Conversations with Angie: answer to Angie on prayer
By golly, you're debating with me! LOL
You make some good points, and the points you raise are exactly why I don't find these answers very satisfying myself.
I especially think your point about lack of faith is valid. The "lack of faith" response to unanswered prayers is the least satisfying of all to me. Exactly how much faith is "the faith of a mustard seed"? And exactly what did Jesus mean by "moving mountains"? The whole thing sounds like you can accomplish quite a bit with a small amount of faith, but I've gotta be honest with you and admit that my faith in the efficacy of prayers is pretty small.
The only thing I have to say about your response to "sin in our lives" is that it seems to assume God is a machine. The output of a machine is completely predictable. A given input should produce a predictable output. But God is a person, and as a person, God must make judgment calls. Since (1) we all sin, and (2) sin can hinder our prayers, it follows that (3) God must make judgment calls about his willingness to answer prayers in spite of sins. Since his responses are a matter of judgment calls, rather than mechanistic reactions to stimuli, I don't think the "sin in our lives" answer is without some merit.
To an extent, I think we'll have to agree to disagree about the "God's sovereign will" response to unanswered prayers. While answering that "God's ways are above our ways and understanding," may not exactly be satisfying--especially when you really want to understand--I nevertheless think it's legitimate. Why should we EXPECT to know everything? Not even parents explain everything to their children. Sometimes, "Because I said so," is about all the response a kid can get out of his parents. That response may be terribly unsatisfying to the kid, but it would be hasty to assume the parent doesn't have good reasons just because the parent chooses not to explain them to the child. Often, the whole reason parents refuse to explain things to their children is because they know the explanation would simply not be understood by the child. In the same way, I think it would be hasty to assume God has no good reasons for his lack of response just because we happen not to know what they are.
Praying that God reveal his sovereign will to us doesn't solve the problem; it just postpones it. It may not be part of God's sovereign will to reveal his sovereign will to us, so that prayer would justifyably go unanswered as well.
I was talking to a friend of mine about unanswered prayers last week, and he made the point that sometimes prayers are answered, but not in the way we asked, or in our timing. Again, none of these answers are completely satifying. To be satisfying, they'd have to answer all of our questions. My whole position is that we don't need all of our questions to be answered. All we need to know is whether or not it's possible that there are good reasons for why our prayers are not answered. As long as it's possible, unanswered prayers only amount to a probablistic argument against Christianity at best.
Regarding God as our Father, I think I said something about that in a previous email. Basically, "Father" is just one role God has among many. God is also king, judge, ruler, etc. He fills all of these roles. His role as a judge may, in some cases, be inconsistent with his role as a Father. We shouldn't expect, then, for God to behave just as any earthly Father would behave.
All of this sort of leads in to the next part of your email I wanted to talk about, which is the problem of evil. Why does a loving God allow, and sometimes cause, so much suffering? Is there a contradiction between the existence of suffering in the world and the existence of an all good and powerful God? Coming soon in an email near you!
Conversations with Angie: Are God's roles inconsistent with each other?