Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?
God doesn’t always give us what we want, but there are some prayers God always says “yes” to
By Anthony Destefano
All over the world right now, people are asking the question: Why doesn't God answer me when I cry out to Him? How can we reconcile the idea of a God who says, Ask and it shall be given to you" with the fact that this same God often refuses to grant us what we desire most?
There are requests God always says no to, no matter how earnestly we pray. For example, if a person wants to embezzle money from his job or commit adultery with a coworker, God is not going to give him any assistance. (That doesn’t mean the person who wants to pursue these things won’t be successful anyway. God has given us the awesome gift of free choice, and that includes the choice to do terrible things.)
Then there are the prayers God says no to for reasons that are not so obvious. There is an old expression that says, “God gives us what we need, not what we want.” God is concerned about only our ultimate good, which boils down to whether or not we make it to heaven. When we ask God to grant us something, He says yes or no based on what He knows will happen to us in the future as a result of that decision. Will we, and the people who are affected by us, be more likely to go to heaven or not?
But if God gives us only what we need and what is good for our spiritual growth, it follows that there are certain prayers God always says yes to! All one has to do is look to the Bible, the writings of Christian theologians over the centuries, and the testimonies of thousands of people right now whose prayers are being answered. God loves to say yes to us. Not only to “small” prayers, but to big, practical, and profound ones as well.
It’s often hardest to understand why God doesn’t answer prayers that are not necessarily sinful in nature: Why didn’t God cure my mother’s cancer? Why doesn’t He get me a raise so I can pay my bills? Why doesn’t He send me a boyfriend? Why did He make my son autistic?
God’s will is inscrutable, and to a certain extent we have to accept that. But our suffering can sometimes be part of God’s plan for us. That’s why “God, please bring some good out of this bad situation” is one of the most powerful prayers in the universe — and one that God always says yes to — but it’s also one of the toughest to pray. When we’re right in the midst of suffering, it’s very hard to calmly consider all the wonderful things that might lie in store for us in the future. That’s why clichés like “Look at the bright side” can be off-putting.
And yet expressions like these don’t usually become clichés unless there is some truth to them. Somewhere along the line, human beings noticed that bad things can give way to good things or even lead to them.
At its core, the question of how to transform suffering into happiness is a religious one. Ultimately, it is God alone who has the power to bring good out of bad. Though it’s true that God doesn’t always reveal to us the reasons for the bad things that happen, He promises to get us through them. He also pledges, to those who ask Him in prayer and to those who are trying their best to do his will, that He will bring good out of every single misfortune they encounter in life; that He will somehow, in the end, turn every instance of suffering into an opportunity for greater, deeper happiness.
If you were going to memorize only one verse in Scripture, Romans 8:28 might be the one to choose, because it holds the key to this promise. If you learn it, the “slings and arrows of life” may indeed knock you down, but none will ever penetrate so deeply that you will be overcome and destroyed. The verse simply states: “All things work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” If out of the hellish darkness of the Crucifixion God brought the miraculous light of the Resurrection, He can certainly take the bad things that happen to us in our lives and bring some kind of blessing out of them.
It’s important to note, however, that although God allows plenty of bad things to happen in life, He doesn’t purposely cause them. On the contrary, God mourns with us when we are in agony. He is just like any father who feels bad when his children fall and hurt themselves.
God does not cause pain in order to force human beings to act in certain ways. At the very same time, it is 100 percent accurate to say, “Not a single sparrow falls to the ground without the permission of our heavenly Father.” This great paradox — how God can remain “in charge” and yet allow people to have free will — lies at the very crux of the problem of human suffering. We frankly don’t know how God is able to reconcile such seemingly opposed realities.
However and whyever it occurs, most Christians believe that suffering has a redemptive value. There’s a mysterious line in Saint Paul that says: “In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the suffering of Christ for the sake of his Body, the Church” (Colossians 1:24). Catholics have always interpreted that to mean that God gives us the ability to somehow “attach” our suffering to the Cross, and that all the pains we experience in life can be used by God to help build up the “Body” of his Church on Earth and in heaven. That’s why you’ll sometimes hear Catholics telling each other to “offer up” their pain to God. Not all denominations within Christianity go as far as that, but all Christians do acknowledge that God is able to connect a mystical value to our suffering that we can’t always see.
Perhaps the greatest good that can come of suffering is its potential to make a person more Christ-like. When you’re hungry or hurt or poor, for instance, you’re experiencing the very same things that God Himself did. Therefore, it’s possible to be even closer to Him and more like Him. This intimacy with the Lord can bring you a kind of joy and peace you cannot find anywhere else.
Father John Corapi of EWTN always urges his TV viewers to “be clay.” What he means by that is that people need to be sufficiently flexible in their thinking in order to be able to listen to the will of God. After all, if God is an artist and one of his objectives is to make you into a better, holier person, then it matters very much what kind of “material” you’re made of. If you’re cold, hard, and inflexible, like marble, what would God have to do in order to change you? He certainly wouldn’t be able to simply pull and stretch you gently into a different shape. He’d have to take a mallet and chisel and begin hammering at you until you finally started to assume the shape He intended for you from the beginning. To be clay, of course, means that you’d be softer, more impressionable, more open to the creative desires of God.
In a crude sort of way, the choice we have about suffering is the same choice we have when it comes to throwing out the garbage. We can either put it in the recycle bin, or we can throw it in the trash. If we pray to God, Please bring good out of this bad situation, He can take any kind of pain we give Him — even something as trivial as a toothache — and recycle it so that it actually benefits our soul in the long run.
Every one of your tears, every one of your weaknesses, every one of your humiliations, every one of your failures — every single bad thing that ever happens to you in life — can be transformed. Out of every adversity, God can produce some higher good. Out of every loss, God can find some marvelous gift to give you. Out of every death, God can bring forth new life — if only you ask Him. CD
From Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To: Divine Answers to Life’s Most Difficult Problems by Anthony DeStefano, copyright © 2007 by Anthony DeStefano. Used by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.
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Have you ever met a saint? Meet Padre Pio through the stories of those who knew him best: Tender reflections from the monks who lived with St. Pio chronicle his daily life, deep prayer habits, and incredible love for Jesus in Padre Pio: An Intimate Portrait of a Saint through the Eyes of His Friends by Kathleen Stauffer.
Also, listen to an interview with author and a discussion on Catholic Bookmarks, hosted by Frank Morock, a project of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.