Come On, God, This Isn’t Working

Come On, God, This Isn’t Working July 9, 2024

Increasing complexity seems to be a part of aging. Certain things might become simpler, especially after retirement (can’t speak to that yet), but the external streamlining inevitably masks growing internal complications. I suspect these complications begin much earlier than we imagine, but the busyness of child-rearing and career-building, the distractions of success and ambition, and the sheer pleasures of being young, strong, and able cloud the growing whirlwind.

Live long enough, and things stop working, and I’m not talking about creaky knee joints or cataracts or atrial fibrillation. Questions and conundrums begin to compound, and what seemed clear seems muddied; what seemed right seems questionable; what seemed dependable seems unreliable. All best efforts fall short, even the spiritual ones.

This morning the complexity weighed heavy. It was a combination of the near and far, the anxieties and fretful prayers for family and friends plus the cries and laments about suffering around the world. The last straw was an article that talked about the poverty line, and how many hover just above or just below, vulnerable to the smallest hiccup that could collapse the entire structure. And then, I just sat with this confession of failure: “This isn’t working.”

What isn’t working, exactly?

In Confessions, Augustine writes: “But I am scattered in times whose order I do not understand…” Yes. Exactly. I’m scattered, not whole; and the times are incomprehensible; and I have spent decades praying for wholeness and divine order and shalom. This, this is not working.

I ran across Augustine’s quote in Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Love Alone Is Credible, where he writes that “love is unconditional assent to and readiness for God’s will, whether this will has expressed itself yet or not; love is an a priori Yes to whatever may come, whether it be the Cross, or being plunged into absolute abandonment, or being forgotten or utter uselessness and meaninglessness.” This flies in the face of everything we aspire to. It flatly rejects my demands for meaning, for rational purpose, for order and assurance and results. Faith, von Balthasar insists, is genuine “only when it concedes all justice to God a priori and without conditions, in spite of all of reason’s complaints that it itself knows better.” It’s as though faith demands we come to the point of accepting that it’s not “working.”

This is the dilemma of much intercessory prayer. I ask for specific things that will help life (my own and others’) “work” better, that will satisfy my reason, that will affirm my sense of righteousness, that will give order to my understanding, that will confirm my faith. Even as I pray for others—things familial (children, marriages, jobs), things relational (friends of children and children of friends, sick, sorrowing, broken), things local or national or global (Haiti, Ukraine, Israel, Palestine, Sudan)—the answers I long for are answers that, in their abundance of peace and justice and healing, would also alleviate my anxiety, that would assure me of God’s sovereignty, that would ultimately conform to my own vision of goodness, justice, and order.

Intercessory prayer can become one more mechanism to make life “work,” one more method to push God toward my sense of spiritual satisfaction. Come on, God, she’s eating water lily bulbs because there is no other food available; he’s deceived by another woman; they need good child care; she has lost her way; they are victims of political chaos; etc. Come on, God. His very inaction violates my sense of love and justice and shalom.

But I am scattered in times whose order I do not understand, and prayer is not an instrument of ordering but a prolonged, verbose (at times), impassioned Yes to what God wants to accomplish.

Perhaps my intercessory prayers should be more like Mary and Martha’s cry to Jesus (Jn 11.3). While their call to Jesus may look the same as my prayers from the outside—a desperate plea of the heart to the One who alone can change the situation—the scripture shows us something different going on. Such prayer was not an act of controlling, but ultimately an act of entering into God’s glory. The sisters’ cry for the Lord to act—“Come on, God!”—kindled divine action, but it was not an action designed according to their expectations. It was not an action that focused on their plans and that leveraged the friendship for results. Their prayers didn’t “work.”

And yet, of course, they did work, strongly and effectively, as a great invitation to God, an opening of the way for light and life. They opened some window of grace that became the access point for the glory of God to manifest itself, a glory that not only enveloped Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in a gift of outrageous joy and love but reaches through the millennia to turn hearts to Jesus. Intercessory prayer, then, has power, then, not because it “works,” but because it begs for God to bring the glory that he intends. It makes a way, a channel in the dry and hopeless desert we live in, for the holy river to flow.

When I say “this isn’t working,” I scramble to figure out what to fix, in me or in others or in the world. Even my prayers are fix-it prayers, my own tinkering in the mechanics of God’s will. God’s purposes may come through too many days of silence, past the point of hope, or perhaps through years of blindness (Jn 9), inexplicable suffering or sorrow. God’s offer is not improvement, it is resurrection, and it can only come through the Cross, the greatest possible but completely incomprehensible act of love and grace.


Image by Roman Kogomachenko from Pixabay

"It's too bad evangelicals dont have the same aversion for the Sinner's Prayer."

What Is the Prayer of Salvation?
"There is language that is clearly poetic symbolic in nature, and there is language that ..."

Jesus (and Only Jesus) Is the ..."
"This was a fantastic read! Thanks!"

The Sermon for the Summer: Beatitudes
"I'm glad that I have found and read this. This blog is practical. As for ..."

Unmoored Christianity: 12 “Anchor” Questions

Browse Our Archives