Sometimes prayers and angels fail (or seem to)

Everybody loves Jesus’ miracle stories in the Bible. Whose heart isn’t moved by the accounts of lepers receiving clean skin, the deaf hearing music again, and the blind receiving their sight? Who is not thrilled by hearing of the three resurrections from the dead that Jesus performed? Who doesn’t love hearing testimonies of believers today whose prayers were completely and miraculously answered?

How can you not love to hear God’s promises to send his holy angels to keep you and your family safe (e.g., Psalm 91:11,12)? How can you not enjoy the accounts of their stupendous power, as when just one slew an Assyrian army of 185,000 (Isaiah 37:36)?

But sometimes it seems as if prayers and angels fail. Last week a 25-year-old man driving a pickup truck blew through a stop sign on an Illinois country highway and smashed so hard into an SUV that the impact flung both vehicles into the adjacent farm field. The pickup driver is still alive, but the 29-year-old pregnant woman driving the SUV, Lindsey Schmidt, her unborn child, and her 21-month-old child were killed instantly. Her 4-year-old and 6-year-old were rushed to intensive care.

For days the prayers for those two boys poured into heaven, and none more intense than those coming from a sad and terrified father. Their pastor and congregation held prayer vigils, imploring God to heal the boys. Alas, the injuries were too severe. The medical team couldn’t save them, and both boys died a few days later. Can you imagine what it must feel like to be a member of the Schmidt family? Not only have you lost five people dear to your heart, but the fear lurks, and may lurk for the rest of your life, that the angels never showed up as promised and the prayers all failed.

Sometimes God decides to break the laws of nature and intervene with miraculous protection or healing. But sometimes he decides not to, for reasons that make sense to him. Does that seem capricious and arbitrary? Well, know this: God’s decision not to intervene is not a sign of judgment on Lindsey and her family. The accident was not proof that angels don’t exist. The passing of the two older boys in the hospital was not a sign of weakness of faith in the family, pastor, or congregation, nor are they signs that God has no heart and no power.

Our world is terribly broken. We try so hard to get it under control. We want so badly to believe that doctors and hospitals and drugs can cure any disease and fix any injury. But St. Paul reminds us that the entire physical universe is in bondage to decay. We all want heaven on earth. But God has a different mission. His ultimate goal is to connect every person with the Savior, Jesus Christ, so that he can save them all. It is on that basis that he makes his intervention and miracle decisions. Prayers and angels haven’t failed, because Christ’s death and resurrection have succeeded, and thus Lindsey and her boys are immortal. They live in glory now.

Once again we all receive a compelling and in-your-face reminder that life is short and uncertain. Now is the time to repent. Now is the time to trust in Christ’s promises of forgiveness, take comfort in the washing of your baptism, feed on the Lord’s Supper, and inhale the Word while there’s time.

Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of six books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.

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