I don’t know.
I simply do not know the answer to this question, nor can I fathom what it might be.
But I was heartbroken when I learned that Nabeel succumbed to cancer this weekend at age 34, leaving behind his wife and young daughter. My tears just kept coming after the news, even though I never had the opportunity to meet him personally.
For those who haven’t followed his story, Nabeel Qureshi was a Muslim-turned-Christian Apologist who authored the best-selling books Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, and No God But One: Allah or Jesus? A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity.
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus tells the incredible story of Nabeel’s journey to Christ through an extraordinary set of investigations, dreams and visions. After committing to Jesus, Nabeel became a Christian apologist and spent the rest of his life writing and speaking, with a heart for bringing light to the Muslim world.
When you read his story, it is amazingly clear that God chose him for this important role.
But that clarity was also the reason so many people were shocked when he was diagnosed last year with stage 4 stomach cancer, which has a 5-year survival rate of 4 percent. The obvious question everyone wanted to ask was, “Why would God so clearly raise someone up with such an extraordinary testimony, only to let him die at this young age?”
Instead of accepting the grim outlook, however, Nabeel made it clear that he was not giving up. He started filming regular videos to document his treatment and reflect on faith during a difficult time. He prayed fervently for healing and strongly believed that healing would come, for the glory of God. Tens of thousands of people prayed for him and fasted over the months of his treatment. He attended healing services. In his videos, he recounted many experiences with people who told him they “heard a word” from God and that they knew he would be healed. On his Facebook page, thousands of people commented every time he posted a new video, and many of the comments were from people who said they, too, “knew” he was going to be healed.
I, like so many others, anxiously awaited each video in the hope of a miracle. After all, that same question from when he was diagnosed sat firmly planted in the back of my mind: Why would God so clearly raise someone up with such an extraordinary testimony, only to let him die at this young age?
Surely, this must be for the glory of God so He can perform a miracle and demonstrate to the Muslim world that Christianity is true!
But on Saturday, Nabeel died.
When Your Faith is Wounded
Many people have shared beautiful tributes to Nabeel’s life, and my Facebook feed is overflowing with posts proclaiming that Nabeel received ultimate healing. They are celebrating his life, and there is much to celebrate.
But I’m still crying.
To be honest, it’s a very complex mess of tears.
Tears for his wife and daughter, tears for the ministry he can’t continue, tears that many Christians were wrong about having “heard from God” that he would be healed, tears that Nabeel himself believed he would be healed but wasn’t, and tears for all those I’ve prayed for God to heal but who ended up dying anyway.
Though I don’t want to admit it, many of these are tears of disappointment in God. And though I really don’t want to admit it, there are some tears of bitterness in there too.
While I believe many people do experience modern-day miracles, I have not witnessed one myself despite praying for people to be healed on many occasions. At times like this, I find it incredibly hard to ask God for anything in prayer.
I don’t want to be let down again.
If God doesn’t answer the prayers of tens of thousands of people for Nabeel’s healing when there are SO many apparent reasons to do so, why should I bother to ask God for much smaller things—like for my kids to stop fighting so much?
Or so the disappointed logic goes.
You see, my faith has been wounded.
I know that’s not the response people expect from an apologist—someone who is supposed to be a strong defender of the faith. But perhaps that’s why I wanted to write this today.
Knowing a lot of answers to questions about subjects like God’s existence, the historical resurrection of Jesus, and the reliability of the Bible does not mean you never experience difficulties with faith. Everyone experiences difficulties, to varying degrees, in their spiritual journey. As such, if your faith is only rooted in the summation of your personal experiences, it can easily fall prey to fickle human emotion. Given the number of people with cancer for whom I’ve prayed in recent years, only to see them succumb to death anyway, it wouldn’t be too hard for me to never again pray for a person’s healing…if I gave in to my feelings.
I am extraordinarily grateful I can say during a difficult time, however, that the strength of my faith rests on far more than feelings. Because I have studied apologetics in depth, that understanding is an objective anchor I can reach for when my emotional ship has been rocked. This is precisely what we should want for our kids as well.
Apologetics isn’t just about dealing with skeptics.
It’s about dealing with life.
The fact that God didn’t heal Nabeel doesn’t change the fact that the evidence for God’s existence is extensive, that there is compelling historical evidence for the resurrection, or that there’s excellent reason to believe the Bible is God’s word. Those intellectual anchors hold me firm even when life is making me feel seasick.
So Why Didn’t God Heal Nabeel Qureshi?
On Saturday, the day that Nabeel passed away, I received the first printed copy of Talking with Your Kids about God in the mail. A bit ironically, I opened it to the chapter on talking with kids about how we know God answers prayers. I thought I’d end this post by sharing the conclusion to the chapter. I needed to be reminded of this as much as anyone this weekend.
In the book, this is addressing a particular question on why God doesn’t heal amputees (a question often asked by skeptics). But I’m replacing the word amputees here with Nabeel in brackets. The same conclusion applies.
So what have we learned the Bible says? God answers prayers, but there are many reasons why he doesn’t answer all prayers in the way we’d like. The question of why God doesn’t heal [Nabeel Qureshi] is no different from numerous other questions we could ask: Why doesn’t God answer a prayer for a million dollars to instantly appear in a person’s front yard? Why doesn’t God answer a child’s prayer to fly like a bird? Why doesn’t God answer a prayer for a child’s burn wounds to heal immediately rather than gradually? If we know from the Bible that God doesn’t answer all prayers, we logically can’t look at the outcome of any particular prayer to determine whether God ever answers prayers. What we’re looking at may be one of many examples of requests that God, in his wisdom, does not grant.
A lack of certain prayer outcomes is not inconsistent with the Bible. What would be inconsistent with the Bible is if God never answered prayers.
But millions of people throughout history have claimed they’ve received answers to prayers. Today, according to Pew Research, almost one-third of Americans say their prayers result in “definite and specific answers from God” at least once a month, with almost one in five adults saying they receive direct answers to specific requests at least once a week. While a skeptic might claim every single one of these millions of people is mistaken every single time, that’s a belief worth being skeptical about.
There’s no way for Christians to prove God answers prayers, just as there’s no way for a skeptic to prove God doesn’t answer prayers. But if (1) there’s good reason to believe God exists (as we saw in part 1), (2) the Bible claims God answers some but not all prayers, and (3) it’s the overwhelming experience of Christians that God does, indeed, answer prayers on a regular basis, then the fact that God [didn’t] heal [Nabeel] has no logical bearing on the truth status of Christianity.
Yes, my faith has been wounded for a time. But not mortally so. Never mortally so. My conviction runs too deep.
Rest in peace, Nabeel. I do not understand now, but have no doubt I will someday.