Saturday, May 12, 2007

Why Prayers Are Not Answered

When my son was young, I bought a number of books about God and religion in order to try to explain my beliefs to him. Every so often, I reread these books because they're helpful to me as well. Today's quotes are from When Children Ask About God: A Guide for Parents Who Don't Always Have All the Answers, by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner. He is also the author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Independent of your religious affiliation, I believe you'll find his words helpful.

In the preface to this edition (1989), Rabbi Kushner writes, "Most of the religious problems I have helped people with in my thirty years as a rabbi have ultimately been traceable to this tendency, acquired in our childhood and never completely outgrown...'How could God let that happen? Why didn't God grant my prayer, when I offered it so sincerely?"

"There is a quip which some of my colleagues seem to appreciate more than I do: 'God always answers your prayers, but sometimes His answer is No'. This strikes me as bad theology and bad psychology to boot...

"In fact, no prayer which treats of changes in the world outside is ever really 'answered.' Only when we pray for a change within ourselves is it possible for our act of prayer to influence the results...

"Only the man (or woman) who prays about what sort of person he wants to become, the man who prays for clarity of understanding and strength of purpose, has a chance of getting a response to his prayer. He invokes not the 'Father in Heaven,' who evaluates all of his requests and stamps each of them 'Yes' or 'No," but his own better self, and if he prays sincerely, the answer may be close at hand."


jane said...

In the last paragraph where he says, "but his own better self.." Is he saying when people pray for self improvement they're summoning their inner self somehow & that is what can bring about the answered prayer?

I believe we can make a difference through prayer outside of ourselves. But I believe that happens when many people are praying for something & have the right intentions.

I think if the prayers are or aren't answered has nothing to do with god (I don't believe in "god"), I think it would be more of a collective spiritual nature.

marja said...

I'd like to make a comment on what Kushner says here. I've heard a number of Christians that totally don't agree with his theology. But I'll do that later. I want to discuss this with a friend first.

But to Jane I'd like to comment: I look on God as a collective spiritual force (the trinity), made up of God, the Creator, Jesus Christ, our Savior, and the Holy Spirit which is within everyone who believes. When you have a whole bunch of people with the Holy Spirit working within them, guiding them in what they do, that sounds a lot like the the collective spiritual nature you're talking about. Maybe our views of God are not so far apart from each other.

When these people pray, steeped in scripture and understanding the character of God, they tend to pray for the right thing.

And when a prayer isn't answered, sometimes time reveals a reason. Many times when we don't get what we ask for, something ultimately happens that shows us that there was a reason for it. How often don't we see good come out of bad?

jane said...

What I meant by "collective spiritual nature" was the unity in those praying. Regardless of what they believe in or don't believe in, and regardless of their holy book or lack thereof, I still believe their prayers collectively may be answered.

Because someone disagrees with my beliefs, I don't believe they're wrong, nor do I believe that makes my beliefs wrong. For myself, it's a very personal journey, one I doubt will ever end. :)

marja said...

Hi Jane, I'm not trying to push anything on anyone at all. (Please don't get upset with me.)Just enjoy having discussions like this. But what you say about collectively praying for the same thing - I guess that's why people who share the same faith might pray for the same thing - together.That's all I mean.

We agree Jane - on the praying as a collective group of people.

BTW, Although I'm a follower of Christ, to be perfectly honest, though I pray - I don't think my faith is as strong as it should be. I often have trouble believing my prayers will be answered. And I agree partially with Kushner that much depends on praying for ourselves to be strong enough to make what we want to bring about happen. Praying that God will be with me, strengthening me does work. Praying for him to fill me with his love and to help me share it with others works. I have the greatest faith in those kinds of prayer.

But does Kushner really believe in the God the Bible teaches us about?

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Jane and Marja,
It's an interesting discussion you're having. And perhaps part of the reason for your disagreement is that I didn't include the entire section, which is why I used ellipsis points...

I do apologize but the section was very long and I didn't realize that by my omission, I might be changing the context.

It's too long to write in the comment section, but I can email both of you the longer passages if you'd like.

What Kushner's differentiating between in these sections are prayers where we ask God for something that may or may not be possible--and prayers where we seek change within ourselves.

A personal example would be for me to pray to God to end a depressive episode. And when that doesn't happen, it doesn't mean that God has forsaken me.

What I believe Kushner is saying is that I would be better off to pray for the strength to withstand the depression or to pray for an understanding of what triggered the depression--both of which would be a change "within" that I could make happen.

And Jane, I don't think Kushner is suggesting that we can't collectively pray for change. This section doesn't really address that issue. Unfortunately, I don't have time this weekend to reread the entire book but I'll try to skim it next week to see if he addresses your point. (Should you wish to read more about his views, you can probably find his book in the library. The part I quoted from is on pages 160-161.)

Marja, although I'm Jewish, my husband is Catholic. And while he and I don't share the same faith, we do agree on many spiritual issues. After 25 years of an interfaith marriage, I believe that our faiths are less important than our values, our morals, and our personal beliefs.

But, that's just me!

Jane, welcome. I'm delighted to read your comments. Marja, happy Mother's Day!


marja said...

Happy Mother's Day to you too, Susan.

This was a neat discussion. Thanks for bringing up another topic that made us think.

JayPeeFreely said...

Very interesting comments on the subject.

I started off not baptised, then after my parent's divorce, went the way of Catholism via my mother. After seven years and baptism and conformation, I abandon the church and that doctrine.

Agnostic is the appropriate description of my belief.

Prayer. Over the years, I've had my prayers usually ignored whether they were purely selfish or in the name of others.

For those that believe and garner the results of their faith (peace, well being and positiveness), I can respect. But I'm ultimately pretty cynical of the process.

If there is an answer to things it has to be somewhere inside us. However we get that answer - we should just be thankful for a response.

jane said...

Marja, I would never ever ever think your intentions were to argue. I know you meant everything you said in love.

Susan, Thanks for explaining that & it does make much more sense.