E3, Half-Life 3, and the Mercy of Unanswered Prayer (2 Kings 20)

It’s that time of year again, the season of hope and dreams for gamers across the world, the biggest spectacle in the gaming industry: The Electronic Entertainment Expo, better know  as E3.  Each year publishers and developers gather to celebrate their past, showcase the present and illuminate the future in hopes that their platforms and titles will grab the attention of the attendees and catapult their IP into the loving arms of the mainstream audience.  Titles are announced, prices drop, and the unspoken future becomes tangible as hushed crowds await each announcement with the eagerness of a child on Christmas Eve.  If you have never had the opportunity to witness this live, I can attest that an online stream cannot do it justice.  Equal parts three ring circus, gaming theme park, and rock concert, there is simply nothing I have ever attended that can match the sheer fervor and atmosphere of this annual event.

Wrapped up in this celebration of all things gaming are the lofty expectations of the media and gaming public as we hold our collective breath for our dream titles to be revealed.  “Will we finally see a playable version of Zelda?  Or get a release date for Kingdom Hearts?”  And for many of the gaming faithful, year after year, the plaintive cry has been, “Will there ever be any new information on Half-Life 3?”  Yes, that unicorn of gaming, the much demanded and yet utterly unconfirmed sequel to this beloved franchise continues to taunt us with a presence akin to the Loch Ness Monster, surfacing in a hazy mention from dubious sources before vanishing into the night, leaving no trace of its existence.  It is fair to wonder why this has taken so long, as franchises with less of a pedigree launch new entries year after year and yet the Half-Life brand sits on the shelf dormant.  What could be the reason for this denial of satisfaction?  Surely the developers are aware of this opportunity to generate gigantic revenues… In this opportunistic landscape it is almost impossible to fathom a brand that is not mined to death through sequels, shirts, hats, comics, mobile versions, board games… And yet here we are, over 10 years removed from the launch of Half-Life 2 with nary a peep of movement despite the outcry for more.  In the gaming industry, such things are simply not done.

What could be the reason for this denial of satisfaction?

There are many times I have felt challenged by Scripture, but perhaps one of the hardest concepts to wrap my brain around lies in the verses that discuss the promises of prayer.  Such as Mark 11:22-24, which states, “So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”  This verse does not exist within a vacuum either, as this concept is explored in Matthew 7, Matthew 21, John 14, and many other places with a very similar and straight-forward approach.  So this begs the question, “Why aren’t all of my prayers answered?”  Jesus did not establish a list of exclusions.  These statements are devoid of a TV announcer immediately listing the lengthy disclaimer informing us that by engaging in this activity there are side effects such as restless leg syndrome, increased appetite, and that these results are not typical and your experience may vary.  So then, why so much unanswered prayer?  Why have do so many of my requests seem to go straight to heavenly voicemail?

Why so much unanswered prayer?

Now to be fair, there are some basic expectations that are established in God’s word that can impact the success of a prayer, such as the belief of the person praying, the state of their heart and relationship with Jesus, and if what is being asked for aligns with God’s will.  This is a complicated question that I don’t want to oversimplify, so instead I want to draw your attention to a time that God answered a prayer, as well as a time that He didn’t.  Let’s start in 2 Kings 20, where we find the good and faithful King Hezekiah literally on his deathbed.  At 39 years old, he receives a message through the prophet Isaiah that his condition was terminal, and the instruction from the Lord was to make preparations for his departure from this plane of existence.   Now, I’m not too far from reaching that age myself, so I can truly imagine the sadness and frustration of Hezekiah, one of the few truly good kings in a line of idolatrous dictators as he is informed that his time would be unceremoniously cut short.  He did the right things for the right reasons, brought the entire kingdom back in line with God’s will, and had experienced the miraculous provision of God many times before as hopeless situations had been turned into awesome victories through His intervention. So to receive this death sentence now?  Before he gets to see his children grow up?  Without even tasting the fruits of his labor?  I can absolutely relate to his mindset here.

To receive the death sentence now?  Without even tasting the fruits of his labor?

