Conversations with Angie: Biblical reasons for unanswered prayers, part 2
Praying according to God's will is, I think, probably the major reason prayers don't get answered, but it's still not very satisfying to me. There are two senses in which a thing can be "according to God's will." There's the moral sense and the sovereign sense.
God's moral will consists of his moral requirements. In that sense, prayers such as, "God, would you please send me a prostitute?" are probably not going to be answered. Likewise, prayers such as, "God, I know I shouldn't have done what I did, but would you please help me to avoid the consequences?" may not be answered, because reaping what we sow is part of God's design for the universe. There are some cases that God will cut you some slack, but we shouldn't expect it in situations like that. God disciplines those he loves. I can speak from personal experience when I say that reaping what you sow can straighten out your lifestyle, as painful a process as that may be.
It's a little more tricky with God's sovereign will. God's sovereign will is basically what God has determined to do, and his will can't be thwarted. God has a master plan for the universe that is, for the most part, hidden from us. If God is enacting some kind of master plan, and our prayers are inconsistent with that plan, then obviously, they're not going to be answered. The unsatisfying thing about praying according to God's will is that we don't always know what God's will is. In Romans, Paul says that when we don't know what to pray for, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Often, it's impossible for us to know the long-term consequences of things, and we just have to trust God's sovereignty. That, I think, is why appeals to the hidden soveriegn will of God as a response to unanswered prayers are unsatisfying. It just seems inconcievable that God would be silent in our desparate times of need, especially when we can't think of any good reason for his failure to act.
Let me give you a Biblical example that may illustrate my point. You remember the story about how Joseph's brothers threw him in a well, then sold him into slavery, all because they were jealous of him? Well, I imagine in a situation like that Joseph was probably praying. "God, please don't let me be sold into slavery. Just let me make it back home to dad, and I'll never wear this coat of many colours again." Now I don't know what was going through Joseph's head at the time, but it doesn't seem unreasonable that he might've prayed something like that. Maybe he didn't, but even if he did, God probably would not have answered that prayer. The reason is because God allowing Joseph to be sold into slavery was all part of a larger master plan that nobody could've forseen. In the end of that story, when Joseph is second in command in Egypt, and his brothers realize who he is, they were begging for forgiveness. Joseph said to them, "You meant this for evil, but God meant it for good." Joseph being sold into slavery was all part of a big plan to deal with an upcoming famine, and save a lot of lives. Of course that raises other obvious questions like, "Well couldn't God have just prevented the famine?" Sure, but before we can start coming up with alternative plans for God, we have to first know the WHOLE picture. Otherwise, how do we know where the famine fits into it?
to be continued...
Conversations with Angie: Biblical reasons for unanswered prayers, part 3