Why Does God Sometimes Say No?
Have your ever pleaded with God for something you were desperate for? Has He ever said no in response? I certainly have experienced this. This raises the obvious question: Why does God sometimes say no to desperate prayers?
There is an example in the Bible of two requests going up to God from the same place (Dothan, a few miles north of Jerusalem) and two very different answers from God’s hand. The requests came from Joseph in the book of Genesis, and Elisha in the book of 2 Kings. In the first, Joseph is betrayed and treated violently by his brothers, and ends up in slavery. The biblical narrative does not tell us much about Joseph’s spiritual life during this time. What we do know is that he cried out from the cistern to his brothers for his life (Genesis 42:21). But God did not intervene directly, and Joseph was sold into slavery, eventually betrayed, and ended up imprisoned in a foreign country. In short, God chose not to intervene in a cruel string of events that were saturated with injustice. Infuriating! God apparently said no to Joseph’s requests for many years—injustice lingered and went unresolved.
Contrast this with Elisha’s situation in 2 Kings 6, which also took place in Dothan. Elisha and his servant were trapped in Dothan and surrounded by hostile Syrian troops. Elisha’s servant was understandably terrified. So, Elisha prayed and asked God to open his servant’s eyes. Suddenly, God chose to show them chariots of fire–heavenly troops surrounding the city who would deliver them. The Lord also struck the Syrian troops with blindness immediately after Elisha asked Him to.
SO…here’s the question: Why did God answer the prayers of these two men so differently? We know that God was just as present and active in the “slow answers” to Joseph as in the “rapid answers” with Elisha. He was just as active in the silence of the cistern and the prison, as he was in the besieged city surrounded by a hostile army. What’s up with that? Joseph’s situation shows us that God often chooses to say no for good reasons known only to Him. These became obvious later in Joseph’s story. What becomes clear in this narrative is that God was doing a number of things behind the scenes to protect His people down the road. How could Joseph have known this in the cistern or the prison!? So, God said no to Joseph’s immediate requests in order to accomplish something more significant later on. Such are the ways of Divine Providence. Other times, God answers quickly because He knows what needs to take place now rather than later.
What we cannot do, and should never do, is question God’s wisdom, goodness or His love because He didn’t respond the way we wanted Him to. Yet this is very tempting to do. There are times when Becky and I have pleaded, through tears, for God to change a situation and He has! But other times He told us “No.” I can easily begin to pout and wonder if God knows what He’s doing. How foolish! How sinful! How evil of me! While getting a divine no is part of the Christian life, we’ve learned that we need to trust in His goodness and His power.
So, if you are pleading with God right now to change a loved one’s heart, or to be healed from a disease, or to change a financial situation, know that you are praying to a good and wise heavenly Father. He truly knows what He is doing. Be glad that you are not in charge of things! Even thank God for the times He says no and recall all the reminders in the Bible of God’s love for His people. Meditate on passages like Psalm 103 or Psalm 23. Remember to keep preaching God’s promises to yourself—remind yourself that, in the end, God’s people live on promises rather than getting everything we ask for. Recall the words of God through the prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your way my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).