It is common for all of us to have to struggle as to the great mystery of God’s providence and will. If it is not our own struggle then we must often commiserate with others who are in distress. One person is losing her young daughter to cancer, a friend is struggling to find work, still another has a husband who is drinking. Some will say to me, “I’ve been praying, Father. Nothing seems to happen.”  I am not always sure what to say and God doesn’t often explain why we must suffer, or why he delays, or why he says, “No.”

Just think of how he answered Job. Job wanted answers as to why he was suffering. And God spoke from the whirlwind and upbraided Job with provocative questions meant to humble him. But in the end he gave him no real answer. He DID restore Job though. And somehow in the midst of God’s mysterious ways we DO have to remember that if we are faithful God is going to more than restore us one day. But in the midst of trials, future restoration seems pretty theoretical.

So, often in the midst of trials, the best we can do is to be still. To breathe, to sigh and yearn, and to weep with those who weep.  Scripture says, The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD (Lam 3:25).

Scripture does give some answers as to God’s delay and to his “No.” And while these explanations may not always emotionally satisfy us, they do provide a teaching which can ultimately assist us in not allowing our sorrow, anger or disappointment to interact with our pride and lead us away from faith. Let’s look at a few of these explanations as to God’s “No” and his delay. Some of these explanations pertain to God and some to us.  I place the word “sometimes” before most of these since they do not all apply to all of us, all the time.

1. Sometimes, “No”  is the Best Answer –  We often think we know what is best for us. We want to have this job, or we want that person to fall in love and marry us. We want to be delivered from a certain illness or receive a financial blessing. We see these as good outcomes and are sure that God must also see them this way. But God may not, in fact agree with our assessment as to what is best for us. And thus his “No” is really the best answer to our prayers.

For example we may always prefer that God answer our prayer that none of our children be born with any disabilities. But God may see that the experience of disability may be just the thing that we or the child may need in order to be  saved ultimately. St. Paul prayed for deliverance from some sort of physical affliction: Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me,  “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:7-10).

The fact is, we really don’t know what is best for us or for someone else. We may think we know, but we do not. God’s “No” to Paul helped to save him for it helped him better understand the power of the cross in his life and how we must learn to depend on God. So too for us. We may prefer certain outcomes, but God alone really knows if our preference is truly good for us or just apparently good.

2. God is love – Many confuse love with kindness. Kindness is a common attribute of love but it is not the same as love. Any parent knows that they must often times discipline their children, and that it is the loving thing to do. A parent who is always kind and never punishes, spoils that child and does not exhibit true love. Parents will sometimes inflict pain on a child by limiting their freedom and insisting that they do what is right. They will bring an unwilling child to the doctor for shots, they will insist that they finish their homework before play. They may give a firm “no” to certain requests that they know are harmful or interfere with greater duties. Kindness always wants to say yes, but love sometimes says no and even inflicts hardships where necessary.

God is a Father. Kindness has its place but love is more essential for us than mere kindness which is but an attribute of love. Scripture says, My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son….God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:5-6, 11).  And Again: Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus….Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this (2 Tim 2:3,7)

3. Sometimes our request cannot be affirmed without violating another’s freedom- It is a common thing that we may pray for the conversion of another person. Or we may pray that they make some decision that we prefer. God is all powerful and could force outcomes, but this would violate the freedom of others to truly decide. If freedom is contingent upon God’s whim then it is not really freedom. God can exhort through his Church and the Scriptures. He can send special graces to be of influence, but in the end, we are free and he will not generally force an individual to choose what we want or ask in prayer. The scriptures affirm our freedom. For example: There are set before you fire and water; to which ever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, which ever he chooses shall be given him (Sirach 15:16-17).

4. Sometimes our request cannot be granted due to the harm it might cause to others- We can sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that we are the most important things on God’s agenda. We want a sunny day for our picnic but the farmers are in desperate need of rain. Whose need is more important? It would seem that the farmers might be a bit higher on God’s list than my picnic, however, even this, I leave up to God.

The prophet Jonah went reluctantly to the Ninevites to preach. And he didn’t want them to be converted. He want them to refuse repentance and be destroyed within 40 days. He had good reasons to want this. The Ninevites (Assyrians) were amassing an army that was a great threat to Israel and if they were destroyed Israel would be spared any further threat. But the Ninevites DID repent. And Jonah was sullen and bitter. God rebuked him with these words: Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?(Jonah 4:9) We may not be praying for another’s harm but it may sometimes be the case that what we ask for would adversely affect others.

5. Sometimes our faith is not strong enough – Jesus said: “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:22) And the Book of James says, But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; (James 1:6-7)  There is also the sad fact of Nazareth where the Lord could work few miracles so much did their lack of faith disturb him (Matt 13:58)

6. Sometimes we ask for improper things or with wrong motives – The Book of James says : “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures

7. Sometimes unrepented sin sets up a barrier between us and God so that our prayer is blocked –  “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities (sins) have separated you from God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2).