Hezekiah turns to God in prayer, and through his tears you can hear his anguished cry as he reminds the Lord of all he has done to serve Him.  Why cut short the life of one of the few men who actually served God from the throne?  So many wicked kings had served for so much longer, and achieved a rope old age before passing on.  Why is Hezekiah getting the short end of the stick?  Well, as usual God was listening, and before Isaiah makes it out of the building God interrupts Him with a response.  A complete about face from the previous guidance to get your affairs in order and prepare to die, this time the news is wonderful. Fifteen more years of life miraculously granted!  That’s longer than he has been king to this point, and represents a 28% increase in his life span for those of you who appreciate numbers.  I don’t know about you, but a 28% longer life sounds pretty good to me.

But was it?  On the surface, things are looking up.  Three days after his was at the point of death, Hezekiah rises and returns to his duties.  Aming his royal activities is the entertainment of foreign dignitaries, and the ruler of Babylon had sent a delegation to meet Hezekiah and wish him well on his recovery. Seems innocent, right?  Well, God didn’t think so, and after they had left He sent Isaiah back for another message.  For reasons only truly known to Hezekiah, he gave the Babylonian entourage the grand tour, showcasing all of the treasury of his kingdom.  It is easy to speculate that this may have been done in pride, or perhaps honest naïveté and ignorance, but to truly know the answer one day we will have to ask him.  2 Chronicles simply states that God did this to see what was in Hezekiah’s heart, and the results of this tear are wrenching to hear.  Isaiah asks Hezekiah what he showed to the Babylonian ambassadors, and without hesitation he informs him that he showed them everything of value in the kingdom.  Isaiah’s solemn pronouncement hangs in the air as he predicts the future that Hezekiah’s actions have created… These Babylonians would return to claim all of these treasures, conquer the city, and enslave the people, including Hezekiah’s future progeny.  What a tragic and far-reaching consequence to such a fleeting action.  A consequence that would not have occurred if Hezekiah had not prayed for the extension of his life and had his request granted.

The answered prayer of Hezekiah doomed his entire country and impacted countless lives.  His answered prayer literally changed history.

This is admittedly dark territory, as we consider that there are no happy tales or success stories from the fifteen year extension to Hezekiah’s life.  Only this… The mistake that started the doomsday clock countdown on the eventual fall of Jerusalem.  While it is likely there are other positives that may have occurred during his bonus time on earth, the reality is this is the only legacy the Bible records, and it’s quite grim.  The answered prayer of Hezekiah doomed his entire country and impacted countless lives.  His answered prayer literally changed history.  Now before we begin to draw conclusions, let’s look at an UNanswered prayer.  The similarities are striking:

  • We find another King struggling in prayer with only hours to live.
  • Just like Hezekiah, He had dedicated His life to serving God and the people of Israel faithfully.
  • His life was being cut short prematurely, having done nothing to deserve it, before He even reached his fortieth birthday.
  • Both men cry out to God in anguish and desperation, seeking another way… Any other way.
  • He, like Hezekiah, is three days away from returning to the throne.

Figure it out yet? We are looking at Jesus, knelt down in the garden of Gethsemene in Matthew 26:38-43.  And although the situations are remarkably alike in many ways, there could not be a sharper contrast in the heart cry behind the   prayer and the ultimate result.  In both cases the sorrow was intense and palpable, but in spite of the awaiting pain, agony, and death Jesus asked for a change if possible, but desired the will of the Father first and foremost.  And the answer, fortunately for us, is that the Father did not answer His prayer.  Because sometimes our deepest desires are simply not in His plans.  It was not God’s indifference to Jesus’s desire, but His mercy that denied His request.

Because sometimes our deepest desires are simply not in His plans.

We may think we want Half-Life 3, and there is always the possibility this may be the year it springs to life.  But if not, and if it never occurs, we have to consider that maybe it is actually for the best.  Of course we want to see the end of the story and the progression of the game engine, but what if the game would come out and be a massive disappointment?  What if it is simply no longer relevant compared to all of the progress that has occurred over the last 10+ years?  What if the creator of this title knows that is either simply not the time, or that there is a really good reason why it should not see the light of day?  Perhaps the technology needed to support the ambition of this sequel is not present or widely adopted yet.  Or most importantly, what if they are simply making something different, something better, something we haven’t even considered instead?  Unanswered prayer is not necessarily a statement of apathy… It is most often a mercy because we don’t always know what to pray for as we ought.  Continue to pray, pray without ceasing.  But it is critical we remember to add “Not my will, but yours be done”.  And when He seems silent to our cry for help, remember that it is because He sees beyond our horizon that He may show the mercy of an unanswered prayer.

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