Unanswered Prayer

Unanswered Prayer

Reading Time: 8 minutes
Image by Samer Chidiac from Pixabay

In recent weeks I have traded some messages with a young man who has walked away from his Christian faith. I asked if he was willing to discuss the reasons behind it all, and he was very open to the idea. As we communicated and shared, I replied with what I thought were the three main reasons he no longer believes in God.

  • Unanswered prayer
  • Suffering in the world
  • Lack of evidence

He then wanted me to add a 4th.

  • Injustices from a just God

I plan to respond to each of his objections, so I wanted to start with my thoughts to unanswered prayer and share it as a blog post with some editing for clarity after he responded to what I originally wrote him. He also pointed out this piece touches on suffering in the world so there is some overlap between the two objections.

I shared with him I was going to keep my responses relatively brief. I know many have written volumes on each of the four we have listed above, but writing him a wall of texts, evidence, explanations, reasons, etc., I think would subtract from my efforts to give him something to consider.

Unanswered prayer is a hard one for me personally, and as I have looked into answers for this objection, I am left wanting. I can’t count the times I have had prayers unanswered or felt they were ignored. One potential solution would be to follow Wayne Dyer’s advice: an American author and motivational speaker.

“I start every day by wanting more for others than I do for myself. I think that is how God works, and that is how I think we have to work.”

Yet, we all have prayed earnestly for others’ healing and safety only to be disappointed, sometimes painfully, so this objection is not limited to prayers concerning our own personal wants and desires.

Furthermore, don’t think the Bible characters walked about experiencing answered prayers and miracles left and right. Unanswered prayer is not limited to our modern world experiences. Many characters suffered amid unanswered prayer. In 2 Samuel 12:15-18, David lost his child despite his earnest prayers, and Paul’s repeated request in 2 Corinthians 12:6-10 for healing are just two examples.

In 1960 Joy Davidman, the wife of C.S. Lewis died from cancer. He had only four years with this love of his and Lewis described those years as the most beautiful of his life.1 Author of When Faith Fails, Dominic Done wrote concerning this, “However, the depth of his affection for Joy while she lived meant a depth of sorrow unlike any he had ever experienced when she died. A year later, he published the book ‘A Grief Observed.’ This short book is powerful, raw, elegant, and heartbreaking. In it, Lewis pours out all his emotion in real-time. There are no simple answers in this book, only ferocious questions.”2

As Christians, we may see some reasons prayers go unanswered, which I will touch on below. But keep in mind, when someone is suffering, that is NOT the time to give them a list of reasons why God may not have answered their deep and heartfelt prayers. That is the time to encourage them, love them, support them, and be present in their lives. An intellectual answer will never comfort a broken heart.

If we are honest, sometimes God cannot answer our prayers. An explicit but straightforward example is when two Christians are praying for contradictory things. What if two Christian men were in love with the same girl? Ya, you get the idea. Or if two Christians were competing against each other in a sport for the championship title? Could two Christians have ever wanted the same job? We can come up with lots of examples.

Some might say that if God is all-powerful (omnipotent), He should be able to do the logically impossible. But the words almighty or omnipotent do not mean God can do anything; instead, they reference his ‘power’, and power indicates change. More specifically, changing what is possible to change. In other words, God can change what is possible to change, but He cannot do something ‘impossible.’ He can’t create a stone so heavy He can’t lift it. He can’t make a married bachelor. He can’t make a square hole, and he can’t grant the prayers of contradictory desires. What is impossible does not become possible by adding more power to change, even God’s unlimited power.

Personally, when I think of unanswered prayer, I often think of my own failed marriage and the depth of my prayers echoing from my very soul. Will I ever see a good ‘enough’ reason for Him to allow it and not intervene in some way? Maybe I already have. Has there been good from it? Oh yes! I know I have ministered to others who struggled in their marriages and those that have also experienced broken marriages. The feelings of failure, abandonment, defeat, guilt run rampant in those who go through a long-term marriage dissolution. Those individuals often hit rock bottom and need someone who understands. I know for a fact that I have helped some navigate this kind of heartbreak.

