In his 2011 book God On Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer, Peter Greig gives us a short outline of why God has legitimate reasons for not answering every prayer, or not immediately or affirmatively. I have a few (helpful) comments to make on this.
1. God’s World
If God is in sovereign control of things, why does he not consistently intervene to stop evil? One reason is that if he did, the world and its human inhabitants would get worse. Do you know why? Because removing consequences for actions would make men careless and indulge all of their worst fleshly habits with no repercussions. No feedback loop.
Imagine an immature teenager who never suffered consequences. How would they most likely turn out? I hate to tell you, but all of us are like that teenager, and few have the earned character to resist following our insecure and fleshly impulses without the fear of consequences.
A world where God intervened in preventing most evil would create a race of selfish monsters.
1.2 Perhaps God has prevented the greatest evils
Sure, God has not prevented such horrors as the brutal historic conquerors, or the holocaust. But that does not mean that God has never intervened, or that he should have stopped these. The holocaust was one way that that God demonstrated the utter failure and hubris of the humanist logical positivism of the 1800’s that rejected God and trusted human intelligence and science to make a better world without God. Is that sufficient reason to allow such horrors? Bad ideas have consequences, and how else are we going to learn if there are none?
God may, however, have prevented much worse evils. For example, we have come close to nuclear war, both accidentally and purposefully a few too many times. The Cuban Missile Crisis comes to mind, where Captain Second Rank Vasili Arkhipov defied his Soviet superiors to not launch a missile. He has since been celebrated as someone who has saved humanity. 1.
There’s also the case of Stanislav Petrov, who also decided against the data and his superiors to NOT launch nuclear missiles:
When early warning systems indicated the Soviet Union was under nuclear attack by the United States, air defense officer Stanislav Petrov went by gut instinct and decided the alarm was false. It was a decision that saved the human race – and ended his career. 2
In God’s world, constant intervention would be counter productive for mankind. That’s good enough justification for not preventing even some great evils.
2. God’s Will
Often, we pray not for God’s will to be done, but our own. We want to avoid suffering, and sometimes the consequences of our actions. We want him to help us achieve our selfish ambitions, but He is more interested in our character, because true happiness comes from virtue and knowing God, the source of life and love.
When our prayers are not answered, we need to ask ourselves and God what His will is for us, not just what we may want as superficial desires or to gratify our pleasures:
You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.(James 4:2-3 NKJV)
Even Jesus himself struggled with his own will to avoid suffering and the will of God, but chose God’s will, as an example for us:
“Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Luke 22:42 NLT)
Learning to love the will of God, God himself, and others as our prime motivations takes time and maturity, and often, unanswered prayers are God’s way of asking us to grow up – to let go of meaningless goals that do not lead to happiness, and to take on heavenly values and concerns.
3. God’s War
The Bible indicates that there is an invisible war in the heavenly realms where angels and spiritual powers battle for control of mankind. In the book of Daniel, an angel explains why his prayer was so long in being answered:
He replied, “Do you know why I have come? Soon I must return to fight against the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia, and after that the spirit prince of the kingdom of Greece will come. (Daniel 10:20 NLT)
Even in the New Testament, spiritual warfare is mentioned similarly:
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12 NLT)
This is why we must persist in prayer – not because God is unwilling, but because we have to learn that we are in a spiritual battle, and unfocused, half-desired prayer grounded in worldly values won’t cut it. Demanding that we “ask, seek, and knock” means that we must
- ASK: Repeatedly ask in order to purify our motives and release superficial and worldly desires, focus our efforts, become aware of what is truly important, and realize our dependence on and cooperation with God
- SEEK; Develop the strength of character that comes with perseverance, and the perspective on how God answers prayers over time and in time, and
- KNOCK: Learn to address obstacles without abandoning our trust in God, and without turning our ears away from God in difficulty, but to listen for his instruction and comfort
Unanswered prayer and the hiddenness of God are difficult subjects. But God has (perhaps) legitimate reasons to not immediately answer prayers, or to answer them all. Peter Greig’s book attempts to give us logical, Biblical answers.
- The Man Who Prevented the Outbreak of World War III (historynewsnetwork.org) ↩
- The man who stopped World War III and sacrificed his career (rbth.com) ↩