The Problem of Unanswered Prayer

Stephen Marsh Mormon 77 Comments

A large problem some people have is unanswered prayer.  I got to thinking about it again when Jen was writing about someone she knew and how they complained (and probably believed) that their efforts had not resulted in answers, yet Jen knew, from knowing her, things that were the real problem.

So why do we have unanswered prayers?

The question is easy to ask, but the facile answers often distract us from find the real answers.  At the same time, the facile answers are often true.  In addition, while my study of twelve step groups did not yield much of use in in grief recovery, it did give me a great deal of thought about the nature of God and prayer.

After all, most people come to twelve step programs because of unanswered prayers.  Otherwise, the addiction that plagued them would not have driven them to a twelve step group, prayer would have resolved it.  Yet, the key to a twelve step program is reliance on a power greater than yourself — basically on answered prayers.  Such groups have well developed understandings of why prayers are not answered, and then they are.

  1. Lack of essential honesty.  Jen’s comment was about someone who lacked an essential honesty about what they were doing, coupled with a lack of insight.  Many in twelve step groups feel that the only true barrier is a lack of honesty (since twelve step programs work for atheists who are honest — including those who remain atheists).
  2. Looking in the wrong place for God.  In spite of an incredibly amorphous definition of a Higher Power, people fail in twelve step programs when they do not deal with God as a power greater than themselves that can do for them what they can not do for themselves.
  3. Lack of a will to accept.  If you are not willing to accept God and change, that will block answers.
  4. Lack of willingness to repent (or make amends in twelve step parlance). Those who refuse to make amends, fail to succeed.
  5. Lack of willingness to “act as if.”  There is something similar that goes on in missions when an elder can feel the Spirit bear witness to those he is teaching, yet complains that the Spirit has not born witness to them. Pointing out that they had been there as the Spirit bore witness was often enough for them to realize the break in their thinking, but some insist on God taking a step past in answer before they treat it as a “real” answer or witness.
  6. Failure to put out sufficient effort.  Prayer and answers to it are a process of attunement and receptiveness.  Most of those who read Jen’s comment would have seen it as her frustration with someone who wasn’t willing to put out enough effort, though I’ve focused on the lack of the person’s honesty as to what they were doing.
  7. Lack of the right effort.
  8. Lack of patience.
  9. Lack of recognition when God has answered.  “I pray, I feel calm and assured and reassured, but when will God answer me?”

Now, are there other reasons?  Surely.  Could I have written more on the reasons I’ve noted? [Hint, that is what the comment section is for.]  But people who have dealt with those in doubt or who are complaining will have seen those nine reasons so often that it is easy for them to start looking for which one applies rather than to conclude that a failure to obtain a basic answer (cf Moroni 10:3-5) is caused by something else.

Which causes frustration for those seeking answers, as well as for those dealing with seekers who have not received answers.  Most people seeking an answer are not pleased to be referred to a point, or points, on that list.  Most people responding to those who claim not to get answers are frustrated that those with questions are not more open to being diagnosed “by the book.”

Is there a way past that problem?  Are there standard problems on the list of points I have missed (after all, I started with insights from twelve step programs, shouldn’t my list have twelve points?)?  Are there details I should have answered?  Are there prayers to which we should not expect answers?

I’d like your comments and thoughts.

Comments

comments

Comments 77

  1. I would assert that God answers all prayers.

    The thing that we don’t want to accept is that the answer to 99.9% of all of our prayer requests isn’t just NO, it’s Hell No !!

    I find that I have a much higher rate of granted prayer requests when I pray on behalf of someone else.
    I have a very poor track record, for the most part, in receiving granted requests for things I pray for that would benefit myself.

    By the Way, How ’bout those winning Lotto numbers?

  2. Yes Kim, and often we get answers to something else than what we thought we were praying about. I had a friend who complained to me that he kept praying about an issue that bothered him and he kept getting back the message that he should go back to the Church — but that wasn’t what he was praying about.

    I do like the country song “Thank God for Unanswered Prayers.”

  3. I like the way Kathleen Flake frames the idea of going to God in prayer. She speaks of a creative process of imagination that we pursue while in prayer. As we seek the spirit in such a negotiation we are changed, and therefore perhaps the struggle of receiving a non-answer, or a not-good-enough-yet answer are part of this process by which we open ourselves up to God and enter a greater level of intimacy with God.

  4. I think you bring up some good points, and I think that sometimes we do miss answers, look beyond the mark, etc. etc.

    However, if God exists, then communicating with him, and/or receiving an answer means there is some external entity (outside my own self) influencing me in some way. If that’s the case (and I don’t see how you can believe in the Mormon version of God and have that NOT be the case) then why are all the answers a reflection on the individual?

    This is the one problem I have with lists like this. They are all pointed back at the individual. This provides an uber-easy recipe for diagnosing people who don’t believe, have problems, or otherwise don’t get answers – it’s that person’s fault no matter how you slice it (which you alluded to)!! I’m not sure I can accept that type of logic. Furthermore, if we don’t admit the possibility that God just “didn’t answer” sometimes, it feels like we cheapen the notion of God and prayer altogether. Perhaps sometimes He loves us enough NOT to answer.

    I’m reminded of a good friend that my mother had. My mother has suffered with depression her entire life. This friend of my mom would often tell my mom that she needed to pray for God to “take it away.” Of course my mom had done this. The response, of course, was that my mom hadn’t prayed properly, that she missed the answer, etc. otherwise it would have been taken.

    Is there a way past that problem?

    Yes, but it’s not the easy way. It requires introspection, and admission that we ourselves might be wrong, that the universe might not work according to our limited understanding, or that things cannot always be boiled down a set of bullet points. But this is hard! It’s much much easier to sit back and apply checklists to people, situations, and the world as a whole. The thinking has been done, and via confirmation bias we will confirm our ideas in the aftermath with each successive person we diagnose!

