OBJECTION: "Unanswered Prayer Proves God Doesn't Exist"
Right away there is a logical flaw to this objection. The flaw is known as a non-sequitur. That’s a fancy way to say that it doesn’t follow logically. Let’s grant the skeptic his claim that God doesn’t answer prayers. Even if that is true, we should ask the question, “How is it then that you conclude that He doesn’t exist?”
It could be that God just ignores prayer requests. Or He could be an obstinate God who just wants to reject every request. How does it then follow that He doesn’t exist? In fact, He would have to exist in order to ignore or reject those prayer requests. So, the non-sequitur is that the conclusion “doesn’t follow” from the premise.
During my days in Children’s Ministry, I would like to ask kids, “Does God answer every prayer?” Inevitably, the answer would always come back as no. To which I would respond, “Well, God answers every single one of my prayers.” To the looks of bewilderment before me, I would extend my hand and say, “Let me show you…Lord, my prayer is that You would put a $20 bill in my hand right now.” After my hand remained empty, I would say, “Well, once again, the Lord has answered my prayer. The answer this time was no.”
As a class, we concluded that God could’ve answered my prayer – of course He could – He’s all-powerful. He could’ve made a $20 bill appear in my hand instantly. He chose not to. So, an acceptable answer to our prayer requests is simply an answer of no. In fact, He answers every prayer with a yes, no, or wait.
If you are a parent, do you give your child everything that they ask for? I hope not. That is a sure-fire way to create a spoiled child who will grow into a self-entitled adult.
So, you tell your kids no to certain requests. Why? Because you know better than they do. And when you say no, there are times that they don’t like it, or they struggle to understand why. But hopefully, they are willing to trust you in the midst of their disappointment and confusion.
Similarly, God has His reasons for sometimes saying no. We may not like it, and we may not always comprehend why, but we should be willing to acknowledge that He knows more than we do, and we can trust His infinite wisdom over our own finite and often flawed understanding.
God says, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
What if God answered yes to every prayer request? For one, I don’t even think that’s possible. Inevitably, He would receive contradictory requests that couldn’t all be answered in the affirmative, logically speaking. Moreover, answering yes to every request would result in complete chaos – something that the movie Bruce Almighty highlights. See the clip here.
However, the believer still may struggle with his/her prayers not being answered in the way he/she would like. This is actually something that the Bible does address. What can hinder our prayers? Unconfessed sin.
Once again, let’s visit the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 59:1,2, the Lord said, Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your wrongdoings have caused a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.
Therefore, the call here is for us to repent so that our prayers won’t be hindered. Then, we can say with the Psalmist, If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear; but God has heard; He has given attention to the sound of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer nor His favor from me. Psalm 66:18-20
Sometimes we simply don’t know why God answers our prayers in the way He does. The Apostle Paul certainly had to deal with this during his earthly life.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul said that he had been afflicted by what he called “a thorn in the flesh” and had prayed three times for God to deliver him from it.
Many a theologian has speculated as to what the “thorn in the flesh” was, but in the final analysis, it’s irrelevant. (Personally, I think the Scriptures leave it ambiguous intentionally.) What’s important to remember about that text is what God says in regard to his denial of the request for deliverance, [The Lord] has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9a.
We see another case of unanswered prayer in Romans 1. In verse 13, the Apostle Paul said, “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.” Paul prayed that God would allow him to go to Rome, but up to that point God had said no.
In Acts 28, we have a record of God answering Paul’s request. The Apostle Paul finally does arrive in Rome, but he gets there in chains as a prisoner. That leads me to my last point.
Sometimes God answers our prayers with a yes, but that answered prayer doesn’t always come in the way we originally anticipated.
A Personal Testimony
Allow me to provide for you a real life personal example. Three weeks ago, my son Nathan, had a very serious brain surgery called a hemispherotomy. After the surgery he was unable to talk. As the days passed by, I prayed to the Lord for my son to begin speaking again.
Day after day, the Lord answered my prayer and that answer was no.
I have been praying and so have many other faithful friends and family. One such person was the grandmother of Nathan’s best friend, Tobin.
She shared this with me: “The Lord kept pressing upon my heart that if Tobin would just be allowed to visit Nate, that would help him.”
A few days ago, Nate had a new speech therapist. Her name was Margaret Tobin. I pointed that out to Nate and said, “Look! Her last name is Tobin.” When I said that, it looked like he wanted to say the name. The next thing I know, as clear as a bell, I heard him say, "Tobin!" That was the first word I heard from him in more than two weeks! Then the flood gates opened! He said: dad, mom, Anthony, macaroni and cheese, and on and on! It was a beautiful moment!
It reminded me that there are times when the Lord does answer our prayers, but He does so in His timing, and sometimes in a very unexpected way.