Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Pain of Unanswered Prayer

The question isn't, "If I pray, is God going to come through?"

In the spirit of keeping things honest, this is the question that hurts my heart, "Why does God sometimes comes through and answer our prayers, and sometimes He doesn't?"

Good people. Faithful people. Holy people. Offering very serious, honest prayers to a loving God. 

Sometimes He answers. Sometimes He doesn't.

One parent loses a child. Another's is miraculously saved. 

Cancer will miraculously heal. Other times kill. 

Some barren women beat all odds and give birth. Others remain childless. 

So what are we to make of the inconsistency. 

Of all of the examples of prayer I could give you, both answered and unanswered, I have picked two from Scripture. 

The first in Exodus 32. 

God's anger for the golden calf idolatry would bring the destruction of Israel. And God told Moses that he would create a new nation through him. 

God tells Moses, "I have seen these people (Israelites) and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you (Moses) into a great nation." 

But Moses sought the favor of God. He prayed, as if to remind God of his love, patience, and promises for Israel. And God relented his anger. 

This is a fantastic story of how a humble man's prayers directly affected an outcome. It's easy to read this passage. Even easier to teach it, as if all you need is humility, a right relationship with God, and a faithful prayer to get what you earnestly want. 

But we contrast this story to one we read in 2 Corinthians. 

Here, we have Paul, presumably an equal to Moses' humility, relationship to God, and faithfulness to prayer. Paul talks vaguely about a 'thorn' in his flesh, given to torment him. Three times he prayed to God for healing. And God's response shakes my idea of prayer, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness." 

Or, more simply put, "No." 

So how do we view prayer in light of these two contrasting Biblical narratives? 

My attempt:

Do our prayers change the way events will unfold? Yes.
Do they ALWAYS change the way events will unfold? No. 

Does this make sense to me? Not really. 
Is this something that I can accept? Yes. 

In these two biblical accounts, we get to see behind the scenes and hear what God is thinking. But for every other extra-biblical account of prayer, we never truly know why some prayers get answered, and some don't.
Whatever cosmic and mysterious answers there are, we will likely never know. 

So I pray earnestly, knowing that my prayer COULD change the course of events. 

And when they don't, I rest in the sovereignty of God knowing that He is in control, even if that means a painful circumstance for myself or loved ones. 

How have you come to peace with unanswered prayer?