When prayer is unanswered and they experience anguish, is anything gained in a person’s character in the suffering? Confidence, compassion, endurance, forgiveness, contentment in all circumstances, discernment, and inspiring others are a few traits that can be developed and applied. Romans 5:3-5

I think it is a mistake to look at the ending of a long relationship as a failure. Did any good come from it? Were there any lessons learned? Did you gain some understanding or experience that has value to you or others? I have heard it said that success has many fathers, but failure is often an orphan. There is something to gained embracing your failures in life: owning up to them and not blaming others. Proverbs 28:13 For nearly 25 years I believe we provided an excellent home to four beautiful children, and I see no defeat in that. So much more could be said, but I am sure you get my gist.

When thinking about or discussing unanswered prayer, Christians commonly use three lines of arguments. William Lane Craig these in his book Hard Questions Real Answers. You may have used one yourself or have heard someone suggest such a reason.

  1. They deny the prayer was unanswered. Name it and claim it. The cancer is gone, but no proof is provided.
  2. They say God’s answer will vary between yes, no, and not yet. Unanswered prayer is really a no from God, or a not yet. But is ‘no’ an answer? Can an answer to prayer be negative? I think that can be intellectually dishonest.
  3. They rationalize the answer. I heard one example of a group praying for someone’s healing. The next day he died, and the pastor explained that he was now healed entirely and residing in heaven. This was obviously being disingenuous with the prayer’s intent.3

John 16:23 says that whatever we ask for in Jesus’ name, we will receive. So how could that be true? It has not been my experience because I have asked for plenty in Jesus’ name.

Craig goes on to explain the promise must be qualified. We have models of this in scripture. For example, in Mark 10:4-12, Jesus says anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. Then in Matthew 19:7-11, he adds the exception of marital unfaithfulness. Another example is found in Matthew 7:7. Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. Wow, I have asked for a lot of things that I was not given, that I did not find, or the door was not opened. What is up with that? Matthew 7:7 is pretty clear.

Let me give you some qualifications or reasons I believe prayers are not answered.

Wrong motives – James 4:3 gives a reason why Matthew 7:7 might not be answered. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Lack of faith – James 1:6-8 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Sin – Psalm 66:18 If I had cherished sin in my heart the Lord would not have listened.

Lack of perseverance – Luke 11:5-8 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity, he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.”4

I know some of these can raise all kinds of other questions, but they touch on why I think prayers are sometimes unanswered. I think it is obvious prayers must be conditional.

Stepping back and away from a personal view of unanswered prayer, let me ask a rhetorical question that drives home a point I want to make. Did your dad give you everything you asked for? When you asked for a new toy, a new bike, a new game, did you get them every time? How about what you wanted for dinner or dessert? Did you get to spend the night at a friend’s house every time you asked? Were you allowed to have friends over every time you wanted? How about stopping at McDonald’s or TacoBell every time you asked, or even just a candy bar when you were at the store?

No, of course not. Often the answer was no and for a myriad of reasons. Maybe he did not have the money for something you wanted. Maybe he did not want to deal with you having friends over. Maybe he did not want to spoil you and give you everything you asked for. Maybe he felt you had enough toys. Maybe your grades were not what they should have been. You get the idea. He may have had good reasons that you would not have agreed with or understood at that time. Yes, not receiving a toy is on a completely different level from not being healed from cancer, I get that. Yet, is it possible we lack depth and understanding for His answer to our prayer requests? Of course, our knowledge is limited, and His can is described as all-knowing (omniscient).

Some of you may remember the movie Bruce Almighty with Jim Carrey. He was granted God’s powers, and at one point, he had downloaded all the prayers, millions of them. He decided to choose ‘yes to all’ to save time. That did not work out so well. One of the very rare times Hollywood got something theologically correct.

