Prayer - unanswered


When circumstance conspires, believers are forced to wrestle with a number of difficult problems. First, there is the problem of a loving God allowing bad things to happen. This is the problem of evil. Then there is the problem of unanswered prayer. He doesn't act on our prayers, but rather allows the bad things to continue. Finally, there is the problem of trying to work out what we can actually ask for and expect to receive.

I don't think the problem of evil can ever be resolved to our satisfaction. C.S. Lewis wrote a monograph on the Problem of Evil with the main premise being that God has created us as free beings, and we have used that freedom destructively. The consequence is a world out of control. God has set about to restore humanity in Christ, but does not remove our freedom, and therefore, the consequences continue to flow. The argument is a good one, but when his wife contracted cancer and died, his work "Grief Observed" had a totally different perspective. We can rationalize a problem, but when we actually live it, everything changes. I think in the end his observation about the world is the best we can make of it all. He called it "shadow land". Our experience of life is not substantial, but rather shadows of another place which is substantial - eternity. Only there will we understand how and why the shadows impinged on us the way they did.

If we can accept that the lot of humanity is to live in the shadows, the just and unjust alike, then we will find it easy to handle the problem of unanswered prayer. Instead of seeing God as Father Christmas (Mr. Fixit), we will see him as he is revealed in the Bible. He is our gracious and kind creator who in Christ has made it possible for us to stand eternally accepted in his sight. As we journey toward the day of glory he has promised us certain things (eg. forgiveness). When we ask him to act on these promises, he does indeed act.

Yet, what actually does God promise us, and where and how do we find these promises? It is very easy to read the Bible assuming that "a description is a prescription", that an "is" is an "ought", that a promise, command, blessing... to a particular person at a particular time is a promise, command, blessing.... for all people at all times. For example, we can easily find examples of the Lord's love for animals, and so we may then assume that if we pray for the Lord to find our "fluffy" who has run off, then he will answer the prayer because he has been kind to animals in the past. When he doesn't answer the prayer we come up with all the excuses like: we didn't have enough faith, there was unconfessed sin in our lives, we didn't engage a circle of prayer, etc. All these excuses fail to touch the real reason - the Lord never promised to find lost animals for believing Christians or anyone else. So the Bible is certainly the source for God's promises, the only trick is separating his promises from our assumptions.

The Lord does what he says he will do, not what we want him to do, and that's the end of it.