Straight Answers to Honest Questions
by Arden C. Autry, Ph.D.
Question: We teach our children that Jesus is our protector, and we often pray for his protection over family members and others we know and love. But if Jesus answers our prayers, why didn’t he answer the prayers which must have been prayed by some victims of crime, plane crashes, wars, and natural disasters? If their prayers apparently were not answered, what confidence can we teach our children to have?
Answer: You said God had “apparently” not answered. Someone who prayed for protection on the highway and then was killed or seriously injured obviously did not receive the kind of protection they had in mind when they prayed. But that doesn’t mean the prayer wasn’t answered. God could have answered the prayer in ways that were better than we could imagine.
Now that answer may be too abstract to expect your six-year-old to understand. Even sixty-year-olds have trouble with unexplainable tragedies. But the Bible teaches us that God created a good world. And the Bible assures us his good will is bound to win eventually, which is good for us, provided we say ‘yes’ to his will. In the meantime, however, there’s lots of pain in the world because creation is corrupted by sin.
The pervasive corruption of creation is why people do bad things to others and to themselves, and that’s why bad things happen in the world. Bad things happen to people who do not pray and sometimes to people who do pray. Regular and sincere prayer can keep us out of lots of trouble, and probably saves us from many things we never even saw, heard, or had an anxious thought about. But regular and sincere prayer won’t keep all bad things from happening to you and to people you love, because we live in a world that needs to be healed. (See Romans 8:20-22.)
Another way to approach your question is to ask: Why do we pray? There are more purposes for prayer than we can discuss now. But let’s admit at least this much: God has his purposes for prayer, and we have ours. Sometimes our purposes reflect God’s; sometimes they don’t. Do we pray just to keep ourselves comfortable (safe, healthy, well-fed, with no anxieties)? Or do we also pray for God’s will to happen in our world?
It’s not either/or. We should pray for God’s protection and provision. But the reason we do that is not simply to make life easy for us. We pray for those things because we see our vulnerability, our weakness, and our need. And we ask for those things as an expression of our trust in God’s goodness and his interest in our lives.
We pray to put ourselves under God’s hand, to entrust ourselves to our loving heavenly Father (see Matt.6:28-34). Our faith in God’s love and power is not a “magic” formula for getting everything to go our way. Our faith is trusting that God will care for us no matter what happens. We pray for God’s protection and provision to keep ourselves aligned with his good intentions, that is, to keep ourselves aligned with his kingdom.
That’s why, in “the Lord’s prayer” (Matt. 6:9-13) Jesus taught us to pray for the Father’s reputation, his kingdom, and his will before we pray for our needs! He definitely wants us to pray for provision and protection, but only after we have prayed for God’s larger purposes first (Matt. 6:33).
Praying for God’s will includes praying for your safety and provision, because Jesus taught us that these things are the Father’s will for us. And even when times are bad, and bad things have happened, God’s will for us is still good. His good will guarantees our eternity of joy and fulfillment—that’s what the resurrection of Jesus shows us! That’s the faith we confess when the pastor declares, “God is good!” What do we answer? “All the time!”
You’re invited to submit your question to Dr. Arden Autry, Minister of Adult Learning, First United Methodist Church, Tulsa, firstname.lastname@example.org.