I have a question from an atheist ex-Christian. Regarding John 14:12-14, my friend asks me why so many prayers go unanswered? Basically he’s using the premises from this page: http://godisimaginary.com/i1.htm . He also claims time is not a factor, if we wait long enough, prayer will not be answered also (I guess he means when one pray for somebody and that person dies). How would you respond? I appreciate any help.
This is a good question. It seems reasonable to ask why God does not answer all prayers. This question does not have a simple answer. The premise of the critique of the existence of God is that, if we asked God for something (such as that he cure all cancer) then an all-powerful God would answer this question in the positive. This is the premise, and if we accept the premise, then the argument is a good one. The problem is that the premise is simply not true. Or, let me put it another way. If the God of the Bible is real, then the premise is definitely not accurate, making the argument meaningless.
How do I know this? Because of what the Bible teaches about prayer. John 14:13 has Jesus saying “And I will do whatever you ask in my name.” This is true, but what Jesus meant by this statement is explained more fully by a number of other biblical passages on prayer. James 4:2-3 says “You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” This passage tells us that if we ask God with wrong motives–particularly with selfish motives, then we will not have what we have asked. Surely the one making this disrespectful challenge to God falls into this category. We know, because Jesus said it, that we should not put God to the test (Matthew 4:7). The entire premise of this web site is putting God to the test, which Jesus himself said, God does not appreciate. Another relevant passage is 1 John 5:14-15. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: That if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.” This passage qualifies and explains what Jesus said in John 14:13. If we ask God for something, but it is not his will, then we should not assume that we will receive what we ask for. Let me be specific. It is clearly not God’s will that people live in our physical bodies forever. God is not in the business of preventing people from getting sick. Paul begged God to free him from an illness, but God said no to him (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), because it was not his will to cure Paul. It is not God’s will that cancer ends. Generally, God does not interfere in our physical illnesses. I am not saying that he never does, but that to assume he will is to “put God to the test.”
So, I would say that the one who asks this question is asking a reasonable one, but if we analyze the premise behind the question it is simply not a correct premise and the Christian picture of God certainly would not support the premise that if we prayed long and hard enough, then God would cure all cancer. Incorrect premises make for invalid arguments.