Bible Review 20:2, April 2004

Why Doesn’t God Answer Prayers?

How the First Christians Dealt with Divine Silence

By Jerome Murphy-O’Connor

We are told that God hears our prayers. Then why doesn’t he listen? The most consoling words in the New Testament are, “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7 = Luke 11:9). The absolute assurance of this promise is something everyone wants to believe in. In an uncaring world, it is tremendously reassuring to be told, not only that someone is listening, but that help is available on request.

In most cases, however, the promise is not fulfilled. Prayers go unanswered. Desperate mothers pray for food for starving children, and there is no answer. Today, the silence of God is so profound that he has been proclaimed dead.

Did nothing like this happen in the first century? Didn’t the first Christians wonder why some—perhaps most—of their prayers were not answered? How did they explain it?

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