Not a terribly good week so far. Two people within our circle of concern have died following debilitating illness, both leaving young families. Another’s grandson has received a long prison sentence. Some are wondering about the effect of long and sustained prayers for these individuals and their families. Where is God in all this and how are we to understand what seems like God’s deaf ear when we call out to God? This in itself is a kind of prayer – the prayer of lament that unleashes the angst and pain of the wounded human spirit as much as seeks answers. The writers of the Psalms did it a lot.
But apart from expressing pain we really want to know. Why are some healed and not others? Many of us are privy to stories of wondrous healing that has unleashed the possibilities of life being lived more deeply and fully. We also know many who have missed out. I don’t think its trite to suggest we miss the nature of healing that takes place amongst us even as we grieve, particularly when there has been a season of preparation marked by community bonding, compassion, the sharing of stories and sheer imaginative exchanges of humanity.
However, there is a kind of “I don’t know-ness” about the question of unanswered prayer that is sacred and to be honoured and quietly respected. Rather than attempt an answer, it would be better if we simply removed our shoes.
4 thoughts on “Unanswered prayers”
Why? Why is that “I don’t know-ness” sacred? Why is it “to be honoured and quietly respected”? Why is it better not to question?
Hi 327thmale, I always enjoy hearing from you.
Perhaps its unclear – my observation is that both the question and the “I don’t know-ness” are in a place that deserves honour and respect (something that does not occur if the tension is dismissed).
The “I don’t know-ness” that I speak of does not ignore questions, but is a place where one arrives, usually temporarily, and usually soul-exhausted, after a long period of wrestling with questions that refuse to be satisfied with answers that are facile, mechanical or that just don’t get the depth of honest struggle that give the questions rise. These are questions not only of the mind but of the gut and the heart. They lead us into what the medieval mystic St John of the Cross called “the cloud of unknowing.” What I honour and respect is the length and depth of the journey the questioner has endured to get there. The consensus of faith traditions names this struggle sacred in that we find ourselves in a space that transcends our human capacity to cope, control, and categorise. Let me say also that the questions that will be taken up again in the quest to push the boundaries of what we can’t answer are, in my view, also to be honoured, respected and considered sacred.
So the original question – why does God answer some prayers but not others – is this something you are still struggling with? Or have you reached some kind of conclusion or at least acceptance?
Thanks for the question. It remains a struggle for me insofar as I engage others who wrestle with this dilemma, from either a perspective of faith or of reason (or a mix of both). Although I am quite at peace with having re-framed the question as “What is the nature of prayer?”, my role as a pastor and spiritual companion requires me to stay in the initial struggle (this is where the respect and honour of the other’s journey comes in). I try to lead others to a practice of prayer that is not a shopping list to tick off, but a way of opening to greater awareness, attentiveness and communion. From this perspective, “unanswered prayer” becomes a non-issue. However it is a massive stumbling block for many who have been raised to see God as a Santa Claus in the sky rather than a ground of being who infuses our nature and our times, inviting us on a journey of discovery towards completion. Hope this clarifies where I’m coming from!
I can point to some references that amplify my response if need be.