by Bert Williams —
“Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” –Garth Brooks
I know people who believe they have routine, intimate encounters with God. I am not referring to a rewarding devotional life. They believe God makes personal contact with them in a decisive, unmistakable—even audible or physical—way. I do believe such experiences exist, but to be honest, in my 66 years I can identify only two such events in my own life. For me, they are very rare.
One afternoon I was driving near Port Hardy, British Columbia, where I pastored thelocal Adventist church. I was hearing an odd repetitive scraping noise that sounded like it was coming from the left front wheel of my Ford van. I’m no mechanic, but I decided to investigate.
I rolled to a stop on the flat gravel shoulder. I decided to jack upthe van in order to get a better view of what was going on underneath. The jack was a mechanical scissor jack designed to go under the frame—one of those contrivances with a long-handled crank. As I cranked, the van rose, the weight came off the suspension, and the wheel sagged. Finally, the van reached a height where the tire was suspended off the ground, leaving well over a foot of space between the top of the wheel well and the top of the tire. That was plenty of room for me to stick my head in for a look
I checked the jack. It appeared secure under the frame and solid on the hard ground. Fully intending to stick my head inside the wheel well, I inexplicably pulled back instead of moving forward. At that moment the van’s frame slipped off the jack. With a metallic clang, the jack flew several feet, skidding across the gravel. The van bounced onto the ground. The space where my head would have been was compressed to nearly nothing in an instant. If I had followed through on my inspection plan, my skull would have been split wide open. I could not possibly have survived.
As I stood there in a cold sweat, I imagined the scenario of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer walking up to the front door of our house and explaining to my wife, as she held our baby in her arms, how sorry he was about what had happened to her husband. Instead, I was safe—weak-kneed but whole—and immensely thankful. I do not doubt that I was actively saved that day from certain death.
What I do not know is why these miraculous interventions don’t happen more often. Why, for example, didn’t God keep my mom from being distracted and turning left into an oncoming truck? She died from internal injuries within hours. Why was her life not spared? She had two teenage kids who needed her godly wisdom and guidance. But suddenly she was gone.
The simple reality is that God’s involvement with our planet is inscrutable. I doubt the wisdom of anyone who claims to understand it. God is involved, I have no doubt, but when and how and under what circumstances? The answers are not forthcoming. Sometimes I find myself aligned with Job: “I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me” (Job 30:20, NIV).
But here is another question: Would getting answers to our questions be a good thing?
In Job’s case, God did finally answer:“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me” (Job 38:2-3).
And God proceeds with a series of startling questions for Job:
Does the rain have a father? (38:28)
Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? (38:35)
Do you give the horse its strength? (39:19)
Does the eagle soar at your command? (39:27)
The cross examination stretches on for three long chapters. In the middle of the grilling, Job interrupts God:“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth” (40:4).
But God is far from finished: “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” (40:8). And God turns to sarcasm:“Do you have an arm like God’s,and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath” (40:9-11).
In the course of the verbal onslaught, God asks Job the ultimate question: “Who has a claim against me that I must pay?” (41:11).
And finally, Job is able to inject a few more words: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (42:3). It’s a good response, and finally God has finished—except for turning His disregard toward Job’s accusers, and then restoring Job’s good life.
Job lived another 140 years, surrounded by four generations of offspring, finally dying “old and full of years.” But notice this: God never did answer Job’s questions. God simply said, in effect: Job, how I choose to run the universe is just none of your business.
And for believers, among whom I count myself, that is the only possible response to finite humans from infinite God.
Bert Williams retired in 2018 after serving for 13 years as editorial director of Christian Record Services for the Blind. He has served as a church pastor, a high school Bible and music teacher, and a reporter and editor for a small town weekly newspaper. Bert and his wife, Donna, live near their two kids and four grandkids in San Mateo, CA. They are members of the Palo Alto Adventist Church.