On God’s Response to Prayer

Yesterday, I posted a brief suggestion that God does not always answer prayers. (vita continuat) I invited readers to provide their thoughts on point, and no one responded. This reminded me of some of my prayers. Nothing. Silence. I have heard all my life that “God always answers your prayers – He may not give you the answer you want – but He always answers.” I respectfully submit the following dissent, with no disrespect toward God, as He is my Creator and Father regardless.

Let’s start with the end of Matthew Chapter 12:

46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

I would like to report that at the beginning of the next chapter, Christ went out and spoke with Mary the Holy Mother, and His brothers, but the Bible does not reflect such.

Now let me lay out a concept of my own: The Bible shows us hundreds of examples of prayer. Prayer is, by every definition I can find, a conversation with God. We open windows into God’s character when we study the prayers of the Bible and see how God responded to His people over the centuries. If we believe, as some of us say we do, that Jesus was God in the flesh, then the conversations that Christ had with his fellow humans in the first century should provide us with volumes worth (I would love to write these volumes) of teaching on Prayer and God’s character. The only problem is that when I study God, He often breaks my mold of Him, for better or “worse.”

If we accept the idea that people’s earthly conversations with Christ can be considered prayers, i.e. conversations with God, then I submit the above as a prayer He wouldn’t even allow. In Acts 7:42, Stephen the Martyr explained that God turned His back on the Israelites based on their idolatry.

I’m suggesting God is not as “nice” as we want Him to be. He’s not always the Jesus holding the lamb and inviting the children. Sometimes I’m afraid He’s the formidable God who isn’t interested in the crap we try to give Him. Take 2 Chronicles 7 for example:

11 Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king’s house. All that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the Lord and in his own house he successfully accomplished. 12 Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. 13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. 16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. 17 And as for you, if you will walk before me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my rules, 18 then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.’

19 “But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, 20 then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.

When my kids were younger, we would sometimes send them to their rooms, and they kept talking, petitioning for parole. We didn’t listen for a time.

When we were driving on a road trip, they would ask repeatedly “Are we there yet?” and after a while I would just tune them out.

Do we honestly believe that when Christ healed the man at the Pool of Bethesda, others weren’t asking Him for healing as He walked away? He didn’t stop and say “no not today, thank you,” He just walked away.  It seems rude, unfair, unjust. But that’s His prerogative. Because He’s God. Just as I don’t decide Trump doesn’t exist just because I don’t like his policies, I can’t logically say God doesn’t exist just because my thoughts don’t match His. An I cannot bring myself to force an interpretation of the Bible that will fabricate a God with which I am comfortable. Christ made people angry with this idea. This refusal to save everyone, or to answer everyone’s prayers, is what almost got him thrown off the precipice at Nazareth:

25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers[a] in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. Luke 4

I just cannot bring myself to believe that the widows all over Israel weren’t praying for food during the famine, or that the lepers weren’t praying for cleansing. I also find no evidence that God gave them all answers, so much as left them wondering.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to turn anyone against God. I’m simply making a case for not fabricating a Jehovah that is as nice and conforming to our infantile judgment as we want.

If I could understand Him, He wouldn’t qualify as much of a God.

If my toddler and I communicated on the same level, it would probably mean I had never matured appropriately.

Jehovah, Yahweh, Elohim, the Great I Am, does not respond to my every beck and call. But neither is He a clockmaker, sitting back and taking no interest. He converses with me at times, and He shows me His absence at times. I learn from both. He does both out of love for me. But He is not my servant. He gives me His attention when He sees fit, not when I ring a bell. I would love to be corrected.

 

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6 thoughts on “On God’s Response to Prayer

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  1. Id love to contribute but you philosophical types are talking way over my head. I agree with most everything you said. I do however subscribe to the “kiss” philosophy i learned in the military. “Keep it simple stupud.”
    Yall have a blessed day now

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I still stick by the idea that God ignoring us is His personal way of answering us. It is all in how we interpret it. I think in the moment, yes we are ignored. Ignoring us simply silently and completely without answering us. However, it is likely that later on, even years from our prayer, we find that being ignored by God had a meaning behind it. Therefore, we have figured out the answer to our prayers which would be no answer at all…because that is what served us the most. (I should probably note that I am not religious, but spiritual/philosophical. Therefore, my comment is more of a discussion rather than disagreeing with what you’ve written.)

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  3. Yes! I think that is a key to understanding the call to “constant prayer.” Constant prayer has everything to do with controlling and guarding your own thoughts with just that idea in mind.

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  4. A lot of people make the omnipotence of God to be an issue to prayer, and I think your post is mostly circling that tension, but for me omniscience is the bigger issue to prayer. That is to say, within the framework of a personal relationship with an omniscient being, how do you wall off prayer from every thought that flickers through your brain? What is the meaningful demarcation of expressions directed at God when God is presumably ever present for undirected expressions. Or is the concept of undirected expressions suddenly empty? Every expression becomes shared, becomes directed, and perhaps colors the appeals that you *really* mean to make.

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  5. This reminds me that hearing and answering are completely different things. I know God always hears my prayers. Maybe they are not always answered because they aren’t as important as I think they should be. I’m still learning :/

    Liked by 1 person

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