Unanswered Prayer

Unanswered Prayer ( for additional information relating to this topic see “The Hiddeness of God” below.)

 

Of all the ideas in Christianity, this is perhaps the most troubling. Why does God not answer prayers?

There is no easy to this question. We are given many reasons in the Scriptures why prayers may be hindered, which generally relate to the quality of ones personal life (ie, someone with an active and unrepentant sinful life can expect to have his prayers ignored). Sometimes we pray selfishly, sometimes we pray irreverently; these and any number of other factors can affect our prayers.

Sometimes though, we don’t. Sometimes we pray for the healing of a loved one, or we pray for a friend in a tough spot in life, or we pray for any number of legitimate, honorable things.

Our greatest example in all things is Christ, who prayed this way:

Matthew 26:39

 “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

 

The key, I think, is in His last sentence. Christ prayed to not suffer, but He ended with the giving up of His own wants, legitimate as they were. This is the truth of the matter: prayer ultimately needs to be about what God wants, not what we want.

Perhaps our perception of prayer is slightly skewed, though. Perhaps we forget that prayer isn’t necessarily a genie in a bottle guaranteed to work, even if there are legitimate things we are praying for. As painful as it may be, maybe there are even overriding reasons for a certain prayer to not be granted.

I think it’s important to remember the difference between granting, hearing and answering prayers. ALL prayers are heard. That is a fact. ALL (this is my opinion) prayers are answered. However, all prayers are not granted, in that the petition we make is given to us in the exact way we word it.

This doesn’t make the reality of having a loved one in a painful condition suffer in spite of prayer any easier to bear, but it does give an answer to the question, even if it is a tough answer.

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The Thought of Saint Anselm of Canterbury – Part I

This will be the first in a series of posts reflecting on the contribution to Western though by Saint Anselm of Canterbury; this post will focus on the Ontological Argument.

What is the Ontological argument in its original form?

Therefore, Lord, who grant understanding to faith, grant me that, in so far as you know it beneficial, I understand that you are as we believe and you are that which we believe. Now we believe that you are something than which nothing greater can be imagined.

Then is there no such nature, since the fool has said in his heart: God is not? But certainly this same fool, when he hears this very thing that I am saying – something than which nothing greater can be imagined – understands what he hears; and what he understands is in his understanding, even if he does not understand that it is. For it is one thing for a thing to be in the understanding and another to understand that a thing is.

For when a painter imagines beforehand what he is going to make, he has in his undertanding what he has not yet made but he does not yet understand that it is. But when he has already painted it, he both has in his understanding what he has already painted and understands that it is.
Therefore even the fool is bound to agree that there is at least in the understanding something than which nothing greater can be imagined, because when he hears this he understands it, and whatever is understood is in the understanding.

And certainly that than which a greater cannot be imagined cannot be in the understanding alone. For if it is at least in the understanding alone, it can be imagined to be in reality too, which is greater. Therefore if that than which a greater cannot be imagined is in the understanding alone, that very thing than which a greater cannot be imagined is something than which a greater can be imagined. But certainly this cannot be. There exists, therefore, beyond doubt something than which a greater cannot be imagined, both in the understanding and in reality. (Proslogium, Saint Anselm)

The basic ideal at the heart of Anselm’s argument is this: if something exists in thought, then it must exist in reality. We can conceive of God; therefore He exists.  A being that is totally perfect would have complete existence in every reality including our own; since we can conceive of such a being, it therefore exists in every possible world and as such exists in our actual world.

The obvious weakness here is a simple one: does that mean anything that one can conceive of is out there, existing, somewhere? Anselm would say no, that his argument applies only to such beings as no greater can be conceived; therefore thinking of such things as cars, islands or whatnot aren’t simply wrong, they misunderstand the argument. All these examples do not need absolute perfection to exist; God, however, by definition, does and therefore this argument applies and works only when used for God.

How, then, does the argument hold up? Critics from Thomas Aquinas (who argued that only God could know God’s essence completely, therefore only God could use the ontological argument to prove it to Himself)) to David Hume’s objection:

[T]here is an evident absurdity in pretending to demonstrate a matter of fact, or to prove it by any argumentsa priori. Nothing is demonstrable, unless the contrary implies a contradiction. Nothing, that is distinctly conceivable, implies a contradiction. Whatever we conceive as existent, we can also conceive as non-existent. There is no being, therefore, whose non-existence implies a contradiction. Consequently there is no being, whose existence is demonstrable.

…to Kant (who objected to being being a predicate to existence) have all rejected it in it’s original form; however, other modes of the argument that are much tight and more valid continue to provoke thought and criticism to this day.

The next posts will deal specifically with various criticisms of the argument as well as newer versions.

Various other forms of the argument include Alvin Plantingas Modal argument: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Plantinga#Modal_ontological_argument

And variousother revisionists: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontological_argument#Revisionists

 

 

Summer Reading List

Currently being regularly read by this author during this summer are the following:

Miracles -C.S. Lewis

http://www.amazon.com/Miracles-C-S-Lewis/dp/0060653019/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1311205246&sr=1-1

John Wesley’s Theology Today – Collin W. Williams

http://www.amazon.com/Wesleys-Theology-Today-Colin-Williams/dp/068720531X/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1311205259&sr=1-2

The Imitation of Christ -Thomas a Kempis

http://www.amazon.com/Imitation-Christ-Vintage-Spiritual-Classics/dp/0375700188/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1311205273&sr=1-3

Renew My Heart – John Wesley devotional

http://www.amazon.com/Renew-My-Heart-Classic-Insights/dp/1616263490/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1311205295&sr=1-1

I Want to Live These Days with You – A Dietrich Bonhoeffer devotional

http://www.amazon.com/Want-Live-These-Days-You/dp/0664231489/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1311205311&sr=1-1

God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism – Abraham Joshua Heschel

http://www.amazon.com/God-Search-Man-Philosophy-Judaism/dp/0374513317/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1311205325&sr=1-1

Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes –

                        Main Points:

  • (a)Futility of life without God.
  • (b)Philosophical/existential/nihilistic struggles/questions with life.
  • (c)Fullness of life with God.

