Magazine Article

Problem Solver

If walking away isn’t the solution, what is?

Annette Walwyn Michael
Problem Solver

God has promised that if we seek His face in repentance He will hear, forgive, and heal (2 Chron. 7:14).

Figuring Out My Puzzle

I give up! I had been hunting for the last two words in my word search puzzle. Could some sort of printing error have made finding them impossible? Were they just not there? Every strategy I tried had failed. No combination of letters led to “F-A-I-T-H,” and now my own faith was failing. I closed the puzzle book, deciding to return to it later. Maybe walking away from the problem and then returning to it at another time could be the solution, a simple solution called time.

Working Through Her Frustration

Hannah, wife of Elkanah (1 Sam. 1:2), had tried this solution to her problem of childlessness. Hannah had tried time, suffering patiently as Peninnah gloated, year after year, when the family went to worship at Shiloh; watching in silence as Peninnah received offerings for herself and for each of her sizable brood. And Hannah with no children? Just a “worthy [large] portion” (1 Sam. 1: 5, KJV). Worthy, yes, but the gifts still stung. They empha-ized her condition. No babies, no sons and possible heirs, no daughters, beau- tiful or other. Time brought no solution to Hannah’s problem. Time is not omnipotent. Time alone isn’t enough to resolve either the sin problem or the suffering it has brought to the whole creation now groaning in pain and longing for new life (Rom. 8:22). What would Hannah not give to experience that groaning! So often and so paradoxically, the wages of Adam’s fall is Eve’s—and Hannah’s pain.

But surrender wasn’t Hannah’s choice. In the tabernacle, like a drunken woman, she poured out her heart to God, silent lips talking to the Solver of puzzles and problems. The high priest, Eli, seeing her desperation, pronounced a benediction on Hannah’s request.

He having spoken, Hannah returned to her lodging, to enjoy food and the rest of her time in Shiloh (1 Sam. 1:18, 19). Hannah is no simpleton. Her faith is not to be confused with naiveté: she does not believe that Eli is a guru; or that because of her priest or her faith the world is now righted and that everyone may now live happily ever after. But she does come to understand the second secret to finding solutions: identifying ownership, and leaving all things in His all-powerful hands.

From those hands that year, there came to Hannah the joys and sorrows and pride of motherhood. She could now enjoy the sweet baby smell of her young son Samuel, her solution to the puzzle. Hannah’s answer to the problem of childlessness? The recognition of divine ownership. Our problems last as long as they do, and bother us as much as they do because they really aren’t ours. They’re opportunities for our God to shine: one reason why God leaves Israel with no food is so later generations “may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness” (Ex. 16:32). And one man’s blindness is so “that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3).

In her anguish Hannah gave the problem to the Problem Solver, the one who takes care of problems, “who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases” (Ps. 103:3). And He solved it.

Fixing Our Problem

For the last two years, the problem inspiring masks and social distancing, quarantines and vaccination, is wicked King COVID the 19th and his promiscuous variants. Two years along, we still have to be cautiously distant from those we long to hug. Variant Omicron is jesting at our efforts to master the silent killer. Like Hannah, we are frustrated by the failure of time to solve the problem, to cut the number of the sick and the dying. How many more and how much longer, we ask? With martyrs through the centuries whose spilled blood seems like wasted sacrifice, we shout at God in desperation, “How long, O Lord . . . ?” (Rev. 6:10).

Hasn’t Hannah taught us anything? What about time? Sure, there’s more than one way to relate to time as it seems to drag on with no improvement in our circumstances. There is the insight of the skeptic that mocks the innocent sufferer: why do you still suffer? Or becomes their hurled taunt:

Where is your Redeemer, Christian? “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4).

But Hannah’s God is still with us—warning about the skeptics, “scoffers . . . , walking according to their own lusts” (verse 3). As they taunt and Peninnah torments (see 1 Sam. 1:7), God’s children, whatever their agony, may hear His invitation to find their rest in Him (Matt. 11:28). He guarantees our healing: “I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14). Sin, hunger, barrenness, disease, torment of the deepest sort: Jesus takes the problem and solves it, bruised for our iniquities and healing us by making our lashes His own (Isa. 53:5).

Maybe we need a local, national, and worldwide call to prayer for healing of the land. Such prayer is completely in synchrony with God’s own plans— plans that reach beyond Hannah to heal all humanity, and beyond island and continent to restore the whole world. As Hannah sang: “The Lord will judge the ends of the earth” (1 Sam. 2:10). And as Isaiah promised: “The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad . . . , and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose” (Isa. 35:1). “God will come . . . , with the recompense of God; He will come and save” us all (verse 4). One day all the blind will see, all the deaf will hear, all the dumb will sing, “for waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert” (verse 6). God will fix everything: It’s His world, and we are His children.

We may not all lay claim to Hannah’s son, but there is One whom God has given in answer to all our prayers: “Unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). Problem solved!

Annette Walwyn Michael is a retired educator and pastoral spouse. She lives in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.

Annette Walwyn Michael