Unanswered prayers? Country singer Garth Brooks wrote a song about them. The faithful anguish about them. Does it mean one's faith isn't strong enough? Is an unanswered prayer a condemnation? Our clergy discuss the issue.
Sanaa Nadim, chaplain, Islamic Society, Interfaith Center at Stony Brook University:
Every prayer is answered in God's own wisdom. You might feel the benefit immediately, at a later time or in the hereafter. Nothing goes unanswered. Sickness and diseases are part of life, part of the journey.
When you pray, you pray because you have faith in God above. He has the power to create, to make destiny, for life and death. Whatever happens to us here, some of it has been written by God and some of it we cause by our own hands.
Maybe healing now is not for us. Maybe the pain you're feeling is a unique conversation with God. If you pray and healing doesn't come, there still is wisdom to be gained. God doesn't forget us. You must have faith that a blessing is coming. Is this a test of your faith? Can you trust that his wisdom is far beyond your understanding?
For those who would doubt God because of unanswered prayers, if they have not seen the maestro who created everything, I will not convince them. If they can't recognize his power in the creation of their minds, their bodies, the world around us, nothing we can say will convince them. Respect and honor their feelings, but don't burden yourself with their disbelief.
Studies have shown that people who are active in faith congregations -- it doesn't matter what religion -- tend to be happier, live longer and recover more quickly. As Christians, we pray in the spirit of Jesus, who was a healer. God, who is love, does heal. He also is a total mystery and is not to be manipulated.
What we have to understand about prayer and healing is that it happens on many different levels. It can be physical, emotional, spiritual and relational. It can happen in ways we don't anticipate. Sometimes the physical healing doesn't happen at all. Not because he doesn't hear us, but because that is not the healing we truly need.
We can't see the big picture. God sees the whole puzzle. So, you may pray for an end to pain, but what you truly need is a healed relationship with your mother. So, because of your illness, you renew that relationship. He has answered your prayers, but you may not recognize it until much later. Healing can be a long, deep process. I would never presume to put God in a box and say he does or doesn't answer all prayers. He's bigger and more complex than that.
The real purpose of prayer is to be in a relationship with God, a conversation with the holy one. If you're not carrying on that regular, even daily, conversation, you may be missing out on blessings that he would bestow upon you daily.
Rabbi Louis Diament, chaplain, Nassau County Correctional Center, East Meadow:
The question is an ancient one. Why do good people suffer? Why is there pain and sorrow? I don't have an answer. I do know that prayer helps. So, when your prayers aren't answered, it doesn't mean your faith isn't strong enough. It doesn't mean God wants you to suffer.
There is going to be pain in life. There is going to be sickness and suffering. But, by the process of praying, we are sharing our burden, lightening the anguish. You have to remember that God answers all prayers, but not always in the way we want or understand.
It reminds me of a story about a little girl whose favorite doll dropped and its leg broke. Her brother laughed at her because she prayed to God to heal the doll's leg. When he came back later and the doll's leg was still broken, he asked her if God answered her prayer. She said "Yes, he answered me. He said 'No.'"
So, even if your prayer is answered but not in the way you like, it is not a wasted prayer. You can still gain comfort and strength from the process.