Prayers, Answered and Not

I saw this on Facebook, posted by an atheist group, and in a simple and pungent way it hammers at one of our basic issues as Christians. We believe in an all powerful God. We believe that we can bring our supplications to Him in prayer, and that sometimes those prayers are answered in the affirmative.

But why, if we at times attribute the finding of some household item or a victory at a sporting event to prayer, do so many bad things, so many things that people doubtless pray about, happen? Even assuming similarity of scale, if one person is miraculously healed of cancer, why do a hundred others follow the natural course and die?

The answer, simple yet maddening to the mind which wants to know all, is that by worshiping an all powerful God we necessarily admit (as creatures neither all knowing nor all powerful) that we don’t understand all that God does. In a world of suffering, we at least have Christ’s example of prayer before us.

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.”

30 Responses to Prayers, Answered and Not

  • The whole Book of Job was about this topic. Job 40:1-2

    1 Moreover the LORD answered Job, and said:

    2 “Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him?
    He who rebukes God, let him answer it.”

    That being said, I can’t begin to describe how the photo on the right makes me feel. We should be fallen prostrate before the Blessed Sacrament in thanksgiving that we have problems which don’t involve hunger to the point of starvation. And Matthew 25:31-46 should be our response.

  • I don’t know how many times I invoke the saints, particularly St. Joseph when I have a project to do around the house. For electrical matters, I leave them to the Almighty exclusively! Everything always works out and sometimes better than expected.

  • God is not our own personal Genie to perform miracles at our beck and call. As Lincoln noted in his Second Inaugural, the Almighty has His own purposes. Because of the Fall we inhabit a world where sin and evil are never in short supply. Our God died nailed to a cross because of the evil that our actions add to this vale of tears. The idea that if God does not miraculously cure all ills in this world then he does not exist is ludicrous. This world is not our eternal abode, but it is where we will determine our eternal destination through our Faith and works. Evil and Sin are grim realities, but never grounds for either despair or disbelief.

  • “Ask anything in my name and it shall be done.” By using a future tense, God gives Himself some wiggle room, I guess. If we are to pray for his will to be done and not ours, then what’s the use of praying? I never understood this and never will. Father knows best?

  • While I haven’t forsaken the idea of an all powerful and benevolent God, I tend to see him less as a cosmic engineer making the system run according to his will, and more as a loving parent who weeps and suffers with his suffering children. God doesn’t always get what he wants.

  • God always knows best Joe. I have a son who is autistic and who will never be able to carry on a conversation, drive a car or be employed. I have prayed for years for a miracle to cure him. That such a miracle has not yet transpired detracts not one whit from my faith or from the efforts of myself and my wife to help our son since the greatest of miracles that God gives us is divine and human love.

  • “God doesn’t always get what he wants.”

    There you lose me Kyle. God can do anything He wishes. He could cure my son in an instant if such were His will. That He does not is merely further proof to me that what we consider important and what God considers important often do not coincide. My mother died of brain cancer at age 48. She met her death with grace, humor and courage. We all prayed for a miracle cure, but it was not to be. However, when my mother went to God on Easter morning of 1984, I did not look on it as a defeat but as my mother’s victory over death in Christ, a greater miracle than a simple cure.

  • God getting what he wants and our understanding of what He wants are never to be conflated.

  • God is not our own personal Genie to perform miracles at our beck and call. As Lincoln noted in his Second Inaugural, the Almighty has His own purposes. Because of the Fall we inhabit a world where sin and evil are never in short supply. Our God died nailed to a cross because of the evil that our actions add to this vale of tears. The idea that if God does not miraculously cure all ills in this world then he does not exist is ludicrous. This world is not our eternal abode, but it is where we will determine our eternal destination through our Faith and works. Evil and Sin are grim realities, but never grounds for either despair or disbelief.
    +1

  • I think faith alone is what saves us. True faith will evince itself in works. If we fail to live out a Christian life, I reckon that that is because we never truly believed. True faith obeys and perseveres. But again, I would carefully state that works do not save us even in combination with faith. Faith and faith alone save. Abraham beleived God and it was credited to him as righteousness. He had right standing before God. God counted him righteous.