Amy Hall with str.org pointed out that God has two main goals as he works through our lives. One to display His glory, and two is to impart goodness to us. And the two also go hand in hand; our seeing His glory is good for us.5 She wrote concerning His glory, “Sometimes He reveals His glory by His answering prayer the way we hoped, but sometimes He reveals His glory by our learning to depend on Him and seeing His faithfulness and trustworthiness (see 2 Cor. 8–9, for example). He uses our life situations to make Himself known to us and the world, to draw others to Himself…”5

If there is a creator of the universe, a God who not only created the reality as we know it and desires for us to know him, could He have reasons for unanswered prayer? Reasons that our finite minds can’t grasp, understand, or appreciate? I believe that is a distinct possibility.

Romans 8:28 states that God is working all things for our good, and Romans 8:29 points out that good is to make us like His son Jesus Christ.

As I finished this piece, I realized it would fall short for those who don’t believe in God. For atheists or skeptics who embrace materialism, this will do little or nothing to satisfy their questions. In their view, prayers are nothing but wasted thoughts unless they include them in the realm of ‘positive thinking.’ Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and anyone who has a spiritual belief will have to respond to this question. Will they be satisfied with the reasons?

C.S. Lewis wrote concerning our purpose in life and how we are to become Christ-like in all we do, “It is the only thing we were made for. And there are strange, exciting things in the Bible that when we are drawn in, a great many other things in Nature will begin to come right. That bad dream will be over: it will be morning.”6

Unanswered Prayer by James W Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

  1. Lettie Ransley, “A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis – Review,” The Guardian, August 11, 2013 []
  2. Done, Dominic. “When the Sun Goes Dark.” When Faith Fails, Nelson Books, 2019, p.44 []
  3. Craig, William L. “Unanswered Prayer.” Hard Questions Real Answers. Crossway, 2003, pgs. 43-46 []
  4. Craig, William L. “Unanswered Prayer.” Hard Questions Real Answers. Crossway, 2003, pgs. 47-50 []
  5. Hall, Amy. “Unanswered Prayer” Message to Amy Hall. 25 February 2021. E-mail [] []
  6. Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. Harper One, 1952. Print. []
Demanding Proof

Demanding Proof

Reading Time: 6 minutes

21 – A disciple of Christ, Thomas, was a skeptic. He walked with Jesus during his time on earth and physically witnessed with his own eyes certain miracles performed by him such as raising Lazarus from the dead and so forth. However, after the crucifixion, Jesus supposedly rose three days later and Thomas did not believe it was truly him despite being told, prior to the incident by Jesus, that he would rise again in three days. Thomas required physical proof. Jesus allowed him to touch him and feel the wounds in his body to offer that proof to Thomas. Why doesn’t god extend the same proof to humans alive today? Those that doubt his existence are no different than Thomas, requiring physical proof and he was a disciple of Jesus himself. If Thomas had been born one generation later, or even living today, he would have burned in hell for all eternity because he would not believe for the lack of physical proof. Paul was born after the death and ascension of Christ. Throughout his life, he did not believe that Jesus was the son of God and even went out of his way to persecute and murder Christians thinking that their religion was a dangerous belief system to practice. Lo and behold a flash of light came out of the sky and Jesus Christ himself appeared to Paul explaining to him that he is actually the one true god. Jesus told him that he was persecuting the followers of the only true faith. From that point on, Paul was a converted Christian. Again, if God was willing to go out of his way to physically prove to Paul that he actually exists, why is this not done today? Why isn’t God willing to show those that doubt today the same degree of physical proof? Why should we be any different than Thomas and Paul?

I don’t know. Why should you be any different from Thomas and Paul? In all your questions, what proof do you have that if God did show himself, you would turn to Him? Have you provided any evidence that would suggest that to Him, or to who have read your 50 questions? Besides, it has been pointed out that even the demons tremble and believe, but are they followers of God or did they choose to go against his will?

