Why Doesn’t God Answer Every Prayer?

73aI love South Park. It’s irreverent, funny, bawdy and, every now then, you’ll see pretty good social commentary. But, one thing I never expected to find was decent theology. That changed when I watched the episode “Are You There, God? It’s me, Jesus“, which satirizes young adult fiction, puberty, religion, Rod Stewart, God and Jesus. In other words, a typical South Park episode.

It would take too long to explain it all here, but if you want a synopsis of the show, click on the link in the first paragraph. What matters most is that it’s 1999 and people are losing their minds because it’s the end of the millennium. Pissed because God isn’t coming back like they hoped, a mob intends to crucify Jesus all over again (FYI, Jesus lives in South Park). In the midst of all this chaos, Stan asks Jesus why God hates him, saying that he prays to God every day, but never gets an answer. Jesus replies:

 “God can’t just answer every prayer and suddenly give you everything you want. That takes all the living out of life”….  “If God answered all our prayers, there’d be nothing left for us to do ourselves. Life is about problems and overcoming those problems. If God fixed everything for us, there’d be no point to our existence.” (Here’s a link to the clip, since I can’t embed it)

Not bad for a couple of irreverent smart asses, huh?

Of course, some prayers get answered and we don’t realize it because they’re not answered in the way we expect. A good example of that happened after I was diagnosed with colon cancer back in 2007. In case you hadn’t heard, chemotherapy sucks big time ass and this first course of treatment was particularly rough. Honestly, I’ve never felt so miserable in my entire life. I didn’t feel like that all the time, but when I did, I prayed…, a lot. I  begged God for help and asked why I had to go through all this, but there were no amazing epiphanies and no winged angels came down and blessed me. At the time, I felt my pleas went unanswered. Later, I realized that wasn’t true, that my prayers were answered. My family and friends took care of me and made sure my needs were met. My father, who had just finished a rough bout of chemo himself, gave me the emotional support I needed to keep going. They may not have had wings, but they were most definitely angels.

Prayer is a funny thing and I’m don’t think I’ll ever understand it. Sometimes, prayers are answered, sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes, we get exactly what we ask for and others, what we end up with isn’t even close to what we wanted. Often, the mere act of praying itself is enough. Talk about inconsistent. It’s one of those mystical things about being a Christian that simultaneously attracts and infuriates me. On one hand, I love the idea that there are still some things that are bigger than my understanding. On the other, I positively hate not knowing. The trick is learning to live in that tension. And, it’s not easy.