cover's little girlI enjoy reading the mail that comes to us about articles in this journal. It is interesting to see how people react to what we write. In the November/December 2009 issue we had an article titled “God’s Role in Relationships” in which we talked about how God works in the lives of His children to bring people together. We have had more mail on that article than any article in recent history. What is interesting to me is how many people reacted to the discussion on page six about the history of my prayer life. I have always tried to be transparent in the articles I have written in this journal, and here is what I said:

The notion that praying for a new person to love would solve my problem rang pretty hollow with me. Call it lack of faith, call it lack of trust, call it hypocrisy — whatever accusation you might want to throw at me — I did not believe that God would bring me someone else or in any way impact my relationships. In the past when we had been faced with major problems in life praying never seemed to help. When our baby Tim was born with congenital problems we prayed and our friends prayed that he would not be blind, but he is blind. We accepted that and prayed that he would not be mentally challenged, but he is severely mentally challenged. We then prayed to help us accept the blindness and the retardation but that there be no other problems. We then found he had a form of muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, and schizophrenia. I battled my way through all of that, maintaining my faith in God, but becoming rather cynical about God answering specific prayers for specific needs. In my wife’s many struggles with the complications of juvenile diabetes we prayed fervently that the problems would go away, but they never did. In all of these cases what I prayed for never happened directly, but in all of these cases I found an answer that allowed me to cope with the problem and move on. The meaning of 1 Corinthians 10:13 became a part of my thinking — that God gives a way of escape that can prevent breaking if we choose to accept it, but that He does not always take away or provide direct solutions to the problem we are facing (2 Corinthians 12:8 – 9; 2 Corinthians 1:3 – 6, 9).
The mail that came in on that paragraph was massive. Many believers expressed their own experiences which were similar. A number of atheists and skeptics stated the view that this was a clear proof that there is no God and I was too biased to see it. The bottom line here is that there is a need to understand why God does not answer prayers. Why should there ever be a “no” from God on a sincere request? After all did not Jesus say, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13 – 14, NIV). He also said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7 – 8, NIV). Why would God not say “yes” and allow me to have a child who was not blind, who was not mentally challenged, and who was not impaired by muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy?

Before we try to answer this, let me say from experience that no matter how good an answer is given, if you are in the depths of pain and frustration, no answer is going to remove all that you are feeling. When I was in agony, people gave me logical and biblical answers, but those answers did not solve anything for me. Those answers, combined with study, prayer, and thought, have brought me to some understandings that have enabled me to survive as a Christian and a human being. Here are some of the conclusions I have reached.

Subtitle 1In James 4:3 we are told that sometimes when we pray we do not receive because we “ask amiss, that ye may spend it in your pleasures” (ASV). I do not think any of us struggle with this one. We know that praying for a solid gold BMW is not a prayer that is likely or logically to be answered in a positive way. Sometimes what we construe as an essential is a luxury, and that also falls into this category. Rational human beings can accept that God would not and should not pass out positive responses to every human whim.

Subtitle 2This is another obvious point. Galatians 6:7 makes a promise “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (NIV). People cannot abuse their bodies with drugs and alcohol year after year and then expect to be able to pray to God and not suffer the long term consequences of that abuse. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that we are each promised that we will die. To expect God to void that promise is inconsistent, and yet death can be incredibly difficult for those left behind. If we understand that death is a transition and not an end, the whole picture of death changes because God makes positive promises about death to those who serve Him. God is not voiding His promise to answer prayer when He denies a request that would void another promise He has made.

Subtitle 3In 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul talks about a “thorn in the flesh” which he had prayed three times that God would remove , but the answer was “No.” Paul says that the reason was “lest I should be exalted above measure” (KJV). The TCNT translation says “to prevent me from thinking too highly of myself.” The message is that sometimes we ask for things that are not good for us, or ask to be free of things that will help us be better and more useful to God.

I have to confess that I am a different person today than I would have been if my son Tim had not been born with multiple birth defects. The book I have written about Tim is titled Timothy, my Son and Teacher. Because of the long struggle to help Tim find happiness and stability in life, I have had to change. I have been molded by all the battles with doctors, state agencies, religious leaders, and even woman prayingfriends. I see nothing in logic or scripture that says that God caused Tim’s problems. In fact, I know his difficulties came from the actions of irresponsible adults. (Tim is an adopted child whose biological mother had measles and did not seek medical care.) The fact is that I prayed fervently and with other Christians that Tim would not be victimized by all of this, but he was born blind, mentally challenged, with muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, and schizophrenia. I have been molded by all of this. I am a different person. I did not ask to be a different person, and I would rather not have been changed. However, the few strengths I have came mainly from the molding that Tim brought to me.

Like Paul we have to realize that God may see that there is a reason why He should not give us what we ask because He sees a higher purpose. If you see no purpose or value in your life, that may not seem to be a reasonable answer and one that is not easy to accept. However, to fair-minded people who believe that God has a purpose for their lives, this is an important understanding about prayers that are not answered.

Subtitle 4In Matthew 26:39 we see an obvious case of God not answering prayer. Jesus Christ is facing crucifixion, and He knows what is about to happen. In anguish He cries out to God, “O my Father, … let this cup pass from me”(KJV). Jesus clearly states He wants to avoid dying on the cross, and the surrounding verses tell us He prayed this over and over (see verses 42 and 44). We are also told in each of these petitions Jesus adds “Yet I pray, not what I want but you want” (Williams). Jesus knew God had a higher purpose for what He was about to endure.

In Ephesians 3:11 we are told that everything that happened to Christ and that happens to us is “the eternal purpose which he realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (RSV). In verse 10 further explanation tells us that “in order that the powers and authorities in heavenly realms should not see the complex wisdom of God’s plan being worked out through the Church” (Phillips). Ephesians 6:12 again states the ultimate purpose of God in creating man and the Church.

Christians cannot accomplish God’s purpose by opting out of every difficult situation that comes along. Christianity is not an escape mechanism to avoid problems and sickness in life. When we ask God to back off from the reason He created us, we are making an unreasonable request and God will not answer such a request in a positive way. I am reminded of a line from Fiddler on the Roof in which the question is, “Would it void some vast eternal plan, if I were a wealthy man?” In reality the answer to that question is “yes”!

Numbing teethYou go to the dentist and you get a novocaine shot. Why? Because thirty seconds of the needle is better than what seems like three hours of the drill. How much will anything that happens in this life mean in the context of eternity? You have a purpose for existing — a reason to be. God does not create junk, and He has a purpose for every life. God has also promised to take even the evil, bad things that come from Satan and make good things come from them (Romans 8:28). He has given us the option of rejecting that purpose and living selfishly, but He will not assist us in doing so. Life is not always easy, and prayers can be made for anything. When we become angry with God because He does not grant our requests, we are forgetting why we are here. When we accuse God of ignoring our prayers, we are turning to selfish desires that revolve around ourselves. We look instead at the eternal purpose we have in Christ Jesus as described in Ephesians 3:11.
--John N. Clayton

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