There may be times when your prayers appear to do nothing more than bounce off the ceiling. You pray for healing from your cancer, but it keeps getting worse. You ask God to fix your broken marriage, but your spouse files for divorce. How do you handle these difficult situations? When God is not responsive to your needs and his promises don’t seem to be true, can you still believe in him?
Perhaps we need to think more carefully about faith. You’re probably familiar with what I call triumphant faith. This is the kind of faith that can tell a mountain to be thrown into the sea, and it will obey (Mark 11:23), or the kind of faith that brought healing to the woman who had a bleeding problem for 12 years (Luke 8:48), to the leper (Luke 17:19), and to the blind beggar (Luke 18:42). Jesus explicitly tells each of these people that their faith has healed them. This is triumphant faith—the kind of faith we all want.
But there is also a different kind of faith. I’ll call this coping faith. Scripture offers several examples of this kind of faith too. Job maintained his faith in God even though he suffered all kinds of calamities for no obvious reason, even though God seemed to be deaf to his cries for help. “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). This was Job’s testimony. He was able to believe in God even when God was not answering any of his prayers.
Another example of this coping faith is the apostle Paul. Paul experienced tremendous persecution and suffering because of his faith. In 2 Corinthians 11:24–26 he lists many of his difficult experiences: five floggings, three beatings with rods, one stoning, three shipwrecks, and all kinds of dangers on land and sea from Jewish opponents, from Gentiles, and from false brothers. On top of that, God refused to remove Paul’s thorn in the flesh even after Paul asked God to do so three times (2 Cor. 12:7–9). In spite of all this pain and suffering, Paul maintained his faith in God and his commitment to his task as an apostle to the Gentiles.
As in the case of Job and of Paul, there is often in my experience a gap between the promises of God and my own situation. God promises to answer prayer, but it doesn’t always happen the way I want it to. God promises to be present at all times, but there is no observable evidence that he is. If my faith depended solely on my own experience, I would conclude that God was not real. But I decided long ago that I cannot judge the validity of Christianity based simply on my subjective experience. The cross and the resurrection of Christ are more real and more definitive than anything I am thinking or feeling. My faith is based on what God has done in Christ.
Like me, maybe you too lack a victorious or triumphant faith. If that’s true, don’t give up your faith simply because God is not answering your prayers in the way you want him to. God is a lot bigger than your or my individual experience. The good news is that the salvation God has accomplished in Jesus Christ does not depend on its making sense to you. Your coping faith can sustain and nourish you through hard times. And it can be a powerful testimony to those around you.
Web Discussion Questions
- Recall times or events when God seemed unresponsive to your prayers. How did you feel during those moments? What did you do?
- Triumphant faith, as the article suggests, is attractive. But what might be the weaknesses of having only this one dimension to our faith?
- Have you noticed coping faith in the Bible before? How do the biblical examples of Job and Paul’s coping faith encourage you in your spiritual life?
- In what ways can coping faith be a powerful testimony to others, including to those who don’t believe?