On bended knee, bowing or with arms raised high, many of us pray to God for help, for success, for our side to win. But not all prayers can be answered — at least not in the way we might hope. This week’s clergy discuss the phenomenon.
Sister Helen Kearney
President, Sisters of St. Joseph, Brentwood:
When it seems as if God is not answering my prayers, I feel some disappointment. But then I am drawn to ponder what I truly believe about God. God is love — unconditional, all-inclusive and reconciling love. God has given life to all without distinction and desires that all share universally in that love. Yes, I do believe this, but when a personal request seems to fall on deaf ears, not really believing God cannot hear, I realize I did not get the response I desired. Often other voices reflect a wisdom I could not see, and I am sure God has placed them in my life. I gradually sense God’s presence in the struggle I want lifted, and I am drawn to trust and put it into God’s hands, not always easily. I have been blessed in many ways with my family, friends and congregation. At this time in my life I pray for peace in the midst of the violence in our world, an end to poverty and famine, and courage for our leaders to formulate just immigration laws. When situations are so complex, there is disappointment when the results of prayer are not evident. But here, too, I am drawn to join with others who desire the same things and I sense God is in our midst. Such huge agendas demand patience, trust in God and solidarity with those who seek to live gospel justice.
Rabbi Yakov Saacks
The Chai Center, Dix Hills
The God that does not answer one’s prayers is not a God I would believe in. This is the same response I would give to someone who says that God made him/her harm someone else. You see, for God not to answer a petitioner’s pleas would make him cruel and unjust, whereas the Book of Psalms written by King David is replete with how kind and gracious God is. In fact, if you think about it, God never charges us for the oxygen we breathe or for the water that we drink. All of life’s basic necessities are completely free. So, you may ask what happened? Why were that person’s prayers and supplications not answered? Or if our entire congregation is praying for this man, why is he is not getting any better? I believe wholeheartedly that God answers all prayers and requests. However, sometimes (perhaps even many times) the answer is not the one we had hoped for. How on earth do we really know what is the best outcome for someone when we only have seen part of the script? There is a phenomenal story in the Talmud: While the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, Moses complained to God regarding the precious children who were brutally murdered. God assured Moses that divine wisdom was involved even in such seemingly senseless deaths, but when Moses actually witnessed such a case firsthand, he implored God to save the innocent child. Moses proceeded to rescue this child. This very child, Micha, was responsible for the golden calf. The bottom line is that we don’t know God’s ways. In summation, God does answer every plea but sometimes the answer is no.
Member of the board of directors of the Multi-Faith Forum of Long Island, Melville
God is very busy. God takes care of the whole creation. There are trillions of stars, billions of galaxies and nebulas, ever expanding space, our own solar system including our tiny Earth, which is inhabited with about 7.3 billion people like you and me. Each and every entity in this creation is busy praying to almighty God. There is so much noise that even God may not understand who is asking what. God helps those who help themselves. According to the wisdom of Srimad Bhagwad Geeta, if our actions (karma) are based upon the value system (dharma), God always answers our prayers. God is wiser than we are. The only prayers not answered are the prayers that are based upon selfish thinking. In Chapter XII, verse 13, of Srimad Bhagwad Geeta, Lord Krishna commands mankind to practice and make perfect the concept of “goodwill to everyone and ill-will to none.” If our prayers are inclusive, universal and based upon the ethical standards of morality and compassion, they will almost always be answered by God. If you want your prayers to be answered by God, then you must create purity of mind, fill up your heart with compassion, empathy, selflessness and love. Always pray for the welfare of all mankind.