Answered or Unanswered Prayers

My wrestling with God is no secret. I have been raw, honest, and real about my struggles, difficulties, and frustration with Him.

There are times when I have been highly confident and secure in my relationship with God.

But these days, I am all over the proverbial map.

I seem stuck in a place I can’t escape from–and God? I believe He is my Father. I believe His Son died for me. I believe the Holy Spirit works in believer’s lives.

I believe all that.
I do.
I am really not trying to convince myself or you of those beliefs.

I just can’t quite let go of my struggle to understand God more.
I just can’t.

I am not a deist. I don’t believe God created the universe, wound it up, and then took a step back to watch what happens.

At the same time, I have a strong need to understand how or why God answers some prayers and others He doesn’t.

But before you tell me God always answers prayers with a yes, not, or wait… I understand what you are saying. On the other hand, put yourself in my place for just a second–I wouldn’t ever want you to really be where I have been. Imagine praying and asking God to keep your family safe from harm–to protect them from people who would want to do them grave physical harm… Can you imagine that? Probably you have done the very thing yourself.

Now imagine something far worse than your worse nightmare taking place. (When we were in the criminal justice system waiting for justice, I always imagined a confrontation would take place one day before a court trial occurred. In my mind it was all verbal–some yelling and jousting…) Of course, you know what ultimately happened. I wish I could be completely honest about where all the ripples have taken us. I wish I could tell you what our very real struggles still are. I suspect you would be in shock all over again.

So it happened. It was bad. It’s still a waking walking nightmare.

How do you view God? Can you imagine a God who would say no to keeping your family safe? Or is it easier to believe somehow, someway that that particular prayer went unanswered?

Thus my need to understand God’s nature more better as we like to say down here.
More better.

In graduate school, I did a paper on the nature of Hell. One of the things I discovered was this: the doctrine of hell is based more on the literary piece known as Dante’s Inferno than any clear Biblical texts.

I wrestled hard with hell. I looked at the major theories. I researched, wrote, and wrote some more. In the end, I felt pretty comfortable with seeing hell differently than I had in the past. In the conclusion of the paper, I hedged my bets though and said something like this: Whatever form hell takes, I don’t want to be there.

I have no intention of ever finding out firsthand about eternity in hell.

Hell on earth? That’s another story.
Been there.
Done that.
Tired of wearing the T-Shirt.

Ultimately, whether I understand the shape, form, and fashion of hell correctly or not (or even heaven as well) isn’t all that important.

But understanding God? Understanding how He works? Those are questions worthy of my struggle.

I know heaven is in my future. I just want a piece of it here.

By the way, if you would like a copy of my paper on The Nature of Hell, send me a quick message through the contact page and it is yours free of charge–to read, line your bird cage, or to clean up with after your new puppy!


Les Ferguson, Jr.

32 thoughts on “Answered or Unanswered Prayers

  1. Hi, Les. I just want to see if I understand the struggle: Either God doesn’t answer prayers or He said “no” to your request to keep your family safe. Is that kind of the bottom line?

    • not quite, Rachel. Of course He answers prayers. I know He does. But you can’t have it both ways. If there is no such thing as an unanswered prayer, then God must say no at times, correct? Personally, I’d rather believe that sometimes God does not answer. Because I am not sure how to feel abuot the no answer I may have gotten.

  2. Les – I would indeed like to have a copy of that paper – believe it or not. We love to read and study about Heaven but no one really wants to try to study Hell. I think it is harder for non-believers or doubters to take in Hell than Heaven. Eternal reward? Sure. Eternal punishment? That’s just cruel! Come to think of it…we believers have trouble with that. So it becomes easier to just ignore it…make it less significant…which is probably exactly what Satan is hoping for.

    Yep, it goes right here with the unanswered prayers…things I just don’t understand. The question of your unanswered prayers have haunted me since that terrible day too.

  3. While I am not in your shoes or share your feelings on the matter, I can certainly understand where you are and how you got there.

