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God does not answer prayers

July 6, 2009

(Today, I’m writing this on the Wii, which is somewhat of a pain in the butt. It’s a bit like a laptop, inasmuch as it’s a bit slower to operate than a standard computer, and it’s not like a laptop inasmuch as everything takes longer to load and the Visual version of my blog inputter is broken, meaning I have to do everything in HTML. Plus the text input thing only has two lines, making it somewhat of a Word Processer From Hell.

But I digress.)

I was thinking about God, and Christianity, and prayer (I do that a lot, as I was once a Christian myself). Specifically, I was thinking of one doctrine – never heard in my church, but touted in a few others – on the subject of prayer.

It goes like this: “God always answers prayers. He just answers them in one of three forms: Yes, No, and Wait.”

Forgive my impertinence, O Mighty Pastor, but having thought it over, I believe you are incorrect.

When you pray, what do you hear? Is there a Great Cosmic Voice that booms down from the heavens, offering you the word “Yes”, “No” or “Wait”? If you’re most people, probably not. The only thing that you get is an oppressive silence that you have to try to interpret – or just to wait and see what happens.

In other words, there is no answer. Or, if you want to be liberal about it and say that God’s silence is an answer, then that answer can only be “Wait”, since you must invariably wait until something happens (or doesn’t happen) to find out what the “actual answer” was.

Of course, this is a dodgy proposition at best, since prayers, when they are finally “answered”, are almost always answered in the vaguest ways possible. You ask for some financial help? Something you need to buy is on sale. Need a new car? After two weeks of searching, you finally find the one you need on Craigslist. These kind of events are so vague that you can’t even know for sure if they were the answers to your prayers. What if that sale was the result of a poor Hindu woman begging Vishnu to have pity on her? What if the owner of the car cast a spell on it to make it look more attractive to buyers? Or what if – as it happens sometimes – your purchase of his car was just a matter of two people with similar needs taking initiative at roughly the same time? You could ask God, but it won’t do you any good: he only answers in “Yes,” “No” and “Wait.”

By and large, though, the greatest complaint I have about this claim is that it is not backed up anywhere in the Bible. In fact, the Scriptures are fairly clear about what you should expect from a prayer: Knock and the door will be opened. Ask and ye shall receive. Seek and ye shall find. If ye have faith even to the size of a grain of mustard, you shall command a mountain “Move over there,” and it shall move.

If you talk to a Christian about this, though, it breaks down fairly quickly. None of them will claim to have moved a mountain – and if they did, no one would have a reason to believe them. Very few have even professed a miraculous recovery from an injury or fatal disease (at least when the malady was previously confirmed by an independent party). Why? you ask them. Their response: “Because I didn’t have enough faith.” Which again contradicts scripture. Faith as a grain of mustard, remember? In order for someone not to have enough faith for their prayers to be answered, they would need to have no faith at all. In other words, they would need not to believe that God exists or that he can do miracles. But they must believe, because they continue to pray for them.

So which is it? Does God answer prayers? If so, he seems to do this in a tumultous and unpreferential fashion. Or do some people who pray – the “Yes, No, and Wait” people in particular – not actually believe in the being they are praying to?

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5 comments

  1. Hmmm. I find your comments really interesting and thought-provoking. Let’s see if I can come up with an answer.

    We also know that the BIble says “All things work together for good for them that love the Lord”. What does this mean? That Christians will have perfect lives? Obviously not; Christians seem to suffer just as much as anyone else in this world.

    So what is this passage getting at? The Bible also follows the whole “bless-those-who-persecute-you” train of thought. So Christians should be glad to suffer because it glorifies God.

    How does this relate to my first quote? Even though life may be terrible, these bad things always point toward God. And, of course, there’s the concept of heaven to look forward to.

    So where does prayer fit in? Is prayer the same thing? I think so. We may not get a huge resounding “YES!” when we pray. But we know that no matter what happens, things will work out for good – although the notion of “good” is again not the one we are used to encountering.

    I don’t think this really answered your questions, but I hope this gives you something to think about.


    • I have considered that possibility – that God sometimes allows (or causes) Christians to suffer because it brings them closer to him. In fact, as a Christian, that was exactly what I believed. I do think that it is a possible explanation as to why prayers would not always receive results.

      Still, as you noted, “Christians seem to suffer just as much as anyone else” – which is part of one of the points I was trying to make. Good things happen to people of many different denominations with fairly equal levels, regardless of whether they pray or not, so how can we reliably know whether his actions are performed in response to prayer?

      The thing I’ve noticed recently is that any god that is out there seems to answer “Yes,” “No,” and “Wait” whether I pray or not. In fact, I’ve noticed overall more good things happening to me since I stopped praying for the things I’ve wanted.

      Your comment was certainly interesting, and I thank you for taking the time to write something thoughtful.


  2. I want to give you two verified instances of actual answered prayer. When I say actual, it is because of the verification by independant and non-biased witness that makes it so, not just because I say it.
    1) Sept 1989, Utica NY. I was travelling with a christian rock band and our guitar player had an unfortunate thing happen to his instrument. We somehow managed to get through our set that night, but his guitar needed repairs before we could continue. We took it to an music shop in Utica and hasked to have it repaired. Before entering the store the comment was made “I hope they take visa here?” I replied, “I pray that it is free”. I know how selfish if me to pray that way, but that is what I did. When the repair was complete, We were told that it would cost nothing. Too simple or coincidence?
    2)June 1986, Medford Or; My wife had fallen in an accident at the restaurant where she worked. This fall ha aggrivated a previous whiplash injury she had sustained in 1985 (doctor verified). After seeking medical attention, she was put into a neck brace and told that the x-rays showed new damage. I was scheduled to play drums at a series of meetings that week being conducted by Charles and Francis Hunter. During the third night of these meetings a prayer call was given for those who had injury and were in need of healing. My wife responded to that call and was prayed for. She immediately felt something change and was able to more freely move her neck and shoulders. Her pain was dramatically reduced and she removed the neck brace. We went back to our doctor 2 days later and he ordered a new x-ray. It showed no evidence of EITHER whiplash injury.
    I can tell you that prayer IS answered. Say what you want, even call me crazy but our doctor had no answer for what had happened except to say that God must have healed her (this man is not a christian either).
    I just thought you might want to know. During the last 30 years I have seen and personally experienced many times similar to these.
    Just a thought, Glenn


    • I will (as you might expect) say that the first one could be coincidence, but the second story is certainly interesting.


  3. I know this is late-coming, but I would like to give my 2 cents.
    I have to say, I also disagree with the idea that God will answer, “Yes, No or Wait” to prayer.
    I believe that although God does hear all prayer, why do Christians (myself included) expect that God SHOULD answer? He’s God! He doesn’t have to do anything.
    The purpose of prayer isn’t, by its nature, a selfish purpose. We ought not pray to gain for ourselves, rather, to pray is to prostrate oneself. Prayer is a form of submission and humility, with no response guaranteed. God will act as He will, in the interest of His Will, and prayer doesn’t change things. His acts are already known to Him, regardless of whether or not we pray. To pray is to show submission, and to show recognition that God is in control, not us.
    Does that make sense? Sorry for rambling!

    ~Ben



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