Question: I pray and pray, but I feel as if God is not listening. We always had a good, peaceful family life, but these last years have been tough. We don’t seem to be getting along and our finances have taken a turn for the worse. I am so anxious about this situation that, not having anyone to turn to, I turned to God. But God seems to remain deaf to me. Why is that? In addition, what do I say to certain people, agnostics and atheists, who laugh at prayer, saying it is nonsensical and only a figment of the imagination with no real value?
Answer: God is faithful to His promises, and God promised to answer our prayers. “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Luke 11:9–10).
If God promises to answer our prayers, He will do so infallibly. But in prayer there are two sides: he who asks and He Who gives. Our part is to ask. How must we ask? Saint Alphonsus Liguori, a Doctor of the Church, teaches in his book Prayer, the Great Means of Salvation that prayer must be persevering and humble.
Prayer Must be Persevering
Our Lord Himself showed us how much He loves the prayer of one who perseveres when He related the parable of a man knocking at his friend’s door in the middle of the night asking for bread. The owner of the house is in bed and does not wish to be bothered, but the one at the door is so insistent that the owner finally relents. Our Lord affirms: “I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs” (Luke 11:8).
Prayer Must be Humble
Prayer must also be humble. We cannot look at prayer as writing a check based on our good credit to buy a favor from God. We must approach prayer knowing that, as sinners, we really have no credit with God and that we are totally reliant on His infinite goodness.
This same infinitude and this same goodness will grant us only what is good for us. One thing we must have in mind is that when we ask for a certain favor, we may have only that very favor and that very moment in mind. The same God Who promises to answer our prayer did not establish a time frame in which to answer those same prayers. That is because God, our loving Father, sees past, present, and future all at once while we see only the present. Above all, He sees eternity and wants only that which will help us reach the right eternity, that is, heaven.
We may be sure, then, that He will hear us. If He chooses to make us wait, it is because He may be accomplishing “long term” repair and maintenance that we are not even aware we need. He may even be using the time of trial to polish, perfect, and “force” us to veer away from a defective road, which would eventually drop us into an abyss, onto a straight road that leads us up the mountain. He may also be trying our faith so that He can grant us a greater gift.
How many times we hear people who have been struck by terrible sufferings saying: “At first was so angry at God. But now, I thank Him for it. It has made me grow, and given me a different perspective on life. I have found God and the true source of all peace. This suffering has brought us all closer together.”
On the other hand, something that may look like a benefit to us now may be a hazard down the road. In His omniscient goodness, God will not grant exactly what we ask but will give us something even better.
So many times we hear people saying: “Oh, I used to ask God for this and that and the other, but He never gave it to me. Now, ten years later, how glad I am that He didn’t!”
One thing is certain: God will not fail to answer a humble and perseverant prayer. Whether He chooses to grant what we ask immediately or make us wait, we must trust that He, regardless of appearances, is doing us good. What we think is good and what He thinks is good may be two different things: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways My ways” (Isa. 55:8), but here is where we must abandon ourselves to His beneficent will. Our part is to be patient, calm and, above all, faithful, because this is the time for testing and later will come the time for full enjoyment.
Answering Atheists and Agnostics
As for atheists and agnostics, their skepticism proceeds from the fact that they, respectively, deny God’s existence or deny men’s capacity to know God.
In this case, we can only express our regret over their ignorance of this Supreme Being, our omnipotent Creator and loving Savior. We may direct them to a few sources that may help in their search for the truth of His existence. Atheism and agnosticism can only be sustained in ignorance or ill will because the evidence of God’s existence is overwhelming. Moreover, God will not hide Himself from those who seek Him sincerely and unconditionally.
Another consideration pertaining to non-believers is this: If God were to grant us absolutely everything we ask at a moment’s notice, such people might start believing purely out of self-interest. They would look at God as a wand-wielding wizard. And God Our Lord is infinitely more than that. He wants us to know, love, and serve Him for Himself so that He can treat us as children and heirs and grant us unending happiness in Heaven.