In yesterday’s sermon I asked the congregation what they would say to a skeptic who asked them to explain why we give God credit for answering our prayers for a closer parking space at the grocery store, and then not blame Him for not answering the prayers of people in parts of Africa for rain. And, as a consequence of Him not answering their prayers with a “yes”, they have to bury their children who die of starvation vs. if He had answered our prayers with a “no” we would have only had to have walked farther to enter a grocery store. Why does God answer some seemingly trivial prayers with a “yes” and seemingly ignore more consequential prayers with a “no”.
Here is how I would respond:
First of all – any Christian who is caught up in praying for a close parking space at a grocery store is really in need of a study on the purpose of prayer. Christians are not supposed to treat prayer as if God is our genie or bell-hop who is to give us the selfish desires of our hearts to enable our laziness. So unless I totally misunderstand prayer, a person who prays for a close parking space is out of line and if they get a close parking space I do not believe it was God answering with a “yes”.
Secondly, God is not under any obligation to answer any prayers at all. We live in a fallen world. Jesus said that in this world we would have trouble (persecution from unbelievers). Romans 8 speaks of the world as groaning and in bondage to decay (bad things will happen in this sin-cursed world).
Thirdly, I do not believe God cares whether or not we get a close parking space at the grocery store. But I know He grieves over the death of children starving due to a lack of rain. I wonder if He grieves over Christians not having done enough to help those countries ravaged by drought and hunger.
One passage that sticks in my mind is in John 11 which describes the death of Lazarus. And in vs. 35 we are given the shortest verse in the Bible… “Jesus wept.” These words convey so much about the love and compassion of God. The word for “wept” could be translated, “burst into tears.”
This is not God in the flesh playing at being human. These were not fake tears. This is the real and living Word of God – the revealer of who God is. I believe this tells us to get rid of our high and dry images of God in our minds – a God with no emotions and unmoved by the sufferings of people. This is telling us that the God of heaven cares. In Isaiah 53:4 we read this prophecy about Jesus: “Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…” Doesn’t it help you to know when you grieve – God is not just sitting on His throne stoically unmoved. He cares. He is moved by our grief. Jesus carried our sorrows and He still carries them with us today.