Exciting phrases, easy acronyms, and memorable lists formed from dense works of systematic theology can be helpful for the everyday Christian. While these reductions of God’s Word and His nature help us understand general frameworks, they are unable to help us understand everything the Bible teaches. It is one thing...
I was talking with a young girl who is facing what could be the most difficult trial of her life. She expressed her biggest fear is that it will never come to an end, that she won’t get through it. In that moment, I wanted to be able to promise her that it would end and she would be okay. And I realized I could. I could promise that her present circumstances are not all the Lord has for her. Because whether he decides to end her suffering tomorrow, or in 70 years when she finally sees him face to face, he will bring it to an end.
This launched us into to one of the most Spirit-filled, fruitful conversations I’ve ever had. We talked about the gospel through the lens of hope – my favorite way to present it. But it can be tricky to navigate. Our human nature pulls us to misplace hope in temporal things, or to confuse hope with a delusive assurance that “everything will be okay.”
As I spoke, I tried to steer clear of false hope and clearly present to this young girl the reality of hope in the Lord. Our conversation revealed that biblical hope is two ideas working in tandem: We can hope in the Lord’s almighty ability to answer yes to any request we bring him. And we can hope in his perfect sovereignty when he answers no.
Hope in God’s Ability to Answer Yes
In 2 Kings 3, we hear of three kings—the king of Israel, the king of Judah, and the king of Edom—en route to battle the armies of Moab. Midway through their journey, they run out of water and fear the Lord has abandoned them into the hand of their enemy. The kings seek out Elisha’s help, and he relays a word that the Lord will fill the dry streambeds with water without bringing rain to the land. In verse 18, Elisha says, “This is a light thing in the sight of the LORD. He will also give the Moabites into your hand.”
If causing dry streambeds to spontaneously fill with water in the absence of rain is a “light thing in the sight of the LORD,” then I would venture to say that any request we bring to him would also fall under the category of “light”.
Nothing is impossible for our God, and he is infinitely able. His Word says he is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). He is the one who creates light and dark, peace and calamity (Isaiah 45:7). His mere voice can strip a forest bare (Psalm 29:9). This is the God in whom our souls find their rest.
He should cause us to have great hope. Great hope should stir great faith. And great faith should urge us to bring every fear, need, and desire to our Lord, fully confident that he is able to grant whatever we ask.
Hope in the Sovereignty of His No
But what happens when he doesn’t? What happens to our hope when the Lord’s answer is no? What do we say when he doesn’t heal, doesn’t give, doesn’t save, while knowing that he could have?
We hope in his sovereignty and in the goodness of his perfect will. We respond with the faith that Daniel possessed as he faced the furnace (Daniel 3). We determine not to fall away, not to give in to despair, and not to forsake the worship of our Lord who promised never to forsake us. And we trust that he is with us in death’s shadow, that his plans are not to harm us, and that he works all things together for our good.
Scripture is not lacking in examples of God denying the requests of his people, but nowhere in Scripture does God seek to hurt those who have been purchased by the blood of his Son. In fact, we can clearly see his denials purposed to sanctify and edify his people.
In John’s account of the death and resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus chooses to stay where he is for two more days after hearing the news of Lazarus’ condition, effectively choosing not to save Lazarus (John 11). But his gracious intentions are revealed when he says, “And for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (v. 15). And after he works a miracle in raising Lazarus from the dead, he simply says, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (v. 40).
It should bolster, not bludgeon, our hope that God sometimes delays or denies our requests in order to increase our faith and reveal his glory to us. Even in death, God makes the weary faith of a believer sight and brings them into his glory for eternity.
Good, No Matter What
Both Scripture and human experience are full of the Lord’s goodness. He works miracles, he saves, he provides, he restores, he heals. It doesn’t take much faith to stake our hope in those things.
But when Hebrews 6:19 tells us that Jesus is the anchor of our hope and that our hope is secure, it’s not referring to Jesus only in his overt goodness and his yeses. Jesus secured this hope for us by becoming a holy and blameless sacrifice, our ultimate high priest. So his best for us can be a denied request in order to sanctify us or to increase our faith beyond the limits of our feeble understanding. This, too, should give us hope.
No matter what, our hope stands firm on the promises of God’s goodness. We can bring all of our requests to him knowing that he will answer for our good and his glory, both in the yeses and the no’s. As devastating as his no’s can sometimes feel, we know that even those will end with this world.
When we finally see our Lord face to face, the only thing he will deny us will be all the pain and strife of our life in the flesh. Then, our hope will be fully realized in the eternal glory of our Savior.