    Just out of curiosity, I’m going to throw out a theological term. Where are you with God’s omniscience? I am guessing that is one of the big wrestling matches between you and God.

  4. I too still wrestle with God daily. I love him with every ounce of being in me bit I too ask why my son had to die when I watched other kids the same age with the same cancer get the same meds and they lived?? What did my innocent son do to deserve to die. I know you ask the same questions. I dont know the answers….i wish I did.i love God part of the day and despise him the next. No parent should have to decorate a grave instead of a house for holidays or birthdays. People ask me all the time how can I continue to be a Christian…how can I continue to go to church….how can I continue to pray when God took my son?! The only answer I can give is I want to my son again someday and Faith is what tells me that will happen. I wish I didnt understand your pain but I do. Hugs and Blessings my friend..
    PS…I would love a copy of your paper

  5. I guess I’m about 45 years (I’m 60) into a lifelong struggle with the whole issue of prayer. To say God answers with “Yes” … “No” … or “Not now” is, in my opinion, such a simplistic view to this vast mystery of prayer. For the most part, all of my questions regarding prayer remain unanswered. I’ve even prayed about it. I guess the answer was one of the above!

    Re: Hell. Have you read Edward Fudge’s book, “The Fire That Consumes?” I heard him lecture on it at Pepperdine a few years ago. Three hours of lecture. Hundreds of passages of Scripture and he never once opened his Bible. I’m no Bible scholar but his argument was convincing enough that it completely changed my view of hell, from the philosophical view to the Biblical view.

    I’d like to read your paper.

  6. I haven’t dealt with murder, but terror is familiar on other fronts. That being said, my wont has been, especially after horror was introduced, not to pray that me and mine be kept safe, or that the current crisis is solved in our favor. I have learned to pray for strength, to always feel the presence of God, to have the faith and grace to get through whatever by coming out the other side still believing and in that perhaps having the privilege of encouraging others. I don’t think God actively works in what happens to or around us. To do so, he would have to manipulate evil, to disallow the free choice of others. Jesus seemed to stick just asking for God’s will to be done, to keep strong and united, and for the bare necessities. He was full of praise and thanksgiving. So that’s what I try to do these days. I do believe he never leaves my side, that he is tough enough to take my rants and railing. I believe that it’s not a sin to cry “help me in my unbelief” and mean it. And I believe it is God who carries me though whatever happens. Like a parent rocking a hurt, or angry or terrified child, he holds me near. That’s been a comfort to me. Maybe fashioning my prayers to fit the way I think I see God working in my life is a cop out. But since I will not believe I am deserted, that God doesn’t care, well, it works for me.

    Disclaimer: I write only of my experiences and thoughts that have grown from MY life. YMMV and most probably does.

  7. Seems like this is a piece of the same pie that you have been slicing Les. 🙂

    At the core of your question about prayer is the idea that God’s people are special and should be treated differently than other people when we ask Him to protect us. Of course history tells us that these kinds of “prayers” are often not answered – if that is even a valid way to frame the issue of prayer.

    The broader question is what prayer really is and what the purpose of prayer is. I suggest that we can read the Lord’s prayer with a focus on our needs (daily bread) and our protection (deliver us from evil) or we can see those verses a bit differently. Perhaps our daily bread and deliverance from evil is more representative of spiritual feeding and spiritual protection? Hard to say?

    That said, it would be hard to read that prayer and not understand that prayer is mostly about praise (hallowing His name), God’s will, God’s kingdom, forgiveness and God’s leading.

    All that said Les, I have to admit that I struggle in ways similar to you. I can think about alternate explanations but thinking is not really my problem. Maybe the prayer I most need to pray is one that asks God to heal my broken heart?

    Have a great weekend!

