I wanted to tackle this question because I think it is one that would naturally arise from reading my last post. Not only that though, but I think it’s a question in one form or another that has likely crossed everyone’s mind at some point. After all, the Bible is chock full of miracles; Christ healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, God parting the Red Sea and so on, and whether you believe that modern day miracles happen or not, the point remains that it seems God intervenes sometimes to heal the sick or work miraculous wonders, and sometimes he doesn’t.
You’ve also probably heard that God is supposed to be all loving and all powerful, so then what’s the deal? If God wants to help us all, and he’s powerful enough to do so, then why do miracles only happen in some cases? Why doesn’t he use miracles to fix all our problems and cure all our ills? Consider this though, much of the pain and suffering that we might pray and ask God to stop is caused by our fellow humans. If God were to step in and stop all of this pain and suffering, or make it so that we could not commit acts of evil against one another, then we could have no free will. You might say people could still choose to act evilly, but those actions would no longer have any consequences, and so there really is no choice at all.
Not everybody prays for those kinds of miracles though, what about someone who asks for their cancer to be cured? Or a mother who prays for enough money to feed her children? It certainly seems that God could work a miracle in a situation like this without affecting someone’s free will, and in some cases he might. Why not all cases then? This might seem a little contradictory, but not all pain or suffering that we undergo is bad. It can serve several purposes, from teaching us important lessons (like never pet a burning dog) to strengthening our will and fortitude. It is also in the depths of our sorrow that we find the true nature of our character. We couldn’t be courageous, or determined, or compassionate if we didn’t have a reason to be.
I don’t think that God causes illness or suffering deliberately, but I think he uses them to bring about something better overall, and to do this sometimes our immediate prayers go unanswered. It usually doesn’t seem like that at the time, it may not even seem like that in retrospect, but remember we as humans necessarily have an incomplete picture of reality. I once heard an analogy that I thought was fitting for this subject. Imagine a soldier on a battlefield who receives his orders from a commanding officer. Now those orders might not make sense to the soldier, but he knows that wherever he is, he doesn’t have a complete idea of the battlefield, but his commander does and so he trusts his commander and follows his orders. Admittedly, I don’t always think of unanswered prayers in terms of the Brigadier General Jesus metaphor, but I do know that we still have to trust that God is looking out for us, after all that’s what faith is about.