  5. jmb275 — excellent points. I think that part of understanding the gospel starts with an admission that we ourselves might be wrong, that the universe might not work according to our limited understanding — something that is terribly hard for people to grasp.

    Rico — do you have a link to Flake’s comments or thoughts? That was interesting.

  6. Course Correction — I would hope that there is more to prayer than that. At least prayers for understanding. But that is a good point. What if prayer is only something so small as to not be more that stoicism?

  7. I think Elder Scott’s talk from 1989 conference has helped me the most. He said God gives three answers to prayers: Yes, No, and no answer. When He withholds an answer, it is usually because we haven’t put in enough effort yet. Sometimes it is to get us to trust our own decision making ability, others it may be that we’re not ready for the answer.

  8. I am a person who has struggled much with prayer as I have been a faithful, lifelong member of the church, but have not yet received what I perceive as sufficient answer to my prayers that the church is true. The difficulty that I have is that even though I occasionally feel good feelings at church (which some say are God answering my prayers), I have also felt those same feelings every bit as powerfully at many, many other times in my life, some of which had nothing to do with God or religion. I have felt those same feelings several times during what I thought at the time were spiritual promptings, which ended up being totally off base. They are natural, human emotions that occur all the time that have personally proven to be not reliable for me as indicators of truth. When combined with the historical and other difficulties that I have had with church, it makes it very difficult to believe. I wish that I could find an answer that I could know came from God, and not self produced. So far, I have been unable to do so. As I read your list, I would like to think that I was sincere enough, accepting enough, patient enough, etc… I feel like I am doing the best I can to be all of those things. It is admittedly frustrating when everyone around me continually gives me reasons why the answers haven’t come that are all my fault.

  9. It is her pillars of faith session. I can attach the link, but since they re-designed the website I have had real trouble downloading things from Sunstone, esp. audio.

    I hope you get it. If you can’t get it, email me and I will send it to you.

  10. Re #9 Aaron L
    Welcome to the club!

    I wish that I could find an answer that I could know came from God, and not self produced. So far, I have been unable to do so.

    I have longed for this as well as I have sojourned in this life. In my moments of great insecurity and anxiety I still sometimes slip back to longing for such an answer. But in reality, (for me at least) the answer would only serve as a security blanket, serving the psychological desire for certainty and resolution, and incentivizing me to lazily stop introspective searching and pondering for truth.

    On the whole, at some point, I overcame this longing as I no longer wish such a thing. In fact, I wonder what I might become if I did get such an answer. Would I really want it? What implications would it have for how I treat others? Would I even accept it? Or would I find reason to doubt it just as I have my “emotions” which some accept as a valid answer? Would personal introspection, and a search for understanding cease (outside of reading books by General Authorities) as it did when I was younger and more “certain”? Would I embrace the negative aspects of Mormon culture such as self-righteousness, dogmatism, etc. (after all these things are a part of our culture for a reason)?

    For me, I am content at this stage in my life to remain uncertain. Yes, I pray, I meditate, and I do ask if it’s true. I also ask if other books, religions, etc. are true. Should God choose to answer my pleas in a way that is acceptable for me I will go from there. Until then, I will simply try to remain open, humble, and thoughtful.

    Good luck on your journey. If you need someone to talk to, or want to communicate further, post another comment and I’ll look up your email address on the system.

  11. If this question was raised in sunday school you would receive many cliche answers such as “God does answer prayers, but not in the way we expect, sometimes we are asking for the wrong thing, sometimes we don’t recognise the answer” etc. Is this type of culture generating an environment of learned helplessness, are we not pre-empting failure and inhibiting Faith in Jesus Christ by fostering self doubt.

    As I read the New Testament Christ makes it clear, if we ask for bread we won’t receive a stone, perhaps many prayers go unanswered because we settle for the stone, thinking that it is the best God want’s for us.

    I have many prayers that have gone unanswered throughout the years, most are governed by agency and others are biological. I don’t have the solution to the problem, however I feel it is dangerous to be so quick to look for the reasons as to why a certain prayer was not answered.

  12. Which requests from our kids do we like the best: “Mom (Dad), how can I help?” or “Mom (Dad), can you give me thing or that thing?” After eons of requests for this blessing or that blessing, I wouldn’t bother answering prayers either.

  13. Since people have experiences that they interpret as answers to prayer that are often contradictory with other’s, would one not admit that there was no answer but only self generated emotion? Isn’t it possible that there’s no answer for some because no one’s listening?

  14. Aaron L #9

    What would change if you knew either way the existence of God, would you become more active in helping people ? less – active, would you become a proselytising missionary telling everyone “I know God lives”. what would it really, fundamentally change in you ?

    I really like the Orson F Whitney quote in which he theorises that perhaps God hides the truth form some because the have a greater work to do outside the established church. I’m not encouraging you to leave your faith, but I believe a big part of this life is to follow our “calling” whether that is from God or something internal.

    Perhaps you are a better you, because of your lack of knowledge and perhaps this is Gods plan ?

  15. I don’t mean to give offense, this is just one perspective. That is an awful mental gymnastics to explain why deity doesn’t respond. I could apply most of the same explanations to why my imaginary friend Beatrice doesn’t ever talk back. One option, to consider along with the others listed, is to apply Occam’s razor. Still, the benefits of prayer an palpable even if prayer does nothing more than focus one on what they desire, in a context where they wish for such things from their best selves. Meditation can do the same.

  16. #18: That was a very interesting concept – what would I change if I truly knew that this was the “one true Church”? I’m always thankful for thought-provoking questions, especially since I find myself in the same boat as Aaron L.