8. Sometimes we have not been generous with the requests and needs of others – “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13)  

9. Sometimes God cannot trust us with blessings for we are not conformed to his word or trustworthy with lesser things – If you remain in me and my word remains in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you” (John 15:7) and Again: So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? (Lk 16:11-12)

 In this video a pastor and his cat explain suffering and the mind of God.

 
This Song says that some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.
>

22 Responses

  1. Vijaya says:

    You bring me to tears. How can I be so terribly mistaken and shallow that I’m guilty of every point you’ve made? I have slowly begun to accept suffering that occurs without any reason as part of God’s plan. I do not understand, but I am thankful …

  2. Sharron says:

    Before my dad died I prayed for the sinners, those in religious life, the aborted and their mothers, all those who died that day, etc. After he died and he was remembered much more often in my prayers and I came to realize all those others were real people too. I still have the same prayer intentions, but they seem more intense as I am more aware of their human connection to me.

  3. Karen says:

    I once prayed very hard for something I desperately wanted. I got it, and it was a disaster. So bad, in fact, that I stopped praying for myself for several years, out of fear that I might get something else I wanted … I have since learned to always add “if it be Your will” to anything I ask for, and to understand and accept any miniscule sufferings as a backdrop of contrast for my many blessings.

  4. Dismas says:

    I don’t hope to presently ever fully understand trial and suffering, but something that helps me be more open, accepting and resigned is to reflect on the the Seven Sorrows of Mary. The mystery of my trials and suffering have become easier to accept and to even be grateful for when I reflect on the trials and suffering of Mary. She was conceived without sin, yet her’s are much greater, I hope, than mine will ever be. The Seven Sorrows have often reminded me that I can never grow in grace or virtue without acceptance of God’s will in trial and suffering.

  5. Carl says:

    I think Paul does a good job of telling us what to do with suffering in Col 1:24.

  6. Murithier says:

    Thanks a lot for the nice article. How do we really tell what God’s will is? Is it what we want, or is it necessarily something else that seems harder and probably we do not like? Does this apply to vocation too?

  7. susanna says:

    Thanks for another great lesson and videos. I also think its a good idea to add “but Thy will be done” to prayers for one’s self.

    Murithier, this helped me – St. Teresa of Jesus said “the important thing is not to think much, but to love much; do then whatever most arouses you to love.”

  8. Michael (NZ) says:

    Monsignor,

    I have developed a great reverence for your articles. I now include them in my studies, which I hope will equip me to attend a RCIA programme more effectively. Thank you for this article as well. It has provided food for thought around my own affliction – which at times sends me onto the brink of depression. May the Lord be with you.

  9. Doctor Victoria A. Howard, Anchoress says:

    I have suffered tremendously because of mental illness. But at the time of my baptism I had asked the Lord for some affliction which would bring me closer to him, so he chose to make my life a Via Dolorosa. Now I suffer not from the illness so much as the prejudice of others against it. Mental Illness carries a stigma and while in hospitals I had my teeth punched out, I was beaten and spat upon, I was humiliated and insulted, the nurses lost my dentures and I was sexually molested. All these sufferings have made me like Christ. I have great intimacy with God because I have given everything to him and decided to live the life of a penitent. I am simple and sometimes stupid and unmannerly, but then so where Jesus’ first disciples. I have few friends and no job except writing, and my books are not selling. But I have hope for the future. I pray that I can escape the temptations of many to get married and break my vows. People are constantly trying to make me sin, and I must refuse. But I have not lost a battle yet, and the war won’t end till my death. For me, my suffering is exciting and thrilling because it is my own Passion. I would have it no other way.

  10. Cynthia BC says:

    I think it will be a long time before my daughter is convinced that “no” is the best answer. ;)

  11. Dan Buckley says:

    I was once very grieved over a situation and asked God why He let it happen. I understood Him to say, “Because I love you.” “What kind of love is this?” I asked. And I understood Him to say, “How are you, with a finite mind going to understand My infinite love? Understanding isn’t what you’re very good at. Why don’t you try trusting my love instead of demanding to understand it?” I could answer only, “Pleae help me.” And now that the pain has long ago subsided, I have begun to see how His love was at work throughout it all, not only for me, but for others that I love so dearly. My most constant prayer is, “Jesus, I trust in You; help my trust to grow. Have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

  12. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    While growing up the sixth child in a family of eight kids, I found that my now long deceased father’s answer most often given to our request was “no”. We sure do miss that man and it was a great suffering for us all upon his passing. Life’s been a passion play for pretty much for everyone I know and we all seem wealthy for it in the things that really matter. It’s a fortune we can take with us when this worldy struggle is all over and stii leave something behind as an inheritance for those we leave behind to carry on.

