Why isn't God answering my prayer?
By William J. Byron, S.J.
I've read in the Bible that God is "no respecter of person" (Acts 10:34). Why, then, are some people cured of their physical problems and others are not? I've been praying for a very long time for the healing of a serious skin condition, but it is getting worse instead of better.
You are really asking two questions -- one about "respecter of persons," and the other about why some prayers go unanswered.
As to the first, let me suggest that you may find an alternative translation of the verse you cite from the Acts of the Apostles to be helpful. It is Peter speaking and he says, "I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears Him an acts rightly is acceptable to Him." God surely respects every person. Here, however, Peter is pointing out that God has no favorites.
Before the Church was established, the Jews presumed that God favored them over all other nations (the Gentiles). But Jesus, in establishing his Church, made it clear that salvation was open to all. So, given the fact that God plays no favorties, shows no partiality, why is it that some people are healed of their illnesses and others are not? In no instance does God cause the illness. But God does choose to heal in some cases and not in others.
When you raise the why not question, you're looking directly into the eye of mystery of suffering. There is no simple, direct, unambiguous answer to that question. This is not to say there is no answer, only that the answer lies in faith.
Consider the distinction between the positive and permissive will of God. God permits, but does not positively will bad things to happen -- permits suffering for some good but mysterious reason.
You say that you've been praying for a long time and you will, I hope, continue to pray for a cure. But be sure always to preface your prayer, as Jesus 9see Mark 14:6) prefaced his, "Father, all things are possible yo you. Take this cup [of suffering] away form me, but not what I will but what You will." Your prayers of petition always should be conditional, and the condition, of course, si that what you want -- a cure -- is what God wants for you.
But why would God not want you to be cured? There's the mystery. It's the mystery of suffering. In some mysterious way God can bring good out of any illness, if the person who is ill first entrusts him- or herself to God's love and consciously wills that his or her suffering be incorporated by God into the redemptive suffering of Jesus. In the Christian mystery, there is no salvation without suffering -- in all cases the suffering of Jesus, in some cases human suffering joined to the suffering of Jesus.
Reflect on the beautiful words of this prayer that you can find in the Sacramentary, the altar missal, in the Mass for the Sick:
Father, your Son accepted our sufferings to teach us the virtue of patience in human illness. Hear the prayers we offer for our sick brothers and sisters.
May all who suffer pain, illness, or disease realize that they are chosen to be saints, and know that they are joined in Christ in his suffering for the salvation of the world.
Something good for you and for this world can come out of your illness. That's what saints do -- something good for themselves and others. Pray for the faith that will make this truth a conscious reality in your life. CD