If you recall, Thomas was not the only one who required physical proof. How many of the disciples stayed at His side when he was arrested? They all scattered to the four winds and went into hiding. Where in scripture did it say that twelve could be found at the foot of His cross worshiping Him? It doesn’t. Matthew 26:56 states that all the disciples abandoned him and ran away. Mark 14:50 also says everyone fled. An interesting note, in Mark 14:51 he mentions a young man who had been following Jesus, but when they tried to grab him he fled naked leaving his garment behind. Many scholars believe Mark is talking about himself. Luke mentioned that Peter followed at a distance, but then denied Jesus before the rooster crowed three times. Luke 22:54-62.

What turned these frightened and fleeing disciples around? Was it faith or was something else more significant provided to them?

Do you recall when John the Baptist was in prison and he asked his disciples to go to Jesus and ask if He was the one they had been waiting for or if they should look for someone else? Luke 7:18-23 When they went to Jesus He began to heal the blind, the deaf, the lame and cure those with leprosy. After the signs, he told the messengers from John to return and report what they had seen and heard with their own eyes. What Jesus did not do was say, “Go back and tell my cousin, doubter that he is, to take a leap of faith and believe!” No, Jesus provided evidence they could see, hear, and touch and then go back to John and report to John the Baptist first hand.

In a book given to me by Pastor Russ Peters, Carlos Annacondia wrote about the Argentine Revival. He was speaking on faith and wrote, “Now, this faith, the faith necessary to operate under the super natural power of God and with authority in His name, is not a rational conviction, nor does it require a certain religious knowledge…These things are for those who, with a simple heart, begin to put into practice the command of the Lord of going and preaching, trusting Him that the promised supernatural signs will follow.”1 With a focus on evangelism and preaching, he continued, “Then signs will confirm the truth of the gospel of Christ with miracles and wonders, just as Jesus affirmed. It is not enough just to talk about the gospel, but it is necessary to also put the gospel into practice with all of its visible and outward consequences and effects.”2

Without exception, every one of the Apostles was transformed by the resurrection event. Prior they were confused, fearful, in hiding, scattered, and some would say even acted cowardly. After the resurrection, they were bold, fearless, and proclaimed the resurrection without hesitation. Tom Gender lists 12 notable changes that took place within the budding Christian culture that was the antithesis of their own Jewish culture.

1. They held on to their monotheism beliefs but now looked at God as three distinct persons.
2. They came to believe that the promise of the coming Messiah was God Himself in the form of Jesus.
3. They understood He would come twice, first to suffer and die for our sins and then return to establish His kingdom.
4. They taught that obedience to the law was no longer sufficient, but it had to be coupled with faith in Christ their savior.
5. They no longer offered animal sacrifices because Jesus had died once and for all.
6. The Temple in Jerusalem was no longer the focal point for God to meet with His people.
7. They began to meet on Sunday’s rather than Saturday’s.
8. They began to practice baptism as opposed to circumcision.
9. They began the observance of the Lord’s supper.
10. Unclean and clean distinctions were dismissed and associations with Gentiles was acceptable.
11. They had a fervent desire to share their faith, not only within their own Jewish culture but in all parts of the known world.
12. They added new books to the Old Testament texts which we now know as the New Testament.3

Within a few decades, the Gospel spread to Europe, Africa, and Asia. Followers of Jesus gave up everything to pursue Him and share the good news. Every one of the Apostles was beaten, tortured, and imprisoned for their faith.

What could have changed their views so drastically? Views that were not only heretical to Judisam but so counter to their culture and way of life.

They saw the risen Lord, not only Thomas but all of them, consequently they became bold and fearless proclaimers for Christ. So that is a good question. Why doesn’t God provide us with direct evidence as He did for Thomas, Paul, and the others?

Yes, Thomas doubted as have others, then the miracle of seeing his risen Lord gave him reason to exclaim, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:28. What did Jesus say and do just before that? He showed him the evidence and told him to stop doubting and believe. Miracles can be a divine event for the faith of unbelievers, but so can the report of miracles if the hearts of unbelievers would allow it.

