In the face of tragedy, it is natural to lift our eyes heavenward and to ask God, “What’s going on here?” I think of the widow that Elijah met at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8–24): even after God had miraculously provided oil and flour for her and her son, the boy suddenly dies. The woman asks Elijah, “Is this because of my sins?” And Elijah, the prophet of God—a professional theologian, a seminary graduate, the cream of the crop—can only respond by asking God the same question: “God, I don’t get it. Can you help this woman?”
Neither one of them blames God for their tragedy. Neither one of them tries to explain it away with easy answers. And neither one concludes that with the right amount of faith, there will never be any more pain in the widow’s life. They simply go to God, asking him for help, appealing to his mercy.
They have what I would call a humble faith. It’s humble because they recognize that God often does things they don’t understand. But it’s faith because they never cease believing in the goodness of God.
A lot of people attempt to have faith without being humble. In order to believe, they demand that God do exactly what they think he should. If he doesn’t, then they lose their faith. In order for them to obey God’s moral instructions, for instance, they have to agree with them. But if God doesn’t say things that offend you or do things that confuse you, then you aren’t dealing with the true God; you’re dealing with a figment of your own imagination. A god who conforms to your mind is usually only a projection of your mind.
One of the ways we know that God is a living God—and not just a projection of preconceived notions—is that he leaves us with so many unanswered questions. If I invented a god, he would always take care of the people I like and would never surprise me. But God is confusing. He is surprising. He is constantly doing things that make me say, “What?”
A humble faith is willing to live with unanswered questions, yet is confident in God’s goodness. Some people, when they suffer, assume that God just doesn’t care. Some rage against him. But neither reaction is humble.
Others turn God into some kind of genie that will always heal and bless if you just show enough faith. And that sounds fine, until it doesn’t work. When God doesn’t deliver, even after you’ve named it, claimed it, prayed all night, confessed every known sin, thanked God in advance for the answer . . . that’s when people lose their faith.
Many people have a hard time with faith, simply because they are not humble enough to live with unanswered questions. If God is real, if He is anything more than a social construct, then there will be times when he contradicts and confuses us. In those times, God is asking us to look to him with a humble faith. He wants us to stop praying eloquently, to call him Father, and to simply ask him to work in our lives. The maturity of our prayers is not demonstrated by their theological sophistication, but by the simplicity of our requests.
For more, be sure to listen to the whole sermon here.