When God Says No

woman in depression and despair crying on black dark

Have you ever prayed something so intensely, wanted something so badly, that it took over, that it completely consumed you?

And God said no.

It was a resounding no. A painfully firm and final no.

A seemingly senseless, purposeless, and graceless no.

The thing for which I was begging and praying was a good thing. A godly thing. And all signs seemed to point toward a “yes.” Toward a miracle. Toward a moment in time that people would look back on and say, “God moved.”

But for whatever reason…He said no.

My church upbringing immediately brought all the Sunday school answers to mind:

God’s ways are higher than ours.

He works all things together for the good of those who love him…

Faith is the conviction of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…

He is close to the brokenhearted….

He is the same yesterday, today, and forever…

He is just and righteous…

He is God. I am not.

In the days and weeks following the No, these truths seemed so hollow. They fell flat when I spoke them. For the first time in a while, I felt the doubt creeping closer, pushing and shoving against my faith and beliefs and giving me a sense of cramped discomfort.

I wanted an explanation, a reason, a justification. I wanted things to make sense.

Why am I writing all this? Because I know from experience — and from many painful conversations with others — that I am not alone in dealing with these doubts. I know that for the Christian who has grown up in the faith, such doubts often seem off-limits. Because to ask these questions must mean my faith is weak, wavering, or broken.

I know this to be true because for a period I hid my doubts from others. The pain of the No was so deep that I didn’t think I could endure the “Sunday school answers” I knew I’d receive.

Because the fact is, these Sunday school answers were right. Every single one of them. I knew they were.

And I also knew — in the recesses of my heart — that these answers just didn’t seem like enough. And I was so afraid to admit that to anyone. So I didn’t.

And that, friend, is exactly the moment when we leave our faith most vulnerable. When we shut ourselves off from scripture and from the wisdom of other godly men and women.

Job was a man in the Bible who had everything good in his life taken away. He stood firm in his faith and trust in God, even when those closest to him encouraged him to “curse God and die.” But the moment that Job did dare question God’s reasons for allowing seemingly purposeless calamity into his life, God responded with some incredibly powerful words:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements — surely you know!…Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?…Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

This excerpt doesn’t do God’s response justice — he goes on for four chapters (Job 38-41), laying out the ludicrousness of the created questioning the Creator. Job’s ultimate response?

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (42:2-3)

When I make myself the center of the Gospel or the main character in the biblical narrative, then these Sunday school answers are not enough. They leave much to be desired and explained. They are not satisfactory and they leave God owing me something more acceptable.

Since the beginning, humans have been trying to make themselves as gods. And ultimately, my inability to accept God’s No was a subtle (or maybe not-so-subtle) way of me trying to elevate myself.

Because if I can’t understand it, then surely God must be mistaken…right?

God forgive me.

Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

I still don’t understand the No that broke my heart. And honestly, I don’t think I ever will this side of heaven. And for me—and for all Christians—this “not knowing” has to be something that I accept.

I don’t accept it blindly. Far from it. I can accept what I’ll never know because of all that I do know.

I can accept the unknown because God is good and unchanging. Loving and full of grace. Sovereign and always in control. Close to those who are broken. Compassionate towards the distressed.

He is just and righteous, faithful and true. He is passionate for both his glory and for his people. And he always, always keeps his promises.

He is God.

And I most definitely am not.

Hurting friend: these may be Sunday school answers, but they are the correct answers. And in the painful days when you feel the doubt closing in, I encourage you to not cut yourself off from the Word or from truth-speakers in your life.

When God told me no, It was a resounding no. A painfully firm and final no.

A seemingly senseless, purposeless, and graceless no.

But things aren’t always what they seem.

And his grace is sufficient. And his mercies are new every day.

And I can, with tears in my eyes, accept what I do not know because of who I do know.

And that is enough.


2 thoughts on “When God Says No

  1. Hi Mary, I saw your post re-tweeted from Leigh Ann Thomas. This is a beautifully painful post. I am in the midst of my own no – or at least for now – wait. Either way, the truths you shared as appropriate. Thank you for your transparency and sincerity. May the God of all comfort continue to fill you and use you to shine his glorious light.

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