Forty Years ago I went to pay my last respect to the house of my parishioner. In that family a young man of twenty one years old died all of a sudden. The mother of the boy deceased posed so many startling questions: “We have been very faithful to the church and my son served as an altar boy. Our family is very religious and every day we pray the Rosary and we do a lot of charity to the poor. My husband died a year ago leaving one boy and two girls as orphans. We have no means to support the family. We were struggling to meet the ends. My only son who has passed railway board examination recently and he has got an appointment order just three days ago. Next week he is to join duty. Yesterday he had fever and today he died. Why such misfortunes hit my family one after another? Why God has not heard my prayers? Is God merciless and uncaring?”
There are several people who point out that they have been praying for intentions like healing from illness, deliverance from addictions, reunion of separated couples, etc., for several years without their prayers being answered. With the Psalmist they say, “I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God” (Ps 69:3). Does it mean that they were mistaken in praying for them? Is it possible to believe in the words of Jeremiah?: “When you call upon me and pray to me, I will hear you” (Jer 29:12).
God does not simply choose to answer the prayers as they wanted. St. John of the Cross in his book ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ writes, “God now loves them in such darkness that they do not know which way to turn in their discursive imaginings”. God sometimes strips us of dependence upon exterior results to advance in our spiritual life. God may not change the circumstances of our lives immediately but he will change us in those circumstances. By not experiencing the consolation of God, we are drawn closer to experiencing the God of consolations. Hence we must learn to wait on God in times of abandonment in prayers. Besides, we must realize that he is disciplining us in the area of faith. God moulds our interior, guiding us to pray under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. “The deep calls unto deep” (Ps 42:7). The deep of our utter misery calls to the deep of God’s profound mercy. We humans are short sighted. We do not know what we are asking for. Only the Heavenly Father knows what is ultimately good for us.
Abraham prayed for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. His prayers were heard but both cities were destroyed (Gen 18:16-33; 19:23-29). Therefore, it is a mystery as to how our prayers are answered. The human mind cannot comprehend God’s response to prayer. God uses our intercessions to change the situations and people in order that His will is accomplished. Many times prayers are not answered in the way we want them to be answered. Yet we know from experience that our intercession is never in vain. God invariably answers our prayers, either ‘yes’, or ‘no’ or ‘wait’. In what manner the Lord answers our prayers is something beyond our comprehension. If Christians do not believe that God intervenes in answer to prayer, then we can surely say that they have moved very far away from Biblical Christianity. The experience of the Israelites that the Lord answers our prayers is summarized by the Psalmist in the following words: “In thee our fathers trusted; they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. To thee they cried, and were saved; in thee they trusted, and were not disappointed” (Ps 22:4-5).
Most Rev. Dr. M. Devadass Ambrose
Bishop of Thanjavur