I was listening to a recent new popular song that seeks to assure “God answers prayer.” Let’s be honest. More prayers are unanswered than answered. Bold proclamations about God, without being nuanced or explained, can confuse or drive many away from God. Many are rightly disheartened about God when claims about prayers don’t match up with reality.
God can’t answer many prayers
God can’t wave a magic wand without accounting for freedom. It’s not that we didn’t pray enough with the right words and behaviors so God will answer. God can’t make one’s partner willing to stop drinking. A lot of prayers ask for healing. I doubt God is arbitrary when able to heal. Conditions in our body may not always be right. Various biological and environmental factors are involved such as cells, organs, etc. If God respects human freedom, it may not be a stretch to say God has to account for natural freedom as well. A caring God surely intervenes by all means when circumstances will allow just as a human parent.
Love can’t be controlling or arbitrary
Your view of God determines your perspective and how you pray. I experienced as a child and learned as a parent controlling love is an oxymoron. Love doesn’t insist on its own way (I Cor 13:5). It isn’t that God has the power to do something and doesn’t. God can’t change people or circumstances without them freely cooperating. Miracles don’t happen because some people are less sinful or beg better at the feet of an arbitrary God. Miracles happen when God’s uncontrolling love aligns with countless seen and unseen factors including human and organic agents.
Even the Bible doesn’t claim God answers all prayers
Jesus requested from God to avoid the Cross. History tells us God didn’t answer. There are of course many interpretations of passages used to defend one’s position. Mt 7:7 says: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” But first-century readers didn’t assume this was a blank check for requests. The Apostle Paul expected persecution for beliefs (2 Tim. 3:12). I have a hunch Paul didn’t pray to be persecuted.
Isn’t a truly loving God doing all they can before asked?
Do we really think God is waiting to help others until we ask? Prayer must be more than manipulating God to act. God may wait for our invitation for personal help to be more the person we deep down desire to be, but God is tireless in doing all they can for others and desperately seeks our help to change the world. God can’t singlehandedly change a free world without our help. But the truth is it can rain on the righteous and the sun can shine on evil in an uncontrolled world (Mt 5:45).
So, why pray?
Prayer is more than asking for things. We can also talk to God for self-examination, for sharing our concerns so to not feel along in a chaotic world. Seeking God’s influence in our lives can lead to making wiser choices. God is tireless in working through individual lives to change the world. It isn’t that you didn’t beg enough or behave enough. God hears your prayers and walks alongside you in a world challenging to God and you. God hates when prayers can’t be answered. God feels the same pain you are experiencing. God shares the dreams you have for your future. Conventional thinkers don’t like to suggest God has feelings of vulnerability, but they don’t mind talking about God’s wrath. We may wish God would just intervene but there may be legitimate reasons why God can’t. But God is with you each step of the way and surely encourages reaching out to others for help as well.
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