Why Doesn’t God Answer Prayer?

praying-hands

Many years ago, while living in California, I had a close friend (let’s call her Carrie) with whom I partied on a regular basis. One distinct thing I remember about Carrie was that she always seemed to be on a super-high whenever we went out. Flighty. Talkative. At the time, I just accepted it as part of her personality. It wasn’t until after I had moved away and we had drifted apart that I put two and two together. She was snorting cocaine! I know, I know. How could I miss it? Well, let’s just say I was young and innocent. Besides, the point I’m making is that this girl was definitely wild and crazy!

Awhile back, I got a Friend request from Carrie on Facebook. Come to find out, she’s “gotten religion” over the years. She doesn’t post very often, but when she does, it’s nearly always requests for prayer. Mostly related to her health … and her friends respond.

This week, she wrote a rather sad posting. Apparently, she has been told she has lung cancer and possibly bone cancer. But, as she put it, she’s fooled “that old Devil” because “all of this has only made me stronger, much stronger.” She then asked, once again, for prayers – and once again, her friends have responded.

Now I ask you, if God is real, if God is a healer, if God loves, if God answers prayer … then why is Carrie now diagnosed with CANCER! Why haven’t the “fervent prayers” for her health availed much (James 5:16)? Why has it come to this? The bible says:

“Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” (I John 5:14)

When I was a Christian, I was given innumerable reasons why God didn’t always answer prayer. Often, the above scripture was quoted, saying it must not be “God’s will.” Of course, I swallowed these reasons whole because this is what I wanted to believe. I mean, after all, we’re talking about GOD here. But down deep inside, it just didn’t make sense. If God said he was going to answer our prayers (Matthew 7:7; 21:22, Luke 11:10), then why didn’t “He”?

Why doesn’t God answer prayer? Could it possibly be that “God” doesn’t really exist? Or is “He” just being fickle?

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25 thoughts on “Why Doesn’t God Answer Prayer?

  1. As my friend neared her death riddled with cancer she’d ask me ‘why?’ She pulled out the scriptures on prayer. Why wouldn’t God answer hers? Why would God take her from her two dear children, both under the age of five? Why would God not heal her? (What is interesting here as well, her own mother was near death from cancer and would in fact die shortly before her own daughter.) The agony of belief sometimes. Yes we know we are going to be with the Lord soon and there will be no more tears . . . but in the meantime, what of the tears on the earth? Why can’t I be with my children? What kind of God would do this?

    That was over 20 years ago and while I was still a Christian. Of course, if the Bible couldn’t answer her questions and if God wouldn’t answer her prayers, what could I do? All I could do is tell her I don’t know but maybe taking her home would be her healing. 😦 *sigh* We do the best with what we know at the time I guess. I did help her in practical ways but spiritually, not so much.

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  2. More than maddening, Alice, It’s tragic. No matter how many times NOTHING HAPPENS as a result of their prayers, people continue to believe God knows best in the long run and are willing to accept the end result. Even if it means (as Zoe commented) “taking her home” so healing would come. What a sad, sad way to have a prayer answered.

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  3. Thanks for stopping by, Zoe, and sharing your experience. I can’t tell you how many times as a Christian I prayed for people and their problems … and nothing changed. Yet, I continued to believe. Now I ask myself … why? I guess it was because I was so blind to what is so obvious to me now.

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  4. Nan, first let me say that I subbed to your blog a while back when I commented on your About page. But when I came into your blog just now it showed that I wasn’t following. I’ve run into the same issues that others have after WP made changes. I just thought that perhaps you were taking a break from writing. Zoe noted you on her blog, so here I am. Re-subbed.

    Anyway, back to your topic. This god never kept “his” end of the deal. Never did when I was a devout Christian. Crickets — I got nothing but crickets.. People want to know why ex-Christians have issues with Christianity? Your post highlights one of them. People will become so self-reflective, thinking that they must have some sin they’ve not asked forgiveness for, or just don’t cut the mustard in god’s eyes. This can lead to further “dying to yourself”. It’s mental torture. The only way to cope with the mental madness is to accept the excuse that it’s god’s will and to not lean on your own understanding.

    I’m sorry about the plight of your former friend and Zoe’s, too. So sad.

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  5. NeuroVictoria, WordPress is a great platform, but it does have its quirks. In any case, thanks for resubbing. Just an FYI — I usually only post when I come across something that “inspires” me so you probably didn’t miss much. 😉

    I too thank you for your thoughts. Carrie has already commented on FB that she’s ready to “go home.” If nothing else, I suppose Christianity does give people hope of another, better life. Of course, there’s much to be said about that, but we’ll just leave it there for now.

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    • Nan, I understand that such beliefs can have some positive benefits on death anxiety, as in the hope of heaven and seeing your loved ones someday. But it doesn’t come without negative side-effects. Studies show that the most religious — having the most religious support from their community tend to experience unnecessary suffering.

      One such study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine, showed that “high spiritual support” from religious communities were about a third as likely to receive end-of-life (EoL) hospice care, over two and half times more likely to receive some form of aggressive — and expensive — end of life care service (like being put on a ventilator or pursuing additional chemotherapy), and five times more likely to die in a hospital ICU in their last week of life.

