we accept such an unacceptable plan?
I have followed the Apostle Paul on this, who also desperately pleaded with God for a fix to his torment and was answered with the disappointing answer that God would not fix it. In 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 we see Paul “implore” or cry out (most literally) to the Lord three times, that what he labeled “a messenger from Satan to torment” be removed. God’s answer? “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” At first glance this seems like a diplomatic “no” from God to His number one Apostle. But for Paul this was just the empowering truth to change his entire perspective.
So how do we, like Paul, make this huge jump from despair without the fix to contentment without the fix?
Paul asked God, who tells us to come to Him with every request, three times for the fix. However, when Paul got the answer that there would be no fix, he made the huge leap to contentment without the fix by allowing God’s word to change his entire perspective. We too can make this gigantic turnaround from so desperately despairing for the fix to contentment without the fix by following Paul’s example. God did not merely give him a diplomatic “no” in v.9a, but He gave Paul an invitation to share in His mission.
Paul saw God assign meaning and mission to his pain, which completely reframed his suffering. He went from thinking of himself to thinking of God Himself. If God’s power to transform lives most effectively flows through the conduits of our pain, then Paul says, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distress, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (vv.9b-10).
SO WHAT ARE WE TO DO?
1. Ask for the fix. Three times or three hundred times. However, when we realize that a quick fix—or a fix at all—may not be in the plans we are to reframe our suffering for the long haul. How?
2. We offer it up to God to make missional. Like the mission of the cross could never be without suffering, so too our partnering in the gospel of Christ can, likewise, not be without suffering.
Elisabeth Elliot calls this “transfiguration” or the exchange of death for life. We are to exchange the meaningless suffering for missional suffering; death dealing hurt for life revealing hope. The gospel is our guide for this transfiguration we are all to make in the wake of suffering.
As we exchange our seemingly meaningless suffering for missional suffering we realize that although God may not have a plan to fix our suffering condition, He does have a plan to fix our spiritual condition. And not only does He plan for us (and those watching us) to become more like Jesus, He has promised it. He has promised to work all things for our good, our becoming more like Jesus (Rom. 8:28).
For me, becoming more like Jesus is to constantly look how He handled the cross. So, when it comes to God not fixing my situation like I would like Him to, I follow Jesus’ lead. I submit my requests to God, then I submit myself to God. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
WHAT DID WE LEARN
1. As in the story with John the Baptist. The Expected One, Jesus, does not always act how we expect He should. Why would He not spring us from our prison of suffering if He loves us? We are His family aren’t we? I don’t know, but sometimes He just doesn’t. The Expected One doesn’t always act how we expect He should. We shouldn’t stumble in our faith at this, but submit ourselves to the God who loves us and keep on enduring.
2. As we saw with Paul. When suffering arises we go to God and we submit our requests. It may be three times or three hundred, but at some point when we realize the fix we are requesting isn’t in the cards, we submit our request for grace and strength to sustain us and then we submit our self to God. We can do this knowing that there is meaning in whatever trial we are enduring because in our weakness, in our pain and hurt, God’s power is made perfected through us. His power to transform us into the image of Jesus and to bring people to faith through our stories of transformation is eternally worth it when God doesn’t fix it.
Eric Austin holds his Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas, USA. After almost seven years as a pastor he stepped out of vocational ministry to support his wife in her recovery of Borderline Disorder (BPD). Eric was born and has lived his life with an extremely rare bone disease, a disease which has profoundly impacted his personal views on suffering. In recent years, as a result of walking alongside his wife’s own suffering, he has learned the emotional and psychological pain that often comes from living with a loved one having a personality disorder. Eric is passionate about teaching the Bible and seeing the grace of God radically alter people into looking more like Jesus through the suffering that has drastically altered their lives. He is the host of The Altered Podcast a podcast in which he attempts to do just this. Eric lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA with his wife Heidi and three children.