It's a centuries-old debate, and as far as I know, it has no clear answer yet: "If God is good and all-loving, then why does He allow suffering?"
It's definitely a question we've pondered from various angles since Al's stroke. My understanding is this: God IS indeed all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing and has ultimate authority over all. He does not inflict suffering upon us because of our sin - Jesus took the punishment that was ours due to sin, as He was Crucified on the Cross. His mercy and forgiveness are a free and generous gift.
However, we still experience pain, disease and suffering. God allows it (but does not inflict it) for a purpose: Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:7-11. My understanding of "discipline" in this passage is not punishment for sin, but rather training in righteousness.
(Side note: I've written about this passage before, but especially in the context of Al's post-stroke disability, I love verses 12-13, "Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed." Yes!!!)
This is how I have perceived "the reason" that Al had a stroke, in the light of the previous passage: God allowed it to happen to him for a purpose, part of which is to train him/us in holiness, and also to teach us to rely on His grace more than we ever had to before.
Now, when it comes to Al's rehabilitation and healing, there are also many Scriptures which speak to this. In Matthew 7:7-11 tells us, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"
In John 14:13-14 assures us, "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."
Those Scriptures, along with many others seem to promise me that Al's complete healing is a done deal. I can ask (and I have asked many, many times!) for God to heal and restore Al completely, in Jesus' name. I don't have a problem believing that what Jesus promised us in Scripture is true. However, there are people who are not healed - good, holy, righteous, faith-filled people - who do not receive healing from their diseases, at least not until they die and receive their glorified body in Heaven.
There is also the line of thinking which says, "You have to have enough faith for God to do the healing". But that seems to put a little too much pressure on me, the faith-filled-but-could-always-use-more-faith Christian. I am more like the man who asked Jesus, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." We will never have perfect faith, but I know many people who have stronger faith than I think I have, and still haven't been healed.
So, how should I pray? Either I can pray with absolute certainty that God will heal Al, no doubt in my mind at all! I would like to pray with that much faith, but I also don't want to be blind and deaf to what God wants to teach me / us while we go through the difficulty. He is the genius Creator, so He knows how to orchestrate these things for our best benefit, right? If I only focus on asking for healing, then I may miss out on the richness of drawing closer to God during a time of suffering.
I'm writing this post because there is an ongoing "debate" with a family member who insists that God's plan is for Al to be completely and totally restored and that we shouldn't settle for believing any less. However, she also adds tidbits about how Al and I are such good Christians and that God will definitely heal Al soon because of that. This is where the theology gets really tricky - DOES God reward us with health and wealth for being faithful Christians? The corollary to that line of thinking would lead us to think that God withholds material blessings or healing from those who are unfaithful. That doesn't ring true with me.
So, please enter into this debate with me - not for the sake of convincing me of anything in particular (I'm very confident that God has a good plan for Al's life, and that He will bring the best out of the situation - Romans 8:28, Jeremiah 29:11, etc.), but for the sake of helping me muddle through this challenging philosophy that God will indeed bless us with our every wish and whim because we are "faithful" Christians. (I only write that in quotation marks because I know that we could me MUCH more faithful!!!)
Also, I want to be as respectful as I can be about the whole debate, but it really comes up quite often in our discussions with this family member, so I would love the input.
Thanks for your time!