  13. Laura R. says:

    A timely and helpful post, Monsignor, thank you.

  14. Peter Wolczuk says:

    There is one question which was asked of us which, to the best of my knowledge, was never answered. I can only suspect that it was to make us take a an honest look at ourselves and our motives. Do two wrongs make a right?

  15. Luther Tompkins says:

    You have free will. So does everyone else.

    Drag that thought out every so often and spend some time cogitating upon it, okay?

    In addition to free will, God, for no extra charge, also provides Change. It is a great constant, and you can ALWAYS count upon it to happen. Never mind “why”, simply count on it.

    God, in his Grace and Infinite Wisdom knew YOU for billions of years before you were born. Yeah — YOU. He knew your family lines, your physical and mental make-up, He knew the story of your life before you lived it. He also knows how things in your life will end.

    BUT … it IS your life. Nobody else’s, just totally and uniquely yours. And you got it for nothing, as a Gift of Love. No contracts, no strings, no “have-to’s”.

    WHY?!?!?! For heaven’s sakes, WHY?!?!? You, with the Gift of Life, have been afforded the opportunity, through entirely your own efforts or lack thereof, to come to the realization that,

    1) There IS a God.

    2) God does indeed LOVE you.

    3) He loves you a LOT, ’cause He sent His OWN kid to save your raggedy bottom,

    4)He’s given you scads, wads, shiploads, and unenumerable signs, hints, messages, people, writings, and everything else He could think of to let YOU know that He’s there, and that it’s REALLY worth it to discover Him, and to love Him with all your heart, bar none, because He IS the absolute BEST guy you’d ever want to meet.

    And yet … YOU, through His gift (and it is a mighty fine gift) of free will are allowed to make ALL of your own choices throughout your entire life. You like this, you don’t like that, this tastes good, that doesn’t, you like this person, don’t like that one, and on, and on, and on.

    It is strictly up to YOU to search out, look for, be aware of, and simply KNOW that God exists, and once you discover that little tidbit, to simply Love Him with all ya got.

    Nothin’ TO it, right?

    Wellllll……….I can tell ya this: Once you find Him, you never quit looking for Him. Ride the changes, never doubt His love for you, and carry on.

    Get past the foofaraw, and the Catholic Church is the ONLY entity that ever got it right.

    I’d guess there’s a reason for that, don’tcha think???

    Farmer jes’ told ya, and Farmer don’t lie. (About this stuff, anyway……) :-)

    • Charenton says:

      Luther, it all sounds so nice, but how much free will do you have if you go to hell for lack of belief?

      I didn’t ask to be born.

      God sometimes seems like a sadomasochist.

  16. Mary says:

    Yep, was a protestant for 30 years and have heard it all before. The article reminds me a lot of Charle’s Stanley’s book on prayer . He’s a southern Baptist.

    God often says “no” and there is a great amount of suffering involved. It isn’t always like in the book of Job where everything is wonderfully restored at the end, at least in this life anyway.

    What’s more we may not “understand” why God says no, or neatly fit into one of the nice “categories” for unanswered prayer.

  17. Liz says:

    SOMETIMES when God doesn’t seem to want to answer our prayer requests, it is easy to think…I must have done something to get God mad at me. Even if, generally, everything else in life is going ok. It’s logical, I think, to know that if GOD abandoned me; he would do so in total…not just half way. My life would be A MESS and I wouldn’t know how to proceed. (for instance, in seeking employment)

    If I get interviews, if I can do something GOOD for another (without seeking acknowledgment) if I can pray
    at all… God is STILL with me. I couldn’t pray if GOD were not there. God says NO to some things, and
    at least for me, I think the NO says…you’re not looking where I want you to look. You aren’t going where I want you to go with the talents I gave you.

    A ‘NO’ … is only a delay…while God continues to ready me.

    Look at the story of the apostles…they finished spreading the message in one place, came back to Jesus,
    and asked where now… His reply was COME AWAY AND REST AWHILE… that was a NO …that was readily
    accepted. Sometimes GOD knows we need to rest; and get REFRESHED in HIM again. So if I’m not working,
    and all is pretty well … it’s a pretty safe conclusion…GOD ‘set it all up’ … so REST was possible

  18. janet says:

    Help with what I believe to be a paradox. I know we are to pray with “thy will be done.” But if that is the case, how can we ever pray with no “doubt”. In leaving it to God’s will, a level of uncertainty naturally exists. We may believe His will will be the best thing for us that is sure. But how can we ever pray assuredly for anything if we are to pray “Thy will be done”.

    This always seems to trip me upin my prayers.

    Thanks.

Leave a Reply