What About When God Doesn’t Partner With Me?

By Michael Joseph Brennan

Partnering with God often means joining in suffering.


Sometimes that’s all we hear. We want a word from God, something to let us know God cares, but we don’t get anything. Just crickets.

I had a student whose brother was killed in gang violence. I was there when the social worker told her the news. Breyan prayed for weeks that the murderers would be captured. She wanted to know why God didn’t stop it if God’s all-powerful. She prayed for answers. She described the lack of response from God as worse than silence; it was like crickets, she said. She made sure I knew she hated my God. I told her I understand, but God didn’t do this. God loved him and wanted him to live.

The original design described in Genesis was that we would have access to the tree of life and, it turns out, we walked away from that. We’re rebellious creatures.

For a relationship to be loving means there must be a choice to leave the relationship, otherwise we’d be prisoners. I suppose some of us desire safety over freedom, but we’d be prisoners nevertheless. When we rebel, we become creators of junk, pain, suffering, and evil. Humans have achieved scientific and artistic greatness at times, but we are the only ones that choose to do evil.

The principal and teachers gathered in my classroom at the end of the school day to debrief. The principal looked at me and asked coldly how I can have faith on days like this, and I told her I couldn’t imagine not having faith on days like this. I can pray to a God that understands suffering. God’s son was crucified, murdered by God’s own creation. God loved Breyan, I know this because God sent me to love the school. I pray every day for my students. These are the kids that are too violent for public schools.

God is all-powerful, but not in the way we would sometimes hope. I don’t believe God created evil. The capacity for evil exists in our capacity for freedom. God’s presence provides a sense of belonging. God draws us closer to love and goodness. To rebel is to forge a different way, one in which it becomes more difficult to protect ourselves; like a toddler in the wilderness. We couldn’t possibly survive on our own. It’s not a punishment. God had to let us leave––otherwise God imprisons us.

Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). It’s one of the few promises in Scripture I hang my hat on. I have lived it, I have seen it happen to others, and I can’t think of one Bible story that doesn’t have some aspect of trouble.

I like to think that all we have to do is put up the sail and let the wind take us away. However, the wind doesn’t always blow. We can’t make God move. Maybe you’re asking God to ease your suffering. Maybe you’re fighting an addiction and you want God to take away the temptation. Instead, you feel helpless, lost, and alone. Shouldn’t the Creator of the universe be able to heal me? People die and maybe we think God should have done something about it.

So what happens when you try to be sensitive to the nudges of the Holy Spirit and nothing happens? Some suggest that it’s because you’re living in sin. Others might say you’re just not asking the right things. They argue that God is the creator of everything, including cancer, mosquitos, and viruses; and God will use these things for God’s own glory, but we don’t have the power of mind to understand the mysteries of God. This is no way to experience God. There would be no point besides just telling yourself and others that everything is OK, God is doing this to me. 

God reveals love to us––through Scripture, creation, and other people. God wants to reveal love and goodness; and we can know God because of this. God isn’t hiding.

It would be hard to cling to your dad if he’s the one making you suffer.

We are all called to participate with God. We are co-creators of things in the world, even when it means that we cause pain and suffering, and create garbage. But we also are necessary participants loving the “least of these” (Matt 25:45), and feeding God’s lambs—like Jesus asks of Peter (John 21:15-17).

On our own, we are usually co-creators of trash. I would say that sin is the ability to create junk. I think that’s how a bunch of terrible things came to be. Yes, it’s frustrating.

You might remember when there was an internet poll to name the British research ship. The R.R.S. Boaty McBoatface is what happens when you give the power to name things to the people. It’s ludicrous. It’s funny, and I suppose on some creative level it could be brilliant, but it’s risky to give this power to the people. And yet, this is what God does. When Adam comes on the scene, God gives him the authority to name the animals (Gen 2:19-20).

Jesus says, “My sheep will hear my voice” (John 10:27). What if I can’t hear his voice? Sometimes I have gone long bouts without so much as a whispered word. Even so, I think it’s possible a few things are at work, and so I encourage you to pray anyway, read Scripture, and talk to friends of faith. But what about the times we feel abandoned? How often does King David write something like, “How long will you abandon me? Will you forget me forever?” (Ps. 13:1). We know it’s not true, but I can sure relate to that sense of abandonment.

It’s possible that some people will find comfort thinking that God is in control, total control, and even the cause of our suffering. And perhaps God even planned for the existence of evil, but I don’t think that’s true. Instead, I see that God uses terrible things for his ultimate good and glory (Rom 8:28). I don’t agree that God causes evil. When I say God is all-powerful, it means that God created the universe and then partnered with us to take care of it. God risked the goodness and perfection of creation by putting it in our hands. We have wills of our own: usually with selfish, greedy, and evil intentions.

I suggest we are all called to be agents of love. 

God wants to give us rest from the tragedies we brought into the world. God wants to fill our cup until it overflows (Ps 23). Partner with God and allow love to fill you.

God will not stay silent forever. Keep the sail up, wait to be swept away. Pray, read Scripture, talk to people. Love will find you and overwhelm you. We experience suffering, not because God hates us or because other people hate us, but because God’s creation hates God. Breyan decided that she wanted to be the good she wants to see in the world, not just the change—to adapt words of Gandhi. She decided to partner with God and allow God to be the Lord rather than the gangs dictating how she lives—no longer in fear, no longer angry, and no longer holding on to hate. She is now learning to love her enemies and she says she feels the freest she has ever felt. It’s not easy. I’m sure she still grieves, and has bouts of unforgiveness. And I’m sure she still gets angry at God, but now she knows God is big enough and loving enough to handle her.

God’s invitation to love is the most fulfilling invitation I have experienced and I wish the same for you!

Questions: How do you partner with God when it seems like God wants nothing to do with you? Is it possible that not everyone is called to partner with God?

Michael Brennan is the English department chair at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach and an editor for The Weight Journal. He is working toward a Doctorate of Ministry and Theology at Northwind Theological Seminary.

To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology.

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