    – I already do what I can to help others, but this is probably more due to my fundamental nature and forays into Buddhism than LDS-ism.
    – I’m already ethical and trusting to a fault of others (I’d make a terrible businessman)
    – I would probably care about missionary work if I knew that being a part of the “one true Church” was important. It’s currently hard to get excited about wanting to “convert” someone to something that I don’t really know is true
    – I would probably find a more universal denomination that focused on a more inclusive path to Christ
    – I would also find a denomination that focused more on the core of the gospel – God, Christ, love your fellowman, etc. – as opposed to one that cared if I had a glass of wine with dinner to the point where they would keep me out of the temple if I had one

    But, I press forward as an active LDS member because 1) familial/societal pressures – it’s perhaps the easy way out and 2) I still cling to the hope that after 4 decades of no answers to my question, perhaps I will finally be rewarded with an answer sometime in the next 3-4 decade, Insha’Allah.

  17. #15: “Is this type of culture generating an environment of learned helplessness, are we not pre-empting failure and inhibiting Faith in Jesus Christ by fostering self doubt?”

    Absolutely.

    More so because officially, only some answers are real answers. So unless you get the answer you’re supposed to get, you are encouraged to interpret what seemed to be an answer as something else. This is related to the idea that unless you have a testimony of the uniquely Mormon aspects of the gospel, you don’t have a true testimony at all. If you believe in Christ (this logic goes), you will also believe in the Book of Mormon. And so a person who finds himself not believing the Book of Mormon, is told that what he thinks is his faith in Christ, isn’t true faith.

  18. I think Elder Scott’s talk from 1989 conference has helped me the most. He said God gives three answers to prayers: Yes, No, and no answer. When He withholds an answer, it is usually because we haven’t put in enough effort yet. Sometimes it is to get us to trust our own decision making ability, others it may be that we’re not ready for the answer.

    In April 2007, Elder Scott addressed the same question, but downplayed the “lack of effort” excuse. How I wish he had given the 2007 talk in 1989 (or earlier). Here is the key passage, from my perspective.

    “What do you do when you have prepared carefully, have prayed fervently, waited a reasonable time for a response, and still do not feel an answer? You may want to express thanks when that occurs, for it is an evidence of His trust. When you are living worthily and your choice is consistent with the Savior’s teachings and you need to act, proceed with trust.”

  19. “What do you do when you have prepared carefully, have prayed fervently, waited a reasonable time for a response, and still do not feel an answer? You may want to express thanks when that occurs, for it is an evidence of His trust. When you are living worthily and your choice is consistent with the Savior’s teachings and you need to act, proceed with trust.”

    Nicely said, thank you for adding that.

  20. “What do you do when you have prepared carefully, have prayed fervently, waited a reasonable time for a response, and still do not feel an answer? You may want to express thanks when that occurs, for it is an evidence of His trust. When you are living worthily and your choice is consistent with the Savior’s teachings and you need to act, proceed with trust.”

    I guess I would wonder what the point was in praying in the first place.

  21. Euhemerus – I’m right there with you. My personal introspection/searching has increased exponentially as I have realized how much uncertainty exists in my belief system. Maybe that’s a good thing in the end, I’m not really sure yet. Feel free to shoot me an email if you like.

    GBSmith – I have considered that as a possibility. In some ways it makes more sense than anything else.

    MrQandA (#18) – Those are all good questions that I have thought about a lot. Since my “trial of faith” which has only been going on for the past 18 months or so, I don’t feel like I am all that different of a person. I still try to do good for other people and certainly still have morals and values just as I did before, only my motivations for doing so have changed. Like Mike S, I am much less inclined to do missionary work when I don’t see Mormonism as the only way back to God anymore.

    Mike S – Looking at your posts here an on other threads, you and I seem to be cut from the same block of wood. Maybe the Lord is trying to teach us both the same thing.

    In the end, I just want to get an answer I can say with certainty came from God. Maybe I’m way off base for trying to get God to answer my prayer according MY way, but I wish that I could kneel down, make my request to God, and right then and there get an answer. It wouldn’t take very much, just the sweet feelings of the spirit that we are supposed to feel between him and me, without any of the emotional trickery or confirmation bias that so often fools people. If that is too much to ask, then maybe my wife is right and my answers will never come.

  22. It’s very simple for me. I know of numerous examples of individuals who have been brought, broken, to their knees, pleading for nothing more than a hint of god’s presence or concern for them, or for simple comfort, and these individuals received nothing. All the aforementioned mental gymnastics mean nothing to me beyond this fact. If there is a god, and he has some secret reason for treating his supposed children in such a way, then I want nothing to do with such a person. There is a reason that no human being worth a damn would ever treat a person he or she cared about in such a way, to say nothing of one’s own child. Add to this the fact that scores of people who have done literally nothing to warrant an answer to prayer, and in some cases have been enemies to god, have supposedly been blessed with all manner of heavenly visitations and celestial comforts, and, as I said, it’s really pretty simple for me. I don’t believe in a god that answers prayers, but beyond that, I wouldn’t care if he did exist. I would never associate with such a sadist in this earthly realm and I won’t voluntarily do it in any other.

  23. #26: “If there is a god, and he has some secret reason for treating his supposed children in such a way, then I want nothing to do with such a person.”

    I can empathize with this, and yet I wonder if there’s not one more possibility besides “God’s a sadist” —

    Maybe the reason is that he simply can’t do things any other way. I’ve seen enough suffering in the world — most of it thankfully vicariously, virtually all of it unrelieved by discernible divine intervention — that I have to conclude that if there is any divine plan, then living on our own, in a random, unjust, and heartless universe, is an indispensable component of whatever the plan’s objective may be.

    The Mormon doctrine of exaltation actually strikes me as the only way to accommodate this idea with anything resembling the traditional concept of divine omnipotence: Presumably, if people’s eternal destiny were simply to be angels, God could have created us angels in the first place and saved us all the agony some of us get horribly unfair shares of. However, if the object is to become like God — and, critically, if God is definitionally a being who has experienced being beaten around by a random, unjust, and heartless universe — then by definition, you can’t be like God without living through such a universe.