      The study also showed that patients who self-reported the highest levels of “religious coping” during their final days were 11 times as likely to receive aggressive EoL treatments and 22 times more likely to die in the ICU compared to those with lower levels of religious coping. Also, the top five percent of such patients account for over $600 billion in health spending every year in America, with no added benefit to the patients — only more suffering.

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  6. Every now and then a coincidence happens, and people cling to it for life. “I know God is real cause that one time…”
    What about every other f-ing time?!

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  7. @ NeuroNotes, Hang on a sec. I don;t mean tio sound snarky but am I reading what you posted correctly? People who have faith are more likely to acquire a terminal disease?

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    • No — as noted above, the studies show that people with the highest religious coping tend to be given false hope by their religious community about surviving a terminal illness, therefore they undergo unnecessary suffering in the hope of being healed. During their final days they were 11 times as likely to receive aggressive end-of-life treatments and 22 times more likely to die in the ICU (as opposed to hospice care — dying at home) compared to those with lower levels of religious coping. They were also the least likely to have a Living Will.

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  8. A Christian cancer surgeon (a man who takes faith very seriously) told me that terminally ill patients who are convinced God is going to heal them, or who think God will heal them if they and their loved ones have enough faith, are miserable. They make themselves and their loved ones miserable during their last days.

    On the other hand, those who accept the hand they’ve been dealt, either because they don’t believe in God or do believe but accept that it is God’s will and God will heal them if he wants to, have much more peaceful last days.

    The dilemma for Christian faith is this. Which type of attitude is promoted by, and commended by, the Bible? It depends what verses you focus on. On the one hand there are many verses about healing and faith. On the other hand there are verses about resting, being content, and accepting God’s will. Perhaps it is not clear and/or inconsistent?

    Granted, this is anecdotal and based on one surgeon’s experience, but it is consistent with the interpretation of the study NeuroNotes mentioned.

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    • Charles, what I find interesting is that if a Christian believes he/she is going to be in heaven with Jesus (in the twinkling of an eye), with no more sorrow or suffering, why would they cling to life on Earth so aggressively? While I don’t doubt that some nonbelievers experience death anxiety in varying degrees, it seems that the most religious tend to experience death anxiety with greater intensity.

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  9. For the examples the surgeon was talking about, I don’t know if it was clinging to life so much as the angst that comes from realizing that one is not going to be healed, when one was so sure that God would heal. I got the impression that for these people it is not the love of life so much as the realization that they might have been wrong all along, and that God does not act they way they thought, and perhaps he might not even exist.

    Perhaps it is the mismatch between experience and worldview that causes the anxiety. This mismatch is more likely for a believer in a God who intervenes than for others. I suspect that many believers who have no expectation of healing do die peacefully, believing they are about to go to heaven. And i suspect that many atheists who have come to terms with mortality also die peacefully, believing that soon they won’t be around to worry about it.

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    • That’s an interesting perspective, Charles. I’ve read other research showing some very religious patients experienced intense fear towards the end of their lives. Fear that they might not make it to heaven. Fear of hell. It is of my opinion that those who aggressively cling to life in their last week may have doubts about their salvation. But according to JAMA, the unnecessary suffering these patients experienced in the last week of life were both physical and mental. I agree with you that some of these patients feel let down by their god. They may even blame themselves for not having enough faith to be healed. What a horrible way to go.

      During my deconversion I lost the fear of death. There was a peace that came after facing my mortality.

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  10. I’d love to read these studies, Victoria. Can you give me some citations? I don’t like to rely on anecdotal evidence like I presented in my previous comment.

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  11. found my way here via zoe’s blog (secular wings).

    i was raised mainline christian (methodist), but quit in late high school, and have been agnostic for about 30 years since.

    there’s only a handful of religious people that i read. one of them is richard beck, who’s a psychology prof that has a personal blog named experimental theology. he openly states his doubts, including about whether prayer works. while i disagree with his theology, i generally find what he says useful and thought provoking anyway.

    he’s had several posts about prayer, where he says that he is not sure it works, and for a long time didn’t pray at all. now he does, and his reasons are actually pretty good. they’re really about us and community, not about god.

    This Ritual of Hallowing
    http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2013/02/this-ritual-of-hallowing.html

    Why I Pray: Part 1, My Story (links to all 4 parts below)L
    http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2010/01/why-i-pray-part-1-my-story.html
    http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2010/01/why-i-pray-part-2-solidarity.html
    http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2010/01/why-i-pray-part-2-choosing-sides.html
    http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2010/01/why-i-pray-part-4-identity-and-gift.html

    and in this link, he talks about his doubts, and how to view his blog, and says: ‘From a faith perspective I’m in a post-Katrina situation.” i find it an interesting analogy.
    http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2010/09/shipwrecked-and-catchers.html

    of course, he seems to be a rarity among christians, and he certainly doesn’t fit the official creeds and dogma of any church. however, if more christians were like him, i think the world would be a wee bit better.

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