                                                         

 

 

(a), (b) We can see that the Teacher (traditionally Solomon) has had a life of extreme pleasure that ultimately lead to emptiness:

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11

“I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. 2 I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” 3 I  searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. 4 I made great works. I  built houses and planted vineyards for myself. 5 I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. 6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. 8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the children of man.9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

 

After the Teacher realizes how worthless temporary pleasures are, he turns to the study of wisdom, only to come to the same nihilistic conclusion:

Ecc. 2: 16-17

16 “For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! 17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.”

 

He quickly comes to the same conclusion about toil:

Ecc. 2:18-20

18 “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun…”

Obviously the questions asked here are the same asked today; “Why do anything? Does anything matter? I’m going to die anyways, so who cares?” These are real questions, and the beauty of Ecclesiastes is the unashamed tone used to ask them. The Teacher is not interested in feel-good philosophy; this man wants answers, and he can’t find them by his own reasoning.

It is only after 2 more chapters of nihilistic philosophizing over all aspects of life that the theme of the book changes and becomes a call to stand in awe of God, though the somber tone of the book still hasn’t changed.  It isn’t until chapter 7 that the book takes on the proverbial style Solomon was known for, which is followed by another command to obey the king or authority of the land.  Then, almost as if in a flash of insight, there is this note:

Ecc. 8:16-17

16”When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, 17 then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.”

It is after this insight, that man cannot ever fully comprehend what God does or thinks, that the tone of the book changes. Suddenly, the Teacher realizes that God is in complete control, and begins to exhort his son to remember the Creator as well as expounding on the greatness of wisdom when a few chapters book, wisdom was just as meaningless as folly. Also interesting to note is the command to respect earthly authority directly after this revelation; the Teacher really had a full 180 degree turn in his thinking here.

(c) – Fullness of Life with God.

 

The conclusion the teacher reaches, though not at first blush, is that without a right relationship with God, everything is literally folly, worthless and ultimately meaningless. Pleasure, toil, wisdom all amount to nothing more than a waste of time without God; however, when the relationship with God is right and when it’s seen that God is ultimately in control, the world is seen completely differently as evidenced by the teachers remarkable insight at the end of chapter 8.

The Hiddenness of God

 

 

The Hiddenness  of God –

 

 

 

Psalm 10:1

1”Why, LORD, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

Psalm 13: 1-3

 1 “How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death…”

“Jesus said that my bread is to do the will of my father. I’m all the time being asked by people “How do you feel closer to God?” And I kinda wanna say…I don’t know. When I read the lives of most of the great saints I get the sense that they didn’t necessarily feel close to God. When I read the Psalms I get the feeling like David and the other psalmists felt quite far away form God for most of the time. Closeness to God is not about feeling. Closeness to God is about obedience. It’s just as simple as that…I don’t know how you feel closer to God, and no one I know who seems to be close to God knows anything about those feelings either. I know if we obey, occasionally the feeling follows, but not always, but occasionally. I know if we disobey we don’t have a shot at it.”
-Rich Mullins

God’s hiddeness is a common motif throughout Scripture and church history; as evidenced by the above quote many great men and women of God spent more time feeling far away from God than feeling close to Him. Job spent the majority of his book crying out to God to reveal himself. There is no easy explanation for why God chooses to hide His obvious presence, and for the very vast majority there is no explanation at all. There are, however, a few facts which bring a sort of understanding to the issue.

  • Closeness to God is not about feeling.
  • Oftentimes when we feel the farthest from God we are most centrally in His will.
  • How close we feel to God often depends (though is not conditional to) on us and how we interact with Him. A relationship requires effort on both part, and it is partly on us to make effort to be close to God.
  • God’s silence and hiddeness is not the same as His absence. It is a faulty assumption that because we cannot perceive Him that He is not there.
  • God will withdraw to test us as He sees fit. This is the case with many notable figures in Christian history.
  • If one’s private life is not a reflection of the Christian life, it is to be expected that the feeling of God’s presence would not be felt. One cannot live in unrepentant sin and expect God to turn a blind eye.

These factors do not necessarily make it any easier to go through any ordeal while not having an obvious presence of God in the midst of it. There is no real answer I can give as to why God hides Himself. The above factors, however, are real reasons that must be considered.

The big questions remain mostly unanswered, but perhaps slightly contextualized and explained. No one can say exactly why God appears to be absent in hard situations. But this much we can be sure of: while it may seem that God is absent, He is not. He is always present, and no situation is outside His knowledge or not under His control.

As referenced with Job, he cried out for an audience with God…and he got it. He had to demand, to get in God’s face, to plead, to cry, to be totally broken and totally beaten down…but he got his audience with God, because he was willing to be real and to seek, to knock, and to ask.

James 4:2 (KJV)
“Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.”

Matthew 7:8 (KJV)
“For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”

The relational factor must not be forgotten. It requires effort (asking, seeking, knocking on the door) on our part to draw near to God, and this involves periods of seeming-absence, often for reasons we cannot understand. But for our part we must be sure to pursue God as He pursues us.

“When Jesus felt the most forsaken by God on the cross, He was in the very center of the Father’s will.”
-Ravi Zacharias