This is a question that has been on my heart a lot recently for a few different reasons. I have prayed for many things in my life that have not been answered—some of which are theologically important to me:
Why am I me and given the inherent right that comes with being a straight, white male; opposed to all others in socially constructed minority groups by race, sex, disability or health?
And some of those prayers which are more earthly:
That my book will sell 500,000 copies because the Lord’s bridge building work within the GLBT community would be out there so much that no one could ignore it anymore,
Lord, you have trusted me in running The Marin Foundation with very few financial resources for so long, in all of which that I feel I have been a great steward of those sparse finances, that it is totally ok to start trusting me with more!
And when it comes to sexuality and same-sex attractions, why does God answer some people’s prayers and not others? I have met very few people who, when first realizing their same-sex attraction, did not pray to God to take those attractions away so as to have an easier life in a way that aligns with a traditional interpretation of Scripture. Because let’s be honest, who would choose a same-sex attraction and the potential life (celibacy or being ‘out’) that comes with it? If you think about it, when someone has a same-sex attraction, whether they act on it or not, are automatically cast as deviant to mainline Christianity. What a heavy responsibility to steward. What haunts me though is how I can just be me, do nothing to counteract my God-given characteristics and get married, have a family, and without a second thought be looked at within mainstream as acceptable before God in my inherent qualities that I did nothing to attain? It’s a question that pains me because I’ll never know the answer.
In going a step further; why does God answer some people’s prayers who seek to “overcome” their same-sex attraction and not others?
In my book I detail a story of a friend of mine who was student body president of a major evangelical university who hid his same-sex attractions for 17 years as he prayed and worked everyday for God to take those attractions away. Yet why does God answer other’s prayers for the same thing but not his, causing him to believe one of two things must be true:
1. Either there is no God because He won’t answer the one prayer he prays
2. There is a God and he’s just condemned to hell anyway because of the attractions he knows not where they came from
The problem is that evangelicals find it easy to come up with excusal answers:
“Because he didn’t pray enough…”
“Because he doesn’t have enough faith…” (this one was actually told to me by a radio host on air last week)
“Because he’s not really Christian and not praying to the God of transformation…”
You name it: I, and they, have heard it.
But I just don’t believe in those faultily constructed “releasing-of-responsibility-blood-off-my-head” excuses that do nothing other than put an even wider unemotional arm’s length gap between our conservative believe system and the gay community. Uttering and crying out to the name of El Shaddai, the Almighty and Yeshua are the same for everyone—God hears them all, all the time.
The most over utilized Christian-eze response is to the bigger question is:
“You can’t see it now but God will somehow use this unanswered prayer for good.”
Theologically correct, yes. But that doesn’t bring help or comfort one ounce when someone is in the midst of whatever they’re going through, feeling like their cries for help just slowly drift off into eternal space. In 2006 when I was receiving death threats in the mail after being attacked and lied about in the national media, my brothers and sisters in the faith kept repeating that phrase to me, almost as if it was told to me enough I’d just start to believe it despite my negatively encompassing situation; pleading with God why He would allow this to happen. There is a difference between reason and application. Just because something is rationally correct doesn’t mean its application can be implemented, easy or not, no matter how “right” it might be. Just the same, straight Christians rattle off that common phrase to GLBT folks. There is nothing worse then when your most earnest prayer is not answered, especially when it comes to life experiences that can’t ever be taken back. So how are we supposed to handle these difficult prayers that go unanswered?
I was reading Christian Theology by Millard Erickson and I came across this great explanation on p. 301-302:
“God’s transcendence over time has been likened to a person who sits on a steeple while he watches a parade. He sees all parts of the parade at the different points on the route rather than only what is going past him at the moment. He is aware of what is passing each point of the route. So God also is aware of what is happening, has happened, and will happen at each point in time, yet at any given point within time he is also conscious of the distinction between what is now occurring, what has been, and what will be…God has access to all information. So his judgments are made wisely. He sees all things in their proper perspective; thus he does not give anything a higher or lower value than it out to have. One can therefore pray confidently, knowing that God will not grant something that is not good. Even though we are not wise enough to see all of the facts, or the results to which our ideas or planned actions may lead, we can trust God to know what is best.”
Here is the Andrew Marin synthesis to that paragraph:
God is inherently good because He is a supreme being that knows all and is in all. So our unanswered prayers are not due to a lack of faith.
Not due to a wrongly formatted prayer.
Not due to God not hearing our deepest cries.
They are because God is a good steward of our faith and life as a whole, such that unanswered prayers are not a negative, but rather an opportunity to experientially continue to live out an active faith amidst and through the missing answers because God’s love for us is always best—and the best in most cases goes unanswered in the areas that we long for answers the most! Why? Because what we long for the most is usually the one thing that has taken over priority in our lives and become our identity.
This realization is what an honest, non-Western-non-consumer-non-seeker-friendly faith is all about. God never promised to answer our prayers, He promised to wholistically always give us what is best for the faith journey of our existence from day one to death bed according to what He sees best. And it brings me peace to cognitively realize that unanswered prayers cannot just be succinctly put into pop-cultured theology, but they are actually as great as those prayers that are answered because God’s best is an opportunity to live out His eternal answer in real time—in either an answered or unanswered fashion.