>The Question of Unanswered Prayer


My wife and I have been grieving with our church family over a tragedy that’s been developing for the last 31 days. We prayed and prayed for a healing, and a miracle, but it was just not to be. God prolonged life, but in the end chose to take it. In the eleventh hour, when the situation was at a critical stage, I found myself uttering over and over again, “Oh God, have mercy. Save this life.” I wanted so badly for God to intervene, and for all intents and purposes, it made sense to me that he should. Alas, he didn’t.

I’ve lately re-enrolled myself in the school of prayer, and God has been showing me new things about the way he wants me to come to him in prayer. To simply ask like a little child – repeatedly, unabashedly, boldly – and so I have been. It’s been amazing to see the way God has answered my prayers for me and for others, but this time, I’m confused. Why didn’t God answer? Why didn’t he work? Didn’t he say ask for anything in my name?

I’m left feeling disappointed and saddened, but not angry. I haven’t given up on prayer. Last night, I was reading Alister McGrath’s short book on the Apostle’s Creed, and he said that God always will gives us what we ask or ought to ask for. He is a loving Father to us. I can’t understand how taking this life is the more loving thing to do, but then I recognize my own limitations in being able to see every permutation and possibility. There are plenty of times where my son, Calvin, wants something that just isn’t good for him at the time, and so I say no. I may even remove it from him. He doesn’t understand. He gets downright upset, but in the end I know what is best for him (at least at this stage). He won’t know the reasons, but he’ll have to trust me.

In that sense, I’ve had to rework some of my own thoughts of God as a Father to me (and to my friends who are grieving). Perhaps it’s best to say that God is fathering us in the present tense. His isn’t just a fatherly role, it is an active presence, an intentional and deliberate course of conduct by which God is bringing what is best for us (namely Himself). God is fathering me in the midst of my own disappointment, calling me to trust him, to seek him, and to grieve over a world that is not as it should be. God is fathering my friends showing that no matter how deep the sorrow, his presence can bring steadfastness and peace. God is fathering my church showing us how to get along in real and tangible ways. He is teaching us what it means to be true siblings when the sun is shining or when the valley is too deep.

Perhaps this is the next class in the school of prayer, perhaps it’s just part of the larger curriculum of life. Either way, I choose to grieve looking to my father who is present, and who always does what is best, not just when I want it.

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