Welcome back to the podcast. Today’s question is not uncommon. We very often hear it from Christians who came to embrace Reformed theology in college or shortly thereafter. And those same believers are now having children of their own. They are now building a family with children that may or may not be elect in Christ. That reality raises huge questions for young Christian parents, like a young mom named Alex.
She writes, “Pastor John, my life has been different ever since I first heard you speak at Passion as a college student. I am so thankful for your life and ministry (and I’m getting emotional as I write this). By God’s grace and through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, your teaching and the resources at Desiring God have made such a huge eternal impact on my life. Thank you.
“My question: My son is not even two months old and has significant health concerns. We’ve known about the issues for about six months, and during this time, God has been working something wonderful in my heart as I’ve submerged myself in Scripture like never before. However, I find myself consistently discouraged by this fact: I know that Scripture does not guarantee my son’s physical healing, and it also does not guarantee my son’s salvation. I know that because I have been saved by grace, I have a glorious hope, and these trials that I am facing are temporary, so that gives me comfort for myself. But what about my son? I find myself grasping for some sort of truth to give me hope for him, but I can’t seem to find any. I know that God will accomplish his purpose for an overall good, but he doesn’t guarantee my son’s eternal good. I know it is sinful to feel this way, but I can’t seem to be satisfied with God accomplishing his ultimate good purpose knowing that it may come with the cost of my son’s life. Is this just something I need to accept?”
Let’s take that last sentence from Alex: “I can’t seem to be satisfied with God accomplishing his ultimate good purpose knowing that it may come with the cost of my son’s life.” I wonder if it might be helpful to point out to Alex and to the rest of us that in this world, we’re not supposed to be satisfied with sickness and death and lostness. We can’t be satisfied in the way we will be in the age to come, when all of history is complete and every thread of the tapestry of providence is woven into its place, and we have been completely perfected, so that we no longer see through a glass darkly.
In other words, maybe Alex is asking for more now than the New Testament says we can have or should have. Now, why would I say that? Let me give some reasons. I’ll sum up these three reasons with the words tears, prayers, and deeds. All three of these show that God intends for us to experience a kind of holy dissatisfaction with this world the way it is until he comes.
Tears Over the Lost
First, tears. Listen to Paul talk about his own effort to deal with the lostness of his kinsmen. This would be like Alex thinking about her son, I think. Here’s Paul in Romans 9:1–3: “I am speaking the truth in Christ — I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit — that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (Romans 9:1–2).
“It is possible to weep, to be in anguish, without questioning God’s wisdom and goodness and power.”
Let that sink in: “unceasing anguish.” It’s great, and it’s unceasing. That’s almost unthinkable for the man who said, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4), or who said to rejoice in all things and to rejoice at all times (Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:16). He’s got joy while saying, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish.”
Paul continues, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3). In other words, they’re cut off from Christ. They’re perishing. That’s the reason he has great sorrow and unceasing anguish.
Listen as he describes his ministry with those who reject Christ, and even with the strugglers who believe. He says in Philippians 3:18, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.” He’s weeping over these enemies.
Look at Acts 20:31: “Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” Or Romans 12:15: “Weep with those who weep.” It seems to me that all of this is Paul’s way of saying history has not yet arrived at a point, and we have not yet been sanctified to a point, where it would be fitting for anguish and tears to go out of our lives over the pain and lostness of others, especially our own families.
It is possible to weep, to be in anguish, without questioning God’s wisdom and goodness and power. Yes, it is. Let me say that again because I think she’s feeling a tension that she feels may be impossible. It’s not impossible. It is possible to weep without questioning God’s wisdom and goodness and power.
Prayers for Change
Second, prayers. I said tears, prayers, deeds. So now let’s look at prayers. We’re supposed to have a holy dissatisfaction with the world as it is because God tells us to pray that things would be different. That’s the whole point of prayer — to ask God to do things, to make things different, right? I mean, you’re not praying that everything stays exactly the same. There’s no point in praying that.
“We should not be satisfied with anyone’s unbelief in such a way that it keeps us from praying earnestly for their conversion.”
James said, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:2–3). In other words, things would be different if we prayed. Then he teaches us in the next chapter, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). It’s not wrong to pray for healing, as though we’re calling God into question, which means we should not be satisfied with sickness in a way that rules out prayer for healing.
Paul says in Romans 10:1, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” This means we should not be satisfied with anyone’s unbelief in such a way that it keeps us from praying earnestly for their conversion. Prayer itself is a witness that God intends for us to have a holy dissatisfaction with the way things are.
Deeds That Make a Difference
Third, deeds. We should have a holy dissatisfaction with the world as it is because God tells us to do deeds that make it different. We do not just cry tears over it, or just prayer for it, but we do deeds to change it.
“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Every commandment in the Bible is a commandment that unleashes changes in the world. The world becomes different every time someone prays and acts.
Push Against Darkness
Here’s the upshot for Alex. Not only is it inevitable and right that her heart should ache for her son’s healing and salvation, but I think she should be encouraged to pray that until God gives her some comforting evidence that his purposes are otherwise. (Paul got that sort of evidence, for example, in 2 Corinthians 12:7–9 about the thorn in the flesh; he stopped praying that this thorn would be removed because God gave him evidence that he had other plans.)
“Push against the darkness with tears, prayers, and deeds, but don’t push against God. Trust God.”
Until Alex can have some kind of comforting evidence, she should take heart that the persistence of her prayers is good evidence that God has not decided against her request. I think that’s the point of Jesus’s parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18: “He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).
Alex, that’s my prayer for you. I will pray as soon as we’re done here. That’s my prayer for you. Don’t lose heart. Push against the darkness with tears, prayers, and deeds, but don’t push against God. Trust God. He’s with you in this world-changing battle. He’s not against you.
Father, for a moment here, we pause and ask that you would touch Alex’s son, and grant him healing, and that you touch her heart. Help her to know and make the distinctions between pushing against darkness, pushing against unbelief, pushing against sickness, pushing against sin, and pushing against you. It’s not an easy distinction for people to make, and we ask for her and for others, that they would discern that. Make this help for her. I pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.