Elephant in the Room: The Mystery of Unanswered Prayer

September 2, 2007 — Leave a comment

At the point of crisis, we usually  don’t engage in deep theological reflection.  But later – after the unexpainable suffering, we silently and maybe even outloud, begin to question how this prayer business works.  Peter Grieg, who’s wife died very young, begins his excellent and honest book by pointing to Jesus:

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is wrestling for His life, in prayer.  The location is significant: “Gethsemane” literally means “the Oil Press,” and for Jesus it has become a place of intense pressure – spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  When life threatens to crush us, we too may wrestle in prayer.  If God is our loving Abba, Father, for whom everything is possible, why – we may wonder – does He not just remove the cup of suffering?  Does He really care?  Is He really there?  I don’t know the shape of your unanswered prayers – we each arrive in Gethsemane by different paths – but here’s how it happened to me… (God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer) Gerald Sitzer had a similar experience seeing his wife, He wrote A Grace Disguised, and later When God Doesn’t Answer Your Prayer.   You can read an excerpt from a Christianity Today article hereFinally for an edgier resource, I point you to a poem by Scott Cairns, a Christian writer and professor from Missouri called Possible Answers To Prayer, that touches on some of the ways God puts up with our less than pure prayers.

Your petitions—though they continue to bear

just the one signature—have been duly recorded.

Your anxieties—despite their constant,  

relatively narrow scope and inadvertent

entertainment value—nonetheless serve

to bring your person vividly to mind.  

Your repentance—all but obscured beneath

a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more

conspicuous resentment—is sufficient.  

Your intermittent concern for the sick,

the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes

recognizable to me, if not to them.  

Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly

righteous indignation toward the many

whose habits and sympathies offend you—  


these must burn away before you’ll apprehend

how near I am, with what fervor I adore

precisely these, the several who rouse your passions.

(For other Scott Cairns poems – see this Poetry Foundations link from which the above is taken.)


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