    How that notion can be reconciled with an Old Testament/Book of Mormon understanding of a God who intervenes frequently in history, I don’t know. If God does have the option of fiddling with the earth’s switches, so that his presence is often as obvious as Scripture makes it out to be, then that does leave us with the thought that God could act to relieve suffering, but just chooses not to. And I agree it’s awfully hard to reconcile 12-year-old girls being raped and tortured to death (and their guilty-as-sin murderer getting to play lawyer in his third trial — please don’t get me started) with a notion that God is “loving” in any way we are capable of comprehending.

  24. I’m curious about this Jen and her comments. Can you put the link to them? Maybe I need to add something to my name if there are two of us.

  25. Someone said that one way god answers prayers is by “no answer.”

    Classic religious nonsense. You got an answer, it was no answer. No answer is an answer according to the faithful. How idiotic.

  26. It’s somewhat similar to a “healing” blessing. If they get better, it was because of the blessing. If they get worse, it’s because that was God’s will. I don’t understand.

  27. Thomas (#27) – brjones can correct me if I am wrong here, but I don’t think he meant to convey that God is a sadist because we live in what seems to be a random, unjust, and heartless universe with no rhyme or reason to the suffering we are called to endure. I don’t think he expects God to relieve any of the suffering to prove that he exists, though that is a nice thought. I think he was making the point that sometimes all people want is “a hint of God’s presence or concern for them.” Even that small request seems to go unheard often enough that it causes some people to have pause and wonder whether God is there at all.

  28. #33 — I understand. Sometimes I think that people’s evidently varying capacity to have spiritual experiences has a greater biological component than most religious people would imagine. Without going so far as to say that mystical experiences are solely a biological function, it may be that whatever mechanism it is by which spiritual communications are translated into impressions in a physical human mind, is a biological mechanism that depends on how a person’s noggin is wired. Maybe an objectively identical spiritual force (however that works), when it encounters one person’s head, is experienced as an overwhelming, can’t-be-denied mystical sensation. When it comes to another person’s mind, it might have such a minimal effect that, even if he has pleaded for an answer and is just as morally “worthy” as the first guy, it might not be detectable. Assuming (as I do, as a matter of faith) that there is anything real about spiritual experience at all, I’m probably towards the latter end of that spectrum. It’s a rare occasion when anything expressly involving religion effects me as much as a sappy baseball movie. (Weird, I know.)

    Of course it’s unfair that one person should have so much greater access to God than another equally worthy person, solely by the accident of his random genetic wiring. But that gets us right back to the notion that living through a random, unjust universe is the only way to become like a God, one of whose essential characteristics is that He’s done the same. Life is unfair; that’s the nature of the thing; whatever fairness the universe contains, is fairness that we create ourselves. That’s the deal.

  29. Wow. I am truly disgusted with this post. The entire thing is based on judgment of others. I find it RIDICULOUS that Jen assumes to know the will of God and why He has, or has not, answered her “friend’s” prayer (with friends like those, who needs enemies?!). How about we all just accept that WE DON’T KNOW how or why God works, and that we don’t know how He is answering, or “not answering” prayers. That list is so appalling and cruel. This is one of the worst posts I’ve ever seen on the bloggernaccle. I cannot truly believe that you are condemning others for “complaining” that they are not feeling God’s influence in their lives. It is not always so easy and simple as “they must be doing something wrong”. Did you know that Mother Theresa herself said she spent almost her ENTIRE life without feeling God’s influence? I wonder what else she could have done to “deserve” it? She must have been devoting her life to the poor and needy incorrectly. Seriously, this all just rubs me the wrong way…its not as if you’re writing this for own personal inquiry or struggle…you’re writing it to “explain” to others who are doing something “wrong” why they are having God’s influence “withheld” from them.

  30. That was essentially my point, yes, Aaron L. If we are god’s children, then he is consciously choosing to ignore countless of his children in their deepest and basest pain, when all they’re asking is for a hint of his presence. Whatever such a person’s reasons for doing something so despicable, I am unimpressed and uninterested. As I said, I think it’s fascinating that there are dozens of things that god allegedly has done and continues to do that no respectable human being would ever dream of doing to anyone, let alone one’s own child. Yet god is mysteriously celebrated for such atrocious behavior. It’s insanity. And to make it even more deliciously ironic, we’re told that our relationship with our children is a type of god’s relationship to us. I find that hilarious, since we would never in a million years treat our children the way god supposedly treats his.

    And although this wasn’t my initial point, I think the way god treats his supposed children with respect to his seemingly random interventions is similarly despicable. I could accept the concept that sometimes there will be suffering that is not alleviated. The problem I have is that religious leaders teach that if you are righteous, if you pray enough, if you read your big history book, etc., if you have your ordinances done in the right buildings, then the holy ghost will be your constant companion, and god himself may even intervene on your behalf. This is demonstrably false, as the countless individuals who have followed this counsel in asking for their daily bread only to not only be handed a celestial stone, but often to have one dropped on them, can attest. There is not an ounce of predictability; not an iota of correlation between behavior in this world and the reaction of deity to such behavior. Yet according to the D&C, every action is irrevocably tied to a corresponding blessing in heaven, and when we receive those blessings it is an automatic reaction to righteous behavior. Utter rubbish. This teaching is absolutely contradictory to the concept that suffering and god’s interventions are random and unpredictable.

  31. Thomas, you offend your own intelligence by getting so far as to realize that spiritual experiences are directly related to biological function and then abandoning logic and reason by apologizing for god, like the rest of the ignorant faithful on this site, and saying living in an unfair world is the only way to become like god. Give me a break.

