We’ve all had the experience of unanswered prayers. Sometimes they’re petty requests, and other times they can be quite important, but at one time or another, we’ve all prayed for things that we didn’t end up getting. And why is that? If God is all-powerful and all-loving, why doesn’t he always give us the things we ask for? Well, sometimes the answer is pretty simple. Like I said before, we often ask for petty things, and like any good parent, God isn’t going to spoil us by giving us every little thing we ask for. That’s just bad parenting.
However, that answer doesn’t go far enough. It’s easy to see why God refuses some requests, but like I also said, we sometimes ask for things that are genuinely important too. For example, we may ask for things that we or our loved ones truly need, and sometimes we even ask God to save people’s lives. What could be more important than that? Yet even in these instances, God doesn’t always do what we ask, and these cases are a lot harder to understand. While we can easily see why a good parent doesn’t give their kids every little thing they ask for, we also know that good parents do give their kids everything they genuinely need (at least as much as they can), so why doesn’t God do the same?
A Kid and a Lacrosse Stick
I would suggest that the reason is actually the same in both the easy cases and the hard ones. To explain what I mean, let me tell you a story. When I was in about fourth or fifth grade, I really wanted a lacrosse stick. I didn’t actually play the sport, nor did I want to. I just wanted a lacrosse stick. See, a lot of my classmates played, and they would bring in their sticks every day to play with at recess, so being the impressionable little boy I was, I wanted one too.
Naturally, my parents refused. They knew that since I didn’t actually play lacrosse, there was no reason for me to get a lacrosse stick. They understood that by giving me anything and everything I wanted, they would be spoiling me and instilling in me a selfish lack of self-control. In other words, they saw the bigger picture. They knew that there was something more important than what I wanted at the moment, so for the sake of that bigger picture, they had to say no to my request.
Our Limited Perspective
Now, it’s easy for us to look at that story and say that children don’t see the bigger picture but we adults do. It’s easy to think that we understand what’s really important in life. However, I would suggest that compared to God, we’re still a lot like children no matter how old and wise we may be. Yes, we can see the bigger picture that children can’t, but we still can’t see the biggest picture, the one that God sees.
Our perspective tends to be limited to this life and things that pertain to it, but that’s not God’s perspective. His biggest concern is that we get to heaven. Yes, he cares about our earthly lives too, but he knows that there’s something even more important. He sometimes has to refuse our requests for earthly things so he can get us and those we love to our ultimate destination.
And sometimes we just don’t see that. Very often, we simply don’t even consider this perspective. Like children who don’t look beyond their immediate desires, we often don’t look beyond this temporary life to our eternal destiny. We simply want our earthly lives to work out, and we don’t even think about what will happen to us after we die. Yes, we see more of the picture than children do, but that doesn’t mean we see all of it. Even though our perspective is bigger than that of a child, it’s often still just as blind to the greater goods that lie beyond it.
Not as Smart as We Think
Moreover, sometimes we aren’t even capable of seeing the bigger picture that God sees. Even if we understand the importance of getting to heaven, we can’t always see how God’s decisions serve that greater purpose. Sometimes, just like children who can’t understand why their parents won’t give them everything they want, we’re simply incapable of understanding God’s reasons.
And that shouldn’t surprise us. We humans like to think we’re pretty smart, but in reality, our intellects are very limited. There’s a lot that we can’t understand, and if we think otherwise, we’re simply fooling ourselves. We don’t know it all, so we couldn’t possibly fathom all the reasons why an all-knowing, infinitely wise God does what he does, including why he sometimes doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want him to.
All we can do is trust him like little children who have to trust that their parents know what’s best. Granted, it’s really, really hard to do that when we have no idea why he’s doing certain things or allowing certain things to happen. Having a child-like trust in God can be the hardest thing in the world sometimes, but there is one thing that can give us confidence that this trust is well-placed: God loves us so much that he willingly underwent one of the most excruciatingly painful forms of execution ever devised by mankind.
He put his money where his mouth is and showed us that he really does love us and want what’s best for us. Since he proved his love 2,000 years ago, it’s a pretty safe bet that he still has our best interests at heart today, so we have every reason to trust him even when we can’t understand how certain things he does (or doesn’t do) will help us and our loved ones reach our ultimate goal.
At the end of the day, it’s all about getting us and our loved ones to heaven. That’s the purpose behind everything he does, including when he doesn’t answer our prayers. Sometimes we can understand his reasons by changing our perspective to align more closely with his, and other times we just have to trust that he knows what he’s doing. Either way, the key to understanding unanswered prayers is to recognize that we’re meant for so much more than this world can offer, so much more than we can even imagine, and God intends to get us to our ultimate destination even if he has to drag us there kicking and screaming.