Scripture tells us that unbelievers suppress the truth and Jesus tells a story of a man who wanted to be sent back from hell to warn his five brothers. How did Abraham reply to that request? They will not be convinced even if someone is raised from the dead. Luke 16:31

John Frame who wrote Apologetics to the Glory of God said, “[Jesus] wrought many miracles, but they rarely lead people to faith. Often the enemies of Jesus admitted the miracle, but still refused to believe. And even the Resurrection itself failed to convince many. Jesus had harsh words for those who demanded to see signs.”4 Matthew 12:39; John 4:48

If a God exists, then you can conclude that miracles are possible. There is overwhelming evidence for the Resurrection and how it transformed the Apostles. Not only the Apostles but millions over the past two thousand years who have given their lives to Christ, some figuratively others literally. Out of the millions who have become Christians over the centuries how many have been transformed by the witness of a miracle? Very few.

You don’t need to witness a miracle to become a believer; you just need to believe in the miracle that has already been witnessed and reported.

 

Sources:
1. “Power Evangelism Argentine Style.” The Rising Revival, Edited by Wagner, Peter. Deiros, Pablo. Renew Books, 1988.
2. Ibid.
3. Gender, Tom. “Back From The Dead.” Truth Matters, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011, pp. 126-127
4. Frame, John. “Apologetics as Proof, Proving the Gospel”, Apologetics to the Glory of God, P & R Publishing, 1994, pp. 143

 

 

Creative Commons License
Demanding Proof by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.dev.christianapologetics.blog/blog.

Doubt

Reading Time: 6 minutesDoubt. If Christian is honest, that is something we all have had in our Christian walk. Despite my readings in the past couple years on apologetics, which does not mean apologizing for our faith, but defending our faith, doubt still creeps in.

William Lane Craig shares a story in his book, Hard Questions, Real Answers about a student who came up to him after class one day and said, “How come everything you say confirms what my pastor taught?” Somewhat taken aback by this comment Dr. Craig replied, “Why shouldn’t it?” The questioning student replied, “Well, all the other professors in my department challenge my faith.” Craig replied, “Look, I don’t want to challenge your faith; I want to challenge your thinking. But I want to build up your faith.” 1

That is a significant insight into a teacher’s responsibility that I have been guilty of over looking at times. Having taught Jr. High for many years, I have enjoyed numerous meaningful conversations with students about a wide variety of topics. From politics to puberty, I have had opportunities to share my thoughts and beliefs with my students, which often were counter to what the world was teaching them.

As a young Christian, I can remember hearing that doubt is a good thing, it will strengthen your faith. Made sense to me at the time, but I have come to realize that doubt is not a good thing and it is something we need to struggle against.  James 1:6 says, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

Certainly Thomas had doubts and Jesus told him to stop doubting. John 20:27, “Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’” When believers have doubts they need to share them with others and seek answers, this goes double for our youth in public schools or college who are engaged daily with the real world and its counter culture that undermines everything they are taught to believe in church. Those who instruct our youth need to be especially vigilant when occupied with young believers. Teachers need to be careful about raising questions in the form of instruction, but to always present solutions that will employ their minds, and strengthen their faith.

How does someone build their faith? If you define faith as Peter Boghossian, does it is not possible. He defines faith as belief without evidence. Or specifically as, “Pretending to know things you don’t know.” 2

Some Christians view faith as what you have when you don’t have evidence. You just ‘choose’ to believe even if you don’t have reasons, but faith is built by evidence, not the lack of it. As you learn more about the historicity, (historical evidence), of Christ and how testimony outside the Gospels add evidence to the person of Christ, your knowledge grows along with your faith. As archeology supports the historical record of scripture your knowledge increases along with your faith. John Lennox put it this way, “Indeed, faith is a response to evidence, not a rejoicing in the absence of evidence.” 3

Just the other day my wife and I viewed a DVD Film by John Christy titled, “My Week in Atheism”. I plan on watching it again and taking notes because many of the topics in the film raised questions that Christians might struggle with. The film is about two friends, one an atheist activist, (David Smalley), and the other a Christian apologist, (John Christy). Despite their opposite world views, the two of them have maintained a close friendship.