  32. Sorry, I didn’t mean to be harsh to believing Thomas. I like his comments. But I don’t like the arrogant attitude of some on this thread who apologize for god and act like anyone who hasn’t received answers must have done something wrong. My ire was directed at them. And if the wiring of our brain is necessary for feeling answers, god is unjust and the scriptures are misleading.

  33. #36 – Anon, not to implicate anyone specifically in this thread, but I think many believers are compelled to make such explanations, because in the absence of such explanations blaming the individual, the blame can only be laid in one other place, and that is simply unacceptable. I find it frustrating as well, and in many cases fantastically inappropriate. Frankly, I don’t care what a person knows about another person, to make a judgment that a person is not having the experiences they have represented they are having, or to presume to know better than that person why he or she is having such experiences, is absolutely mind-boggling. Unfortunately it’s not unpredictable. “Jen” undoubtedly slept easier after concluding that it was her unworthy neighbor’s personal and unacknowledged failings that prevented her from receiving an answer and not simply the failure of a perfectly loving and just god to respond as she believed he would always do, let alone the lack of his existence.

  34. Their are many people, of all faiths, that have experienced answers to prayer. Answer come in many different ways.

    I started keeping a journal of answered prayer years ago. The number is now in the hundreds.

    Have I ever had a prayer that wasn’t answered–of course. But I believe the Lord will yet answer some of them when the time is right.

    I anticipate that someone will bring up the objection that our “feelings” can be fooled so that we think we’ve had an answer to prayer, when in fact we didn’t. I agree that this can happen, however, not all my prayers are answered this way. I’ve had prayers answered by visions, dreams, ministering angels–as well as by feelings, and serendipitous occurrences.

    I realize that what I’ve said doesn’t represent the norm, but these kind of answers happen nonetheless.

  35. I think for me the problem with prayer, i.e. god’s intervention, is that I never felt like I was on the receiving end of it. Of course I thought I was getting answers about the church being true and the BoM being historical, but everything else seemed elusive. (You know, couldn’t pray my way to my lost wallet, pocket knife, keys, or help with tests etc… etc… etc…) Of course I did all the mental gymnastics to try and figure out why I wasn’t special enough to have any supernatural help directed my way, but in the end I had to come to the conclusion that god just didn’t care that much about me. After all, many others claimed all kinds of divine help and wonderful manifestations, but I always seem to be on the outside looking in.

    My brother was married to the sister of the present mayor of Ogden; she was brutally raped and killed over twenty years ago. Despite a long patriarchal blessing and desperate cries for divine help and protection, she experienced the ultimate rejection as her life was taken from her in the most horrific way. My mother suffered a stroke and lay on the floor of her bathroom for several hours while the rest of the family sat through three hours of church wondering why she hadn’t shown up. As a result, she died the next day because life giving medication wasn’t administered to her soon enough. My children were molested by a church leader who used his position of trust to rob them of their innocents; again no divine intervention for them or inspiration to the priesthood leaders that something terrible was going on. The list goes on…

    When I read brjones thoughts on this thread, I realized he is absolutely right. It’s not that I don’t believe in intelligent design, I do, but the god that put all this together isn’t interested in becoming involved with my little problems or those I love. I used to believe that I was somehow unworthy of the help, but the older I get, the more I believe that whoever god is, he’s busy somewhere else in the universe.

  36. I don’t know what makes intelligent design so appealing. It makes no sense. But I appreciate your comment, Doug, and I am lad you no longer view yourself as unworthy of god’s help. I think that is a terrible thing that many people feel. It is only natural to feel that way if you adopt the view that god can’t mess up so it must be something wrong with me.

  37. Can someone tell me who “Jen” is and what comments of hers are being referred to? I haven’t seen any other Jen on MM, but I also haven’t been commenting much lately.

  38. Anyone? Hello out there! Will someone answer my question please? Brjones, do you know what Jen he is referring to? How about you Dexter?

  39. Jen, I don’t have any idea. I put Jen in quotes in my comment so it wouldn’t appear that I was referring to you. Maybe you should change your handle.

  40. Thomas (#33) – I see your point that some people being may be more biologically predisposed to receive revelation than others. The thing is, I feel like I used to be one of those people who felt like personal revelation, at least as far as a testimony, came rather easily. Even though it wasn’t exclusively between me and God, it didn’ matter to me. You could say that based on my feelings about the Gospel/church, my biology was right in line with being open to feel the spirit. Not coincidentally, the Gospel also made a lot of sense to me and pretty much fell in line with my value and belief system. It was easy to believe, plus I had a lot of familial/societal motivation to do so. I knew that there were parts of the Gospel and history of the church that didn’t make sense to me, but I did a pretty good job keeping them sequestered in the back of mind. Then something happened inside of me and I mustered the courage to look at things more objectively. Ever since, I feel like the heavens have been shut off and as brjones so eloquently put, have been handed a celestial stone. I don’t think that my biology changed, but my observations about my life and the world around me certainly have. I still want to believe, but for whatever reason need a more personal answer from God than he gave me previously. So far, I feel like I’m on my own.

  41. #42 Doug G–

    I agree,it’s hard to believe in a God whose creation, this earth and all things in it, is filled with so much pain, for so many people.

    When we personally know those who suffer death in horrific/useless ways, our emotional state won’t allow for any kind of explanation(s), at least, until the passage of time. We have the scripture and the words of the living prophets that can bring us some understanding when we’re open to it, and have faith.

    When I reflect on the tragedies that befall so many, I find comfort in the gospels teaching about agency. I believe that before we were born into mortality, God revealed much of what would happen to us. I believe all of us agreed to come to this life knowing what kinds of things would occur. This means that all of those thousands of people who died recently in the earthquake in Haiti, knew and agreed to being born into poverty and dying in an earthquake. God didn’t force them to accept their circumstances without some kind of foreknowledge. That would deny the concept of agency/freedom of choice.

