Job with friends trying to console him. IIya Repin 1869.
We need to know, especially why—why some things happen and other things don’t. It’s the way we are made. It is for this reason why prayer, unanswered, can be so troublesome.
Consider these two statements:
“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Matthew 21:22
“Ask and it will be given to you…For everyone who asks receives.” Luke 11:9-10
It is one of the great mysteries of faith; we are told to ask and it shall be given. And then we ask, wait, and it appears that what we asked for is not given. So we ask ourselves, “Was it given but I just didn’t see it? Was I given something that I need, not what I want? How long should I wait? Did I lack sufficient belief or did I ask improperly? Did God not hear me or, worse, were Christ’s words a sham?”
Oh, the pain of unanswered questions, the torture of not knowing.
But there is an alternative way to give thought to the nature of asking and receiving. Consider grief as an example—deep, mournful grief. We ask God, “why?” and no answer seems to come, as least no answer that makes sense. And then, after we ask all the question above and still no answer appears to be forthcoming, we may simply lose faith in the promise of asking and receiving.
Unless…unless we see the answer in the form of freedom to live without the need to know.
The Biblical Story of Job
Consider the story of Job. Job was a righteous man who feared God and shunned evil. He was also very rich. In other words, he was good and had it all. Then he lost it all: family, fortune, and health. Job laments,
For sighing has become my daily food;
my groans pour out like water.
What I feared has come upon me;
what I dreaded has happened to me.
I have no peace, no quietness;
I have no rest, but only turmoil.”
– Job 3:24-26
The question of “why” comes into play for the first 37 chapters; why did he lose it all? His friends and even his wife were of no comfort. In fact, they basically accused Job of causing his own downfall, a result of falling out of favor with God. Then, beginning with Job 38:2, God tells Job, through a barrage of questions that neither Job—nor anyone—could answer, that he is not to question Him about the “why” of his tragedy.
It is then that “the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm.” (v. 1) (Note the expression “out of the storm” which may refer to Job’s confused state of mind.)
God asks, in Chapter 38:2,
“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?”
Again, God’s asks the unanswerable:
“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?”
There is no answer, so Job replies (40:4-5)
“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer—
twice, but I will say no more.”
God does not relent. The questions continue until, finally, Job responds,
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
Where Are You Now?
If you have prayed and it seems your prayers have not been answered, reflect on the precious gift of not having to know “the why.” The “why” belongs to the God beyond our knowing, of things too wonderful to know. Rest in the peace that you may put your storm-tossed and questioning mind at rest, where the disorder of unanswered questions is comforted by a love that is beyond understanding.
It is often senseless to attempt to make sense of things that make no sense. So when you seek an answer, consider that the answer to prayers of asking may be the freedom to live without knowing the answer. God knows and that is sufficient for my peace. Such is the nature of God’s inscrutable grace.