The movie explores both world views and attempts, (successfully I believe), to give the viewer a greater understanding of both the Christian and the atheist world views. Even more importantly, why they believe what they believe, and why their world views spill over into politics and create such tension between many atheists and Christians. This film is not about politics, but about moving beyond the rhetoric both sides often offer.

During one session, David asked the question about how an all powerful and loving God would allow a three year old girl to suffer a lengthy illness and then die of cancer. He asked this question because he knew a three year old girl who that actually happened to. In our own church, we have had families suffer such losses, or had children born with severe disabilities. In recent years, at least two families have lost both parents in the prime of their life. Parents who, on all accounts, were living for the Lord and faithful to Christ. For me personally, with my youngest daughter dealing with scoliosis and possibly facing surgery, asking God why and desiring an answer has now become personal.

The suffering we experience in this world is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to the Christian World view. Everyone can agree, if God was all knowing, then he would be aware of the suffering in our world. If God were all powerful, then he would be able to stop the suffering and evil that takes place in our world. If God was all loving, then he would want to do something about the evil he knows about, and is able to stop. Yet, evil and suffering exists in our world, so some conclude an all knowing, all powerful, and all loving God cannot exist. Many use this argument to claim, the God of the Bible does not exist. Philosophers and apologists know this as the ‘problem of evil’.

When addressing the problem of evil, it is important to recognize two difficulties. First is the emotional problem of evil, and the second is the intellectual problem of evil.

When someone has experienced a great loss, or is suffering in some way that causes them emotional and even physical stress, addressing the problem of evil from philosophical or intellectual direction often does more harm than good. It is in our nature, (granted some more than others), to physically console or embrace those who suffer. Many times words are not even exchanged, but just a physical closeness and willingness to share in the suffering, express empathy, is all that one can offer, and often, that is all that the one suffering would desire.

At a time of great loss or suffering, offering trite comments like, “God understands”, or “His ways are mysterious”, or “It is part of his plan we may never understand” do little or nothing to alleviate the pain, even when the person offering such condolences is deeply sincere. They are mistakenly offering an intellectual solution when none is asked for. The time to address the intellectual problem of evil is never when the loss is still causing emotional turmoil.

Often the person who has suffered the loss will, on their own time, bring up the problem of evil and share questions, doubts, frustration, and anger at God, with their close friends or family. It is at that time, friends can discuss the moral dilemma and possibility come to some kind of answer.

After hearing of the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis wrote, “The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed – might grow tired of his vile sport – might have a temporary fit of mercy, as an alcoholic have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before that operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.” 4

If the aim of someone is to show that God and evil in the world cannot exist together, then the objector of God has to show that God does not have any moral reasons for permitting the evil we experience. Dinesh D’Souza shared this, “Carl Sagan helpfully suggests that in order to dispel all doubts about His existence, ‘God could have engraved the Ten Commandments on the moon.’ Pascal supplies a plausible reason for that he calls the hiddenness of God. Perhaps, he writes, God wants to hide Himself from those who have no desire to encounter Him while revealing Himself to those whose hearts are open to Him. If God were to declare Himself beyond our ability to reject Him, then He would be forcing Himself on us.” 5

Resources:

  1. Craig, William L. Hard Questions Real Answers. Wheaton: Crossway, 2003. Print
  2. Boghossian, Peter. A Manual For Creating Atheists. Durham: Pitchstone Publishing, 2013. Print
  3. Lennox, John. God’s Undertaker. Oxford: Lion Books, 2009. Print
  4. Craig, William L. Hard Questions Real Answers. Wheaton: Crossway, 2003. Print
  5. D’Souza, Dinesh. What’s So Great About Christianity. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2007. Print

Pin It on Pinterest