    Of course, this line of reasoning can lead to questions like: “what did the Lord reveal to Ted Bundy, Hitler, and other infamous individuals before they were born?” I believe the Lord knew what they would do, but I don’t believe He revealed the outcome of the choices they would make, but I do believe that their victims knew what would befall them.

    I’m sure my thoughts will draw criticism. If you want to challenge my statement please give your own explanation.

  42. I probably should change my handle, I just don’t want people confusing us if I do. I know that Stephen is not referring to me, but I asked for a link to the comments that this Jen wrote and I am not getting one.

    Thanks for your help.

  43. Jared, I’m not even going to make that argument. Even if I concede that the simplest feelings constitute genuine answer to prayers, there’s still the major issue of those people who haven’t even received that.

  44. Jared, I think your comment is interesting, but I don’t find it any less credible than any other religious explanation. The problem with it is that it either doesn’t allow for a god to intercede to alter events or it doesn’t sufficiently explain such intercession. The church definitely believes in a god that literally answers prayers in intercessory and miraculous ways that, at times, thwart the outcomes of individuals’ free agency. The answer that one’s loved one was murdered because god allowed free agency of the murderer is tougher to swallow when you hear church members and leaders bear testimony of god’s love for THEIR loved one by interceding to save his or her life in a similar situation.

    This has always been my problem with the free agency explanation for tragedy and suffering. It only applies when it applies while other times god sees perfectly fit to interfere with someone’s free agency. I see it as a massive copout. Either god gets involved or he doesn’t, and if he does it sometimes then the free agency argument carries no weight, and the question about suffering stands.

  45. I do think we are wired differently. My mind is very analytic – it just is. I also place a very high premium on words. “Know” means something very specific to me, and I accept the fact that I will likely never “know” that the Church is true or anything else. But that extends to most points of my life. I don’t “know” much at all. At work, I don’t know that the way I operate on people is the best possible way, as there could be something better tomorrow. Even as far as something as to my sex, I’m quite certain that I’m male, but what if someone told me tomorrow that these was some genetic abnormality and 1/2 of my cells were “female”, that I was a hybrid. What would I be then? So for me, I don’t think I will ever “know” the Church is true. However, I’ve accepted that I am going to go forward in faith that it is. Perhaps I’m deluded. Perhaps not. I do see good in the Church. I do see bad in the Church. I think there is good and bad in everyone and everything. I see “truth” in the LDS Church, but I also see truth in lots of places.

    As far as God and suffering, my outlook on that is actually much closer to Buddhism than traditional LDS teachings. Life happens. It’s all a result of interwoven karma – some is ripples from our own choices, some is from other people’s choices, some is from random natural occurrences, some just is. Could God intervene? If we call Him omnipotent, of course. Why doesn’t He? I don’t know. But I’ve grown past the question, so I don’t really care. My goal is simply to live each day in a good way, taking care of my fellowman and the world around me the best as I can – what else can we do?

  46. Jen — the comments were a while back, I actually wrote this post up a month or more ago, just finally typed it in because there was space on the schedule. A poster who used “Jen” wrote a comment about a kid they knew who wasn’t putting out the honest effort they needed to get answers and it got my attention. It was a sub point in a thread that seemed long.

    I should have saved the link.

    Sorry.

    anon — the comment that I was referring to was not about a friend of hers but a rather immature kid she was interacting with. One doesn’t do much violence to thought to acknowledge that there are immature kids (and even adults) who do not acknowledge their own immaturity.

  47. Jared,

    Here’s the thing my friend, I could have written your response for you and even you would have been happy to put your name to it. I’ve spent my whole life rationalizing away why god chooses to intervene in some cases, but not others. There was a time when being told that god had more important things for my mother to do, and my sister-in-law was actually fine with her short time on earth, and a million other “explanations” for god’s will was acceptable. I just don’t buy it anymore.

    My home teacher recently asked my family to pray for our neighbor as the father has been without employment for over three months now. In my heart I think, wow, god can’t look down on this poor family and see they need help and answer their sincere prayer, but if I and my family pray for them, then he’s going to be much more willing to provide some divine intervention in their behalf. I’m sorry Jared; the whole thing is ridiculous to me.

    As a teenager, I wanted desperately to serve a mission. I read the BoM when I was eighteen for the first time and had huge doubts about it. Not from reading anything anti as I wouldn’t have known where to even find that kind of information. There were just many passages that came across as so unlikely that I literally felt sick to my stomach. I prayed to know if my doubts had any merit, but felt nothing. In the MTC I shared my doubts with the branch president and he told me that he had very similar feelings about the book the first time he read it too, but with time and continued study, they faded. Well, guess what, for me they never faded. Despite lots of prayer and sincere desire to know, the doubts remained. When I think about all I had to lose as young man wanting to serve a mission and get married in the temple, I don’t think I would allow myself not to believe, despite my doubts. As I got older, I was subjected to more and more information which seem to confirm my first impressions of the book. The same with prayer, as a young man I wanted to believe that god was willing to talk with me, that I was “special” and worthy of being allowed to “know” as my patriarchal blessing stated. It didn’t happen, so if there is a god, (and I don’t know that there isn’t) he just not too worried about whether or not I believe in Mormonism, nor is he willing to intercede at times when I think he should. Now perhaps he’s been trying to tell me all along that this isn’t the right path for me and I’ve just been too pig-headed to listen. Ok, I think I’ve finely got the message!

  48. #50 brjones said: Even if I concede that the simplest feelings constitute genuine answer to prayers, there’s still the major issue of those people who haven’t even received that.

    I admit, until I came to the ‘nacle and got acquainted with you, Cowboy, and others, I held the thought that what you’ve said about no answers to prayer, just wasn’t possible.

    It’s as hard for me to understand that, as it is to understand why the Lord would give men like Alma, the older and younger, Paul, and Aminadab (and associates) major Spiritual experiences. The only explanation I can come up with is that it has something to do with the pre-mortal life. The Lord gave me a vision where I learned some things about myself having to do with pre-mortality, so that influences my thinking on this subject.

