Chapter 16 - Unanswered Prayer: Whose fault?

For those of you reading only my comments and not the book, I am going to write in detail on this chapter because I found it to be so thought-provoking. If my comments seem a bit disjointed, it's because I'm trying to cover so much territory without creating a post that is too lengthy for anyone to finish reading! : ) But I will probably fail.

Although there have been events in my life that I have not understood, I haven't spent a lot of time asking God for answers. The unanswered prayers of others less fortunate than myself have always troubled me more than my own. As I've mentioned in other posts, my mother was not healed of cancer. Yet I didn't struggle with my faith in God over that seemingly unanswered prayer. God did shake my faith in man. And I learned not to put my faith in emotional experiences as answers from God. But those were necessary and good things to come out of my grief and loss.

Whenever I have prayed for deliverance that did not immediately come, I have leaned heavily on Romans 8:28. I believe with all my heart that all things are working together for my good. Whether I can understand how, in the moment, is not relevant. God knows. In hindsight, I can always recognize where I have grown spiritually, especially in compassion for others, from things I have suffered.

However, I have not faced some of the things others close to me have faced. For instance, I have often wondered how challenging it might be for me to embrace that promise if I had been a victim of sexual abuse as a child. Worse yet, if my abuser were regarded by others all around me as a "man of God" and, over the course of my lifetime, my abuser (or his family) was protected and valued more than I, as an innocent victim. How might that skew my concept of a loving God working all things for my good?

I personally know a fairly large number of women who have suffered childhood sexual abuse. It never happened to me. But I've been close to many it has happened to and I have been witness to the impact on their adult lives. I was close to enough situations that I've observed the way it was handled by those who had the responsibility of protecting the innocent and helping in their recovery. I've witnessed with my own eyes the many times a guilty party received more protection than a victim. These injustices have been one of the major mental/spiritual struggles I have wrestled with for most of my adult years. And I wrestled with it internally long before I developed the courage to talk about it.

This subject came to my mind because Yancey touches on it under the heading, "A Threat to Faith." His first sentence begins, "Unanswered prayer poses an especially serious threat to the faith of trusting children." He goes on to describe a young girl who had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a family member daily. The adult woman recalled, "I cried out every night for God's help, to make it stop. God never answered."

In another letter Yancey received, entitled "Magic or Faith," the writer tells of his work as a grief counselor in a hospice program. "While working with death and dying," he says, "I identified the challenge to my faith that had thrown me for a loop: the inconsistent intervention of God and his people...I rebelled against an interpretation of life that had God rushing around the world answering prayers to clear away parking places for Christians tardy for appointments. I heard many of these people praying that God would magically intervene and help poor or sick people -- never sensing they might be the answer to those prayers. It seemed more a belief in magic than in God."

Yancey further explores the inconsistency problem. For example, he writes of one person's remarkable escape from an airplane crash and how he cannot help thinking about "the people who died in the same crash, many of them praying just as fervently." I remember thinking so many times when someone was testifying about how God had miraculously brought them out of an accident unharmed of another person in the same room whose loved one had perished in a similar accident and wondering to myself what they were feeling at that moment.

For many years after my mom died prematurely, I struggled with mixed feelings when someone spoke of any kind of physical healing. I accepted God's will, but it confused me. I knew of people who had received healings that seemed undeserved. My mother was a good woman, in my opinion; yet, He did not add years to her life. I don't remember ever asking, "Why, God?" I just remember accepting that this was something I wasn't intended to understand. I have since come to understand that none of us deserves God's blessings, even my mom. Nobody is that good. Only One is good and He is God.

Yancey also gives examples of two sides praying for opposing outcomes. The best is his example of the Civil War. It was God's will that prevailed, not the will of the pray-ers.

Yancey pointed out that Ulysses S. Grant was profane and often drunk. General Stonewall Jackson, on the other hand, "refused to fight on Sunday unless attacked, and held worship services for his troops. Confederate President Jefferson Davis called for Southerners to observe days of prayer, confident that 'it hath pleased Almighty God, the Sovereign Disposer of events, to protect and defend the Confederate States hitherto in their conflict with their enemies, and to be unto them a shield.'"

But President Abraham Lincoln "pointed out the incongruity of pious men fighting to preserve slavery." Lincoln stated, "It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces."

"At the time," writes Yancey, "both Northern and Southern clergy were claiming God on their side. Lincoln gently cautioned them to inquire instead whether they were on God's side." (My emphasis.)

If God answered prayers strictly on the basis of the most devout pray-ers, Yancey points out that "the armies of Robert E. Lee and not Ulysses S. Grant would have won the American Civil War. Christians would comprise a favored class who never got sick, never lost their jobs, never experienced a traffic accident. And how would that affect the Christian community, not to mention those outside it? The biblical history of Israel, Golden eras, such as the reign of Solomon, fostered pride and decadence while times of national humiliation brought about spiritual growth."

I know that God has consistently impressed upon me over the last many years that my faith needs to be in Him alone; not in answers, not in experiences, not in specific outcomes to my life's situations, and not in man. If He allows me to suffer, it's for my good. I think I have posted something in the past about this, but this seems a fitting spot to share something I wrote for our church's advent book this year. It seems to be the theme of my life, but especially this year.


And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

This verse has provided comfort and assurance during the most difficult places of my life. I remember times of trying desperately to do what was right (not necessarily succeeding), yet feeling that my efforts were mostly in vain. Occasionally, I would ask God if He even cared about my suffering. And He would always bring this scripture to my mind. I learned to hold onto it as a promise. If He was allowing me to suffer, it was for my ultimate good. That helped me to trust Him.

In the last several years, God has blessed me far beyond anything I could have anticipated or deserved. Prayers I prayed long ago have been answered in abundance, yet in much different ways than my finite mind could have envisioned. God has brought miraculous deliverance and joy to my life, but often through suffering.

It’s easy to see God’s deliverance in hindsight. It takes faith to believe in things not seen. But when my future seemed uncertain to me, it was never uncertain in the mind of God. I needed only to believe and trust in His promises. I like to imagine God looking down on me in those moments of despair, saying, “My child, you cannot fathom how much I care, or the way I will redeem your life.” God certainly had some surprises for me. One of the biggest surprises was the blessing of my husband, John. Our marriage was worth waiting – and even suffering – for.

Recently, John and I were confronted with a situation beyond our control. As I prayed, I began to put my hope in a certain outcome. God so lovingly showed me that I was putting my hope in something other than Him. And just as He has so many other times, God brought Romans 8:28 to my mind. The voice was not audible, but He gently spoke these words to my anxious heart: “Do not put your hope in a specific outcome. Put your hope in Me and in My promise to work all things for your good – even this.” It was a gentle reminder of the reality I have already experienced: God is faithful. I can trust Him.