There are things that are unchangeable – things that we simply must accept. James and John requested that Jesus would appoint them to reign at either side of Him once He came into His “glory.” However, He could not grant this request:
- To sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared." (Mark 10:40)
There are many other things that cannot be granted to even our most fervent prayers. The length of our lives has also been determined:
- Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:16)
This can be very discouraging, especially when this pertains to the death our young children, or even miscarriages that God allows in the face of fervent prayer. However, the Psalmist took comfort in the fact that there are certain things that God has written in stone, His pre-ordained stone. Therefore, he continued:
- How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! (Psalm 139:17)
We find it so comforting to know that our Lord has a precise plan for our lives. This mitigates the worry and the second-guessing – should I have done this or that or… However, this assurance does little to help us accept the loss of our infant. It staggers our understanding, and we grope to find meaning.
Is there a divine wisdom in loss? What sense did it make to Peter when the Lord informed him that he would have to be martyred?
- I [Jesus] tell you [Peter] the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!" (John 21:18-19)
Why instead didn’t Jesus tell Peter to pray about this as He had about the trials that preceded His crucifixion? Why could not Peter escape martyrdom? Why would not prayer prevail in this instance? Instead, Peter would have to glorify God in this manner. His fate was set.
Likewise, the Spirit informed the church at Smyrna that they too would have to die horrifically:
- Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)
Once again, there was no mention of a prayer technique that could reverse this horror. Instead, these martyrs would have to prepare themselves for their pre-ordained fate.
However, I do think that some understanding is possible. In another perplexing verse, Paul writes:
- Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Colossians 1:24)
Paul would have to face afflictions similar to that of his Master, and so also the other Apostles. This verse should not be understood to suggest that there was anything lacking in Christ’s atonement on the Cross. Instead, it points to the necessity of Apostolic martyrdom to advance the church, not atone for it. It is because they died the death of martyrs for what they believed that the Apostles are credible witnesses. This is also true for the martyrdom of many of the Church Fathers.
In direct contrast with these martyrs were the “Christian” Gnostics who evidently knew that they had nothing worth dying for. The Honorable Joseph Addison wrote”
- I think it is very remarkable, that there was not a single Martyr among those many Hereticks, who disagreed with the Apostolical church, and introduced several wild and absurd notions into the doctrines of Christianity. They durst not stake their present and future happiness on their own chimerical operations, and did not only shun persecution, but affirmed that it was unnecessary for their followers to bear their religion through such fiery tryals. (The evidences of the Christian Religion)
With their death, the Apostles and the Fathers showed the world that they had something that was worth dying for. And it wasn’t just for a future hope, like the Jihadis who die for their unfounded faith. Instead, Christian martyrdom was also a powerful assertion that what the Apostles had recorded had actually happened!
Peter’s martyrdom would place a seal of truth open everything He had taught. He proved this by dying for the faith.
Certain prayers will not be answered the way we want. Jesus’ wasn’t! He prayed that He wouldn’t have to go to the Cross. However, He was willing to submit to the will of the Father:
- "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)
Clearly, we cannot expect all of our prayers to be answered. However, how can we accept the death of an infant? What possible purpose could this have in God’s plan?
I cannot answer this with any satisfaction. However, associate professor at Biola University, Clay Jones, offers some suggestions. He and his wife suffered five miscarriages. Consequently, they have remained childless. Jones writes:
- Many important spiritual lessons are learned from the suffering and/or death of children – courage, patience, compassion, selflessness, humility… we learn that we can never base our ultimate happiness on this world. The American Dream – that we can have our kids grow up, graduate, achieve successful careers, marry great spouses, and have wonderful children… - is forever in danger. There is nothing worldly that we can count on, including what most people love most: their children. Instead, we must look to God for our ultimate and eternal fulfillment. (Christian Research Journal, Volume 38, Number 01, 14)
Although there are still many unanswered questions, I can accept this because I accept my Lord. Presently, I am tormented by the reports of grave injustices, especially those committed by ISIS and Boko Haram – the slaughter, kidnapping, and sexual abuse of tens of thousands of Christians and other non-Muslims. Although I had been raised on the Holocaust, I could barely conceive of such horrors or that the “civilized” world would once again allow them.
I am not comfortable in the world. This is not my home. This is increasingly clear. I pray for the end of these horrors, but they continue. For my own sanity, I can do little else but to immerse myself in Scripture and cry out, “Lord Jesus, come quickly!”
I certainly haven’t abandoned prayer. If I had, I would have purchased an AK47 and a one-way ticket to Iraq. Instead, I continue to pray, knowing that our only hope is in our Savior, who strangely is allowing these horrid abominations to continue.
There is so much that I don’t understand, but I do know the Lord and know that He is faithful, whether in martyrdom or in mayhem.