    We all didn’t prepare in the same way. We focused our efforts in different directions. That explains, in part, the diversity of talents we see in people. For example: brjones, you have concerns about the absents of answers to prayer. It may be that the Lord requires you, and others to rely on the testimonies of those who have had answers. Why, because of the focus each of us had in pre-mortality (or even as a trial–a friend of mine was just diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease).

    ———————————————————————————-

    brjones said: This has always been my problem with the free agency explanation for tragedy and suffering. It only applies when it applies while other times god sees perfectly fit to interfere with someone’s free agency. I see it as a massive copout. Either god gets involved or he doesn’t, and if he does it sometimes then the free agency argument carries no weight, and the question about suffering stands.

    The Lord hasn’t revealed everything, but based on the experiences I’ve had, and the message of the scriptures—they give me comfort that there will be a valid explanation for everything we now have questions about. The Lord is perfect.

    I see some of us saying to the Lord before we were born: “Heavenly Father, please don’t send me now there and allow me to suffer (fill in the blank). I believe God made promises to them that they would be protected from (fill in the blank). Others, didn’t ask for protection, or asked specifically to suffer (fill in the blank)(see Hebrews 11:35-40).

    I came to the ‘nacle to be a witness to the things the Lord has revealed to me. I know by experience; not by feelings alone, but by a witness that’s formed in me by the higher manifestations of the Spirit, that the LDS church is just what it claims to be. I have no doubt–what soever.

    I hope that all of those who are hanging on to mere threads of faith will continue to hold on, not allowing their hearts to be hardened. If they do, they will rejoice for making that decision at a future day.

  49. #55 Doug G. said: As a teenager, I wanted desperately to serve a mission. I read the BoM when I was eighteen for the first time and had huge doubts about it. Not from reading anything anti as I wouldn’t have known where to even find that kind of information. There were just many passages that came across as so unlikely that I literally felt sick to my stomach. I prayed to know if my doubts had any merit, but felt nothing. In the MTC I shared my doubts with the branch president and he told me that he had very similar feelings about the book the first time he read it too, but with time and continued study, they faded. Well, guess what, for me they never faded.

    Who wouldn’t be frustrated and even cynical based on what you’ve related. Seeking for sacred experiences and not obtaining them has to be a major downer. I might add, that at times receiving sacred experiences can be challenging and has its own downsides–but that’s a whole other topic. I’m very grateful for what the Lords given me. I wouldn’t change a thing, except possibility be worthy of even greater experiences.

    I’ll relate an experience I had recently. I sat with a couple and talked with them for hours about sacred experiences. The husband has had very little experience with the sacred, his wife, on the hand has had much.

    They were on a mission a few years ago and the wife received an impression to go back to their apartment—alone. When she got there an angel appeared to her and gave her some very specific instructions about something she was to do when she returned home. She added, that the reason her husband wasn’t part of the experience is due to his lack of faith. When she said that I about fell out of my chair. It seemed so unkind. He winced a little, but apparently has learned to deal with her Spiritual strength (and insensitivity). They’ve been married for many years and appear to be happy.

    The point of this story is that each of us can learn to live with the strengths and weaknesses that are part of us. Each of us have them both. The key is to feed our strengths, and starve our weaknesses.

    At one time I thought the ‘nacle was a worthless place that hurt members testimonies. I think differently nowadays, I think it can be therapeutic for some. I see it as a place for people of all degrees of faith to merge and exchange thoughts and feelings. It’s been good for me because I am able to express experiences and ideas here, that I can’t elsewhere. Believe it or not, it’s a major difficulty going to fast and testimony meetings and not feeling comfortable sharing my testimony as I’ve experienced it. The same holds true in Sunday School and Priesthood meetings regarding the doctrine.

    I’ve learned much from you. I appreciate your willingness to discuss these topics with candor and kindness.

  50. #54-

    Stephen-

    Thank you for clarifying. I recognize that it was me that wrote that comment now. It is hard to remember specifics, but the jist of it was that I have a teenager living here with me who has been doing some serious lying for several years. This teen claimed to have tried in relation to church and praying, but said it just didn’t work for them. In every other area of their life they put as little effort in as possible. They do as little work possible to get by and want to take the easiest route in all they do. This I know from years of experience of them living with us. That is why I wrote what I did, because their effort compared to another’s is not even comparable. I realize that people are all different and one person’s effort really might be their best compared to another who does far more, but this isn’t even that. This is just plain laziness and an unwillingness to work hard. I have learned in this life that some people want to be taken care of and they will do all they can to get the people around them to take care of them and others take on more and are just more responsible. It is a fact of life and it is the way it will always be. You cannot force people to be responsible or to care. This is what I was referring to in my comment and I would not say that in relation to anyone else. I don’t claim to be the judge of another’s efforts by any means. I was just commenting on the teen in my home and pointing out that you cannot lie to others over and over and expect to be honest with yourself or God. People who lie a lot have to lie to themselves as well or they might feel uncomfortable and they don’t want to do that. In other words, if you are lying to yourself I don’t see how you can be honest with God.

  51. Jared-

    “When she got there an angel appeared to her and gave her some very specific instructions about something she was to do when she returned home. She added, that the reason her husband wasn’t part of the experience is due to his lack of faith. When she said that I about fell out of my chair.”

    Wow, when I read that it did not sit right with me. I would never in a million years talk about my spouse that way to anyone, especially in relation to spiritual things. I don’t know how he can feel close to her with her saying things like that, it seems almost impossible to me. Who wants to be with someone who puts you down so perfectly?

  52. Jen–

    There are some things about this couple, that I can’t disclose, that would help explain her comment. I do not doubt their love and commitment to one another.