  • And when we pray for something we may not get it. We may get something better. To be healed in God’s eyes is to know his peace. Pain is not a problem in need of a solution. It is an opportunity for growth. As our tragedies are taken up into the cross and sanctified, we see our lives redeemed. Then we understand that it’s not waste. We get to sense what is meant by that time called kairos. Very different from our meager attempts to structure time and manage our surroundings.

  • I tend to see him less as a cosmic engineer making the system run according to his will, and more as a loving parent who weeps and suffers with his suffering children. God doesn’t always get what he wants.

    I think that too often people do fall into an “engineer” mode of thinking of God, while forgetting that engineers deal with mechanistic things, things that do not possess a free will.

    The distinction with God and us is that He does will us to be free, even if that means our at times doing things other than the good, which is what would bring us closer to God.

  • On praying for miracles…

    There was some point during the last months of my dad’s fight with cancer when in some way it became clear to all of us (my dad first of all) what was going to happen, and we shifted from praying for a cure to praying for peace in dealing with what would happen. I’ve never really felt that I heard “answers” to any of my prayers, but somehow I heard or knew what God’s will was and what to ask for. I’ve never liked the “God always answer prayers, but sometimes the answer is no” formulation — but there is some sense there in which I got an answer. Nor was it simply “no”. Though it wasn’t what I’d originally wanted either.

  • If God doesn’t exist, why the obsession with us believers?

    I generally don’t ask atheists for advice on matters of Faith and Morals.

    One positive above: they are not blaming me for the picture on the right. They blame God: Whom they say doesn’t exist.

    I didn’t need more reason to not care what atheists say.

  • Whether atheist or Christian or Hindu or whatever, using a nameless starving child to score cheap points is despicable. The ‘person’ who did this likely gave little to no thought to this child’s suffering, agony, and likely premature death. I would hope all those here would at least pray for him. I’ll pray that my anger find a productive outlet.

  • I hardly ever pray for specific things. If my back is bothering me, I’ll usually pray a broad “please help all of us”. Sometimes I’ll pray that my back gets worse if it’s God’s will, but His will not mine be done. (That’s when I’m really in the zone.) So what’s the point of prayer? I don’t know really what the point of intercessory prayer is – that’s probably a failing of mine. But prayer is spending time with a loved one. When you’re dating, and you finally find the perfect gal for you, you keep in touch with her! You don’t just scratch “find the perfect gal” off your list and ignore her. You talk to her, find out everything you can about her, do things together, or just spend time looking into her eyes. And yeah, you tell her your gripes. That’s natural.

  • Matthew 4 – 11
    1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
    2He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.
    3The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’
    4But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

    5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,
    6saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
    “He will command his angels concerning you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
    7Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’

    Job:

    “Bless the Lord God on every occasion.”

    “But as for me, I know my redeemer lives.”

    “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

    “Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord and shall we not receive evil?”

    “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”

    I try to offer up whatever suffering I feel. Also, I prayerfully offer up whatever I do that is hard or taxing or distasteful.

    I have far more reason for atonement and expiation than most.

  • “I have far more reason for atonement and expiation than most.”

    Perhaps T.Shaw, although I suspect most of the last souls to leave Purgatory will be attorneys! :)

  • I find particularly comforting the Church’s tradition that you can offer up personal sacrifice or suffering as a prayer for others. For me this sometimes is easier to do than trying to pray vocally.

    If I happen to be working on a particularly difficult project, I will pray for all the people whom it affects, and offer up any frustration, anxiety, etc. I feel over it. If I am feeling hurt or slighted, I offer it up for persons suffering genuine abuse, persecution or oppression. If I cannot sleep for some reason, I offer it up for anyone who is being kept awake by sickness, family crisis/emergency, loneliness, etc. When I recently had outpatient surgery and discovered that someone I knew was scheduled for a potentially much more serious operation the same day, I offered up whatever anxiety, pain or discomfort I experienced that day for her.