    Blessings, Bob

    • Bob, it is some of the same pie. This is a big part of my failure to understand. I spent years seeing God as my Father/ protector, etc. And as far as prayer, I always thought I could take anything to God in prayer. After all, Just a Little Talk With Jesus Makes It Right. And maybe your prayer request is the one I need most–for God to heal my broken heart–

  8. And I’d love to read your thoughts about hell Les. To me the issue of the afterlife is a bit dicey because some explanations hinge on the Greek idea that all people are born immortal and most explanations do not factor in the idea that time will probably not exist after we die. In other words, people may not possess anything spiritual when they are born and must have a spiritual birth to survive death. That said, I am certainly not dogmatic (as some are) about afterlife issues.

  9. We talk about God leading Israel into Egypt after first sending Joseph ahead of them to save them from the famine. We also talk about God delivering Israel out of Egypt after they had become slaves there. What we don’t often discuss is the generations of Israel that were born into slavery in Egypt and died in slavery in Egypt, crying out to God for rescue with either “no answer” or a “no” answer between those other two more frequented stories. Sucks to be them really.

    I would never voluntarily sign up to be the Israelites in the middle (I guess I’m no good at the “take up your cross and follow” yet), but they served as important of a role in Israel’s history and the incarnation of Jesus as the others.

    Somehow, from within the struggle and the same questions you point out, that means something to me… though, I’m not exactly sure what.

    Love you dad.

  10. I have had these same feelings and questions since my son was killed in a car crash. I prayed for his safety and for safe travel, and instead, he died. I despise being in a church prayer group when someone prays for travel mercies out loud. I think “what is the point”?

  11. I would like to read your thoughts on hell, as well. I too often wonder if He doesn’t answer prayer instead of saying no. As you pointed out… what of the people who pray for a cure, pray for healing, for delivery, for safety….. Did He say no or did he just not answer…. I don’t know if we will ever know that….

    What I do find in your writings, Les, is that your focus is on knowing God better. You talk about your faith, you pray, you obviously study….. how many Christians are putting in as much time with their Lord as you?

    Please…. I am no elevating you to some pedestal and throwing the rest of us off…. your desire is to know Him more which will ultimately tighten that relationship…. how many of the rest of us are searching to know His attributes like that?

    God is using your writing in so many ways, Les. There are times it is healing, there are times I feel like I’ve been there, too in other circumstances…. and today… well today it’s conviction.

    You are my brother, through our Lord …. and I am thankful for your honesty…. Love you.

  12. Ever since I was a little girl I was so scared of losing a loved one in an accident, so much so that I slept in my parents room when they were out for the night so I could answer the phone if something happened. First I worried about my parents, then as I grew up and married, it was my husband I worried about and then my children when they started driving. God heard these prayers all those years, I know He did. Two months before my 50th birthday, I lost my 22 year old son in a car accident. I could be angry at God for making my life long fear a reality but I never was. From the beginning I felt that God didn’t take my child, my child’s choices took his life. He was driving while tired and fell asleep at the wheel, he didn’t buckle in and probably would have survived had he buckled. I felt that God held out his arms and recieved my child, saved him from pain and suffering.
    I believe death is caused by choices. In the case of murder it was caused by choices made by the murderer. In sickness, some are caused by choices such as poor diet and lack of exersise and others is caused by envirement, such as cancer. I don’t believe for a moment that God turns His back on us when we pray for healing and yet lose our loved one. I believe that God doesn’t promise us an easy painless life but He does promise us that through the hardest and most painful times in life, He is with us and we will be ok. Being OK doesn’t always mean we will come out of it alive, but those who don’t will be living in everlasting life and how much more OK can you be then that? Those left behind to live this earthly life still have pain and sadness ahead of us but we know that God is there with us and we will be OK.

    • Shari, thanks for your most comforting words. I am trying to hold on to that, but there are days it is very hard! I am so sorry for your loss. It sucks, doesn’t it?