  53. Jared,

    “I’ve learned much from you. I appreciate your willingness to discuss these topics with candor and kindness.”

    A very nice sentiment Jared, thanks!

  54. Jared-

    I realize that there is a lot more to every story than we know and I probably shouldn’t have written what I felt when I read it. What is ok in one relationship wouldn’t necessarily be in mine, but that is why we are all different and that’s what keeps it interesting!

  55. Thomas,27,thankyou for articulating my ponderings so eloquently.

    However,I do think there is an issue with this way of viewing scripture.

    When we’re on the up,we see scripture in very simplistic terms.But there are many examples in scripture where prayer appears unanswered.

    Job,Ecclesiastes,Abraham and Jacob and many others who suffer either societally or individually appear to have had very extended periods of incomprehension in their relationship to God,who eventually makes himself clear,after a trial of faith.

    I think this fits with your interpretation of us needing to experience the randomness of this often apparently indifferent universe.

    There is much in scripture that reflects the reality of our incomprehension of our experience,but we do not often choose to focus on it,preferring to use scripture as a way of whistling in the dark.Which is fine until you find yourself in the dark with nothing but a whistle.

  56. #57 – Jared, I consider you a valued voice in this forum, and always appreciate your opinions and honesty.

    #58 – Jen, the fact that you were the author of the original anecdote does not mean that some of my harsher comments necessarily apply to you in this situation. As you said above, there’s a lot more to every situation than others see or hear, and I trust that you weren’t just flippantly casting about harsh judgments in this one.

  57. What if God actually did answer everyone’s prayers, 100% of the time, in the way they asked? Who would win the football game? Who would get the promotion? Who would actually let a loved one get cancer/heart disease/something else and actually die? Would we all live forever? Would we all be millionaires? Would we all be healthy and fit and strong? What would the world actually be like?

    Maybe it is better this way…

  58. Mike S.–

    I was thinking about what you said in #66 the other day as I was reading the early chapters in 1 Nephi. I wondered why two brothers like Laman and Lemuel were necessary. Why couldn’t the Lord have provided brothers who were consistently helpful.

    If that would have been the case, I wonder if Nephi would have become as great a prophet as he did?

    brjones–

    😀

  59. Mike S., better what way? Random confusion and rampant self questioning? First of all, I don’t think anyone is arguing that prayers should always be answered in the way people want. But I don’t think a modicum of predictability, or at the very least sense in the way god responds to prayers is too much to ask, especially considering that it’s supposedly the sole mode of communication he has given to his oh-so-loved children. According to church leaders god has provided the blueprint for communicating and having prayers answered. It’s not unfair for people to expect that at a minimum those rules will be followed by god when they’ve been followed by those people. Unfortunately, god is apparently not bound by anything, including when we “do what he says,” all reports to the contrary notwithstanding.

    In my opinion, when it comes to unanswered prayers, deism provides by far the most sensible explanation. Perhaps that’s why many of our revered founding fathers rejected christianity in its favor.

  60. Jared:

    I have nothing to add this conversation, though I have benefited from it. On a personal note I sense from your comments a genuine humility. I admire and respect how your position regarding your faith has remained consistent and unwaivering, while your ability to communicate this to others has greatly expanded to encompass a consideration and understanding of all the conversation partners. I have been critical of you in the past, and I don’t intend for my comments to express a self percieved superiority, but I am impressed with your sincerity and openess. You admittance regarding former attitudes regarding the ‘nacle (as you call it) suggests a legitimate concern for the commenters here. I agree with BrJones, that your participation is valued. I look forward to many more conversations my friend.

  61. Cowboy–

    Thanks for taking the time to pass along your kind thoughts. I feel a brotherhood with you and others who have shown themselves to be intelligent, articulate, honest, durable, and caring members of a church that has been the source of both,enlightenment and bewilderment for you.

    My life is richer for having crossed paths with you.

  62. #47 Aaron —

    I don’t think you’ve changed — that your physical ability to feel revelation is different. I think your perspective has shifted, and you now interpret sensations you previously understood as leading logically to X as leading to “not necessarily X.”

    This is why I’ve never much liked arguments that denigrate reason (for its admitted fallibility) in favor of “revelation.” Revelation must always be interpreted. We experience something otherworldly, and maybe that something is a thing we can’t deny — but we still have to translate that unworldly experience into implications for our worldly existence. A peaceful feeling while reading Scripture may mean that the words we have read are literally true, and came to us in the exact way the cover story says — or it could mean something else. (For the former to be true, we have to have a presumption that only literally true, authentically ancient words could trigger the experience we felt. Do we know this? On what basis?)

    Unless we’re talking about the literal, physical appearance of an angel, to believe that a mystical experience is an actual communication from a real Deity still requires the assent of faith.

  63. #73: Thomas

    This has been my experience. In my younger years, I would feel peace when reading the Book of Mormon and Bible. Now, I feel the same feelings reading the Qur’an, Baghavad Gita, the teachings of the Buddha, etc. I feel that is my spirit resonating with truth, but I’ve found it in more areas than just the LDS Church

  64. My 13 yr. old Grandson no longer believes in God or Christ. Why? Because his father decided that he was no longer going to see him after he remarried. My Grandson prayed and prayed and than prayed again – still his father wants nothing to do with him or us (his father’s parents). We have done all we can do, our son does not speak to us and has refused any attempt to reconcile. My Grandson told me that he does no want to hurt my feelings but he does not believe any longer – this young man once believed very much, but seven year without his father’s love has killed his faith. I know that Father will hold my son responsible for this action, that just hurts us twice.

  65. debra l allen — What caused your son to decide to abandon his grandson and his parents other than the divorce and remarriage? It is a terrible thing to turn away from your own flesh. I’m just wondering what he said the cause was and if that leads to anything or not. It sounds so very painful, much like God must fee when we abandon him.

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