Accepting “No” as God’s Will
From R.C. Sproul:
I am astonished that, in the light of the clear biblical record, anyone would have the audacity to suggest that it is wrong for the afflicted in body or soul to couch their prayers for deliverance in terms of “If it be thy will….” We are told that when affliction comes, God always wills healing, that He has nothing to do with suffering, and that all we must do is claim the answer we seek by faith. We are exhorted to claim God’s yes before He speaks it.
Away with such distortions of biblical faith! They are conceived in the mind of the Tempter, who would seduce us into exchanging faith for magic. No amount of pious verbiage can transform such falsehood into sound doctrine. We must accept the fact that God sometimes says no. Sometimes He calls us to suffer and die even if we want to claim the contrary.
Never did a man pray more earnestly than Christ prayed in Gethsemane. Who will charge Jesus with failure to pray in faith? He put His request before the Father with sweat like blood: “Take this cup away from me.” This prayer was straightforward and without ambiguity—Jesus was crying out for relief. He asked for the horribly bitter cup to be removed. Every ounce of His humanity shrank from the cup. He begged the Father to relieve Him of His duty.
But God said no. The way of suffering was the Father’s plan. It was the Father’s will. The cross was not Satan’s idea. The passion of Christ was not the result of human contingency. It was not the accidental contrivance of Caiaphas, Herod, or Pilate. The cup was prepared, delivered, and administered by almighty God.
Jesus qualified His prayer: “If it is Your will….” Jesus did not “name it and claim it.” He knew His Father well enough to understand that it might not be His will to remove the cup. So the story does not end with the words, “And the Father repented of the evil He had planned, removed the cup, and Jesus lived happily ever after.” Such words border on blasphemy. The gospel is not a fairy tale. The Father would not negotiate the cup. Jesus was called to drink it to its last dregs. And He accepted it. “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
This “nevertheless” was the supreme prayer of faith. The prayer of faith is not a demand that we place on God. It is not a presumption of a granted request. The authentic prayer of faith is one that models Jesus’ prayer. It is always uttered in a spirit of subordination. In all our prayers, we must let God be God. No one tells the Father what to do, not even the Son. Prayers are always to be requests made in humility and submission to the Father’s will.
The prayer of faith is a prayer of trust. The very essence of faith is trust. We trust that God knows what is best. The spirit of trust includes a willingness to do what the Father wants us to do. Christ embodied that kind of trust in Gethsemane. Though the text is not explicit, it is clear that Jesus left the garden with the Father’s answer to His plea. There was no cursing or bitterness. His meat and His drink were to do the Father’s will. Once the Father said no, it was settled. Jesus prepared Himself for the cross.
Excerpt from Surprised by Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in the Christian Life (Reformation Trust, 2009).