      • It really does suck for us and that is the part I am angry at. I watch his daughter who is now 6 (3 when he died) want her daddy so bad she is wanting to go find one at the mall and wish it wasn’t this way. We talk a lot on how it isn’t fair but life isn’t fair and we just have to remember God is with us and we will be ok. I owe a lot of my faith to her. When he died, she was 3 and the things she said was amazing. We are sure her daddy was telling her what to say to us. I had her with me when we got the news and I had to break it to her. Her reaction when I told her that daddy had an accident and went to live in heaven with Jesus was a simple “Ok” I said “that means we won’t get to hug him or play with him anymore” and she again said “ok” She let all that sink in and she told me “Grandma, I know why you are sad, my daddy died. I’m not sad, know why? Because I know him and it will be ok, we will get to see him again when we go live with Jesus” I was floored to hear this, you see we were out of town when we got the news and I told her as we headed home. No one else could have told her this and how would a 3 year old know this if it wasn’t a message from her daddy. 3 days after he died she said “grandma, know how daddy looked when he died?” I asked “how?” and she held her arms out to the sky like a child reaching for their mother, with a look of peace on her face. Again, how would a 3 year old come up with this if not shown? It tells me that God recieved him, not took him. A few months later she told me that her daddy talks to her when everyone is asleep and the house is quiet.

        • My youngest was five when we lost his mother and brother. He said some pretty eerie stuff to us as well. I wish I had written it all down at the time, but I was barely functioning–if that’s what you want to call it!

  13. Les, I am not a theologian and I have not suffered the kind of loss that you have suffered. So first let me say how sincerely sorry I am for your losses. I don’t know if I could have endured your losses.

    But that said, I have suffered loss. I lost my beautiful, healthy, and vibrant 21 year old son to a particularly virulent form of sarcoma. It was not easy to watch. He lost the use of his right leg (paralysis) and was constantly writhing in pain as the tumor pressed on the nerves in his back. By the time he was diagnosed it had spread to his liver and lungs. We literally had people around the world praying for his healing. Every time we got news it was bad news. I read over and over the healing stories in the Bible, most particularly Mark 1:40-42, where Jesus looks down upon the man that pleads, “If you want to heal me, you can!” and Jesus looks down on him with compassion and says “I do want to!” and he is healed immediately. I struggled before my son’s death over and over and over with WHY Jesus wouldn’t want to heal my son when I was begging and pleading. Where was His compassion for my son?

    I even just begged that Jesus would give me the pain to give my son relief. I can remember going out in the backyard and screaming at the sky, “What’s the matter, don’t you love us!? Don’t you care that he is suffering so much?! Do you hear me at all?”

    I also prayed that if God was not going heal my son that he would be taken to Heaven and spared the horrific pain. I later learned that my son also prayed in that way. So God did answer those prayers. But it wasn’t the prayer(s) I wanted answered…I mean I did but I didn’t…

    I have for the most part finally made peace with that prayer being answered rather than the compassionate healing here on earth. I would be lying if there still weren’t times I didn’t ask God earnestly why He didn’t heal my son in the here and now. Especially when I see healing prayers answered around me. Not that I would wish anyone else any harm and only pray the best for others…

    God did use Grief Share to help me heal. And I know there is one particular session where one of the videos offers a father’s testimony of why God didn’t answer his prayers for safety for his daughter. She was hit by a car and killed at age 5. He states that later he came to the knowledge that God did answer that prayer. He relates that his daughter is safer now than she ever was here on this earth and he takes comfort in that. I take comfort in knowing that my son is safe in Heaven and that he knows no pain, he can walk and run again and he has no more tears.

    Definitely not preaching at you but just acknowledging that grief is a hard, unwelcome house guess that you can’t expel easily. My prayers are with you and your family. May God bless and heal you.

    • Wow! Thank you for sharing your story Mary. I so agree with you – the grieving process may be one of the most difficult times in a persons life. My sister died in January and I am just now able to experience joy again.

      • Kansas Bob, I am sorry for your loss! Sad that not a lot of people acknowledge loss of a sibling as a devastating loss. I think that can be overlooked, when many times you spend more time with your siblings in closer relationship than with your parents. May God’s grace and peace be with you and you have my prayers as well.

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