  • Elaine – If more people understood the idea of offering up suffering, well, I can’t think of anything that’d have a bigger impact on our society. It goes right to the heart of the Cross. Evangelicals have no concept of it, and unfortunately a lot of Catholics are unfamiliar with it. Of course, it’s not just a matter of understanding it intellectually: the practice of it opens both the actor and the object of the sacrifice to great graces.

    I worry about a society that can’t endure inconveniences – a TV commercial, a slow download, or God forbid a traffic jam.

  • I’m curious about something related to our “offering up” prayers- I’ve read Catholic writers like Kevin Yost – Fit for Eternal Life- talk about offering up our physical workouts as prayers- all the pain and pleasures of the workout in unity with the redemptive sufferings of Christ. I do this every workout myself- but I catch myself with the phrase “pain and pleasures” since both are part of many activities like weight training- are we just to pray to offer up pains or is there a way to understand offering up good things in this type of prayer which is not normally viewed as a prayer of thanksgiving over blessings..anyone?

  • I’ve always only offered up pain Tim, assuming that my gift was patient endurance. I’ve done that frequently in the dentist chair, or when I have had periodic kidney stones.

  • Funny how believers use Job as an example. At the end he gets everything back at least doubled. Just life in real life, right?

  • The just are always rewarded Joe, if not in this life then in the next, just as the evil are always punished. Some of the truly evil seem to be aware of this at the end. Stalin’s daughter Svetlana related Stalin’s last moments:

    “The death agony was terrible. God grants an easy death only to the just. He literally choked to death as we watched. At what seemed like the very last moment he suddenly opened his eyes and cast a glance over everyone in the room. It was a terrible glance, insane or perhaps angry and full of fear of death. . .Then something incomprehensible and terrible happened that to this day I can’t forget. . .He suddenly lifted his left hand as though he were pointing to something up above and bring down a curse on us all. The gesture was incomprehensible and full of menace. . .The next moment, after a final effort, the spirit wrenched itself free of the flesh.”

    Earlier in his last illness Stalin kept saying he could hear wolves howling. A terrible thing to come before God with a blood stained conscience.

  • Morning offering:
    “Lord Jesus, through the Most Pure Heart of Mary, I offer You all my prayers, works,joys and sufferings of this day, For all the intentions of Your Divine Heart.”
    - or for any other intentions.

  • Donald,

    The existence of hell illustrates that God doesn’t always get what he wants. God wants all people to be saved, and yet people can refuse salvation; therefore, God may not (and probably doesn’t) always get what he wants.

  • “The existence of hell illustrates that God doesn’t always get what he wants.”

    I disagree Kyle. God created Hell, and He could end it instantly if He so wished. Hell, and the Damned in Hell, serve His purposes no less than the souls in Purgatory and the souls in Heaven. God could have created us so that we always choose good and reject evil, and He did not, instead giving us free will. What you contend is God not getting what He wants, is merely a byproduct of how God decided to create Man in His own image with free will. All of creation is not even the merest of dreams compared to the reality of the Creator. He ordered creation precisely as He wished, and he could alter it at any time if He so wished.

  • That third picture is guilt-inducing. How could I be so ungrateful as to ever question God? How could I complain about anything when I have so much in comparison to so many other people? How could I be so thankless so often? I can’t get that picture out of my head. Horrifying. How terrible I am!

  • We may be talking past one another, Donald. I agree that God ordered creation as he wished; however, the consequence of God giving man free will is that man can choose to act contrary to what God wants. God allows people to refuse his love and salvation, but it’s unfathomable to me that God actually wants people to refuse him. He allows evil to exist, but it’s not as though he wants there to be evil.

  • Fathoming the ways of God is beyond us mortals Kyle. I know that God is all-loving and all-powerful. He loves us and His creation is as He willed.

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