Does God answer prayers? Believers say he does. After all, it would be a huge waste of time to implore an entity that commands you to call on him but doesn’t bother to answer.
I think God answers prayers. He’s answered 3 percent of all the prayers I’ve offered him. Maybe 2.8 percent or even 1.3 percent. It’s hard to keep track of really small numbers.
By answered, I mean prayers wherein I asked for a definitive response. Like, should I go on a mission? Is Sonny eventually going to be the death of me? Is Brandy the right girl for me, or is what’s-her-name? Where’re my #@*&! keys?
The vast majority of the time I get no answer. All I hear is silence. I’m not troubled by this lack of response. Our Heavenly Father has a lot going on, especially when it comes to entreaties that are generic to the point of being rhetorical.
"Take us home in safety" and "bless this food that it will nourish and strengthen us" are a couple of good examples of overly general beseeching. If you get into an accident on the way home, or gallstones anyway, it doesn’t mean that the prayer didn’t work for someone else.
Some people — mainly the sort I believe no one would miss if they were seized by aliens — will say that not receiving an answer constitutes a form of divine response, that silence is simply God’s way of telling us "no."
Dead silence is not an answer. If you called someone on the phone to ask them an important question, and they didn’t answer, would you consider that a "no"?
Unless the question was "Are you home?" I’ll bet your query was not satisfactorily addressed. You didn’t get an answer. The question is still there.
Silence can certainly be an answer between humans. If I call Sonny to borrow his air compressor and he doesn’t pick up his phone, then the answer is automatically "yes" because he’s not there to stop me from driving over to his house and taking it.
But we’re talking about praying to the Great Creator, not calling a friend who might be drunk on a beach in Mexico.
Prayer is a deeply personal thing. The times when I feel like I’ve gotten an answer are rare and I tend to keep that stuff to myself. I wish other people would.
Several weeks ago in an LDS Church ward far, far away, I listened to a speaker talk about how prayer helped her find a recipe for a favorite family dish.
The need was dire. Her grandmother loved this dish and it was entirely possible that this would be the last reunion her grandmother would attend. Where was that darn thing?
She said a little prayer and the Spirit led her to the recipe in the bottom of a closet where it shouldn’t have been.
I’m not saying this didn’t happen. I am saying that it’s something she should have kept to herself because — and I know this is going to sound harsh — her problem is teeth-grindingly trivial to people with real ones.
Seriously, it’s a bit insensitive to publicly exclaim how God led you to a missing recipe when there are probably people in the audience who’ve lost family members to disease, people who suffered prolonged sexual abuse, or people with … I don’t know. People with more pressing problems.
"A casserole? He helped you find a recipe for a ham and cheese dish? How’d you get so lucky when, despite a billion wrenching prayers, our little girl died of a brain tumor anyway?"
If prayer is a personal thing, maybe the answers to it ought to stay that way as well.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.