Steven P. Wickstrom
Have you ever prayed to God and had him answer you by saying “No?” It is disappointing isn't it? Sometimes we do not even know how to deal with that answer, especially when it concerns the life of someone who close to us, or a family member. I have noticed that when God gives me a “No” answer, he usually does not explain why he answered in that way. That tends to make it even more difficult for me to accept. God seems to expect me to accept the answer and move on with my life. The problem is that I often do not want to accept that answer and I do not want to move on until I get an answer that I want to hear. Perhaps you respond the same that I do. Let me tell you a true story.
I was on a Coast Guard Cutter in the Bering Sea in the middle of February and the weather had been terrible for weeks. The relentless storms had driven the waves to around twenty-five feet in height and the snow was coming down horizontally. Being on a ship in twenty-five foot seas can be absolutely uncomfortable. It was so cold that the salt water sea spray was freezing into ice sheets as it covered the ship. Every morning we had to go out and the beat the ice off the ship that had accumulated during the night. We didn't want the ship to become top heavy due to the weight of the ice because a top heavy ship will tip over and sink. It was King Crab season and we were watching over the crab fleet like a shepherd watches his sheep.
The ice flow had flowed south of the Artic Circle and was now pushing its way into the crab grounds. The harsh weather was taking its toll on the crab fleet. The men on a typical crab boat work twenty-hours a day releasing and pulling up their crab pots. They also had to beat the ice off their boats and that took time away from catching crabs. Since crab season that year only lasted about four weeks, time was money. One of the boats, the “Crab Getter” (I chose not to use the boats actual name) had been neglecting the ice buildup on its mast and superstructure and was becoming top heavy. No one realized there was a problem until it was too late.
We received a Mayday call when another vessel realized the “Crab Getter” had suddenly vanished. We were only about twenty miles away but the twenty plus foot seas and driving winds reduced our maximum speed. We launched our helicopter (quite a trick in twenty-foot seas) to look for survivors because it would take us about fifty minutes to traverse those twenty miles. I knew that the odds of those men surviving were slim to non-existent, so I interceded for their lives. A human can only survive for about five minutes in freezing water so these men needed God to intervene if they were to survive.
Almost as soon as I started praying, God answered. He said “No.” I was stunned. I couldn't believe what I had just heard. God knew that those men were still alive, in a desperate but losing battle to keep from freezing to death or drowning. Why wouldn't God want to save these men? Why wouldn't he want to receive the glory for such a miraculous intervention? I didn't understand. I argued with God, I pleaded with him, but he ignored me. A few minutes later he informed me that they were all dead.
I wept for the widows who did not yet know that their husbands were not coming home. I wept for the children who no longer had a daddy. I wept for the families that were no longer complete. I sensed that God also wept, but I still didn't understand. If was God was also mourning over the deaths of the men, why did He say no to my prayer?
When we got on scene, we found the “Crab Getter;” it had completely overturned and all that was visible was the bottom of its hull. We searched the debris for bodies and found only one. Of the five-man crew, only one would go home to be buried. I stood outside in the driving snow and watched the “Crab Getter” sink beneath the waves. For a Coast Guardsman, nothing is more depressing than watching a doomed vessel sink. It makes us feel like we have failed at our job. With tears freezing to my cheeks, I went back inside to warmth of my ship.
I had questions, lots of questions. Why did God say no? Why does God not explain himself when he says no? Is it because I don't need to know the answer? Is it because He is God and I am not and He doesn't have to explain anything to me? Is it because His reasons and purposes are part of a plan that I cannot comprehend?
Sometimes I really don't think I want the answers to those questions. I'm not sure if I'm spiritually mature enough to deal with the answers to those questions. We have all had well meaning Christians without a clue, pat us on the back and give us a “Christianese” answer that didn't help one little bit. I know they mean well, but I'd rather not have their help or their advice. They don't know the answers either. If you have ever lost a loved one, or someone close to you, you know what I mean.
Did you know that God answered one of Jesus' prayers by saying no? In the garden of Gethsemane, with the cross looming before him, Jesus asked if the cup could be taken away from him. He even asked twice! He knew that God's answer was no, so he submitted to the will of God. Submitting to the will of God is not always easy for me, in fact sometimes it is downright difficult. Knowing that Jesus could go on after his prayer was answered with a “no,” gives me some comfort. My salvation is a result of God's saying no, and Jesus submitting to the will of God and going to the cross.
Ultimately I know that God is completely in control. Why did God allow those five men on the “Crab Getter” to die? I don't know. I probably won't have an answer until I get to heaven. At that time it will all make sense. Does that make it any easier? No, not really. I simply choose to lean into the arms of my heavenly Father and trust his decisions and judgments. Since I know that God is in control, I must allow him to be in control of my life. I may not like it when he says no to me, but I must trust him.
I have only been able to come up with one answer for what to do when God says no. It comes in understanding this; everything God does, he does to make us more dependent upon him. When God says no to you, pray that he will use the situation to bring you closer him. This answer may or may not work for you. I pray that it does, but if it doesn't, I hope you're one step closer to an answer. God always reserves the right to say no to our prayers. What we do with that answer will either draw us closer to God, or push us away. May we always use the “No's” to pull us closer to God.