Yes! God always answers our prayers. Jesus assures us of this over and over again. “Ask and it will be given to you, he says, Seek and you will find . . . For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds . . . If you, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will our heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him” (Matt 7:7-11). Again, Jesus says, “If two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father” (Matt 18:19). And, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive” (Matt 21:22). In his extended discourse to his disciples in the Gospel of John, Jesus tells them, “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you” (John 16:23). Jesus says similar things in John 14:13-14, 15:16, and 16:24.
We are assured that God our Father always hears and answers the prayers of His children. Often times, however, our experience seems to suggest otherwise. We pray and there seems to be no answer. We may question whether God actually hears our prayers. We might even suspect that God doesn’t care. We may blame God for ignoring our prayers. Alternatively, we may blame ourselves for not having enough faith. After all, some of Jesus’ assurances about answered prayer link God’s response to our faith. For example, in Mark 11:24 Jesus says, “All that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours.”
Whether we assign the blame to God or to ourselves, we feel the sorrow of forsakenness when our prayers are met with silence and we find ourselves alone and unanswered. The Bible is full or stories about people who felt this way. So are the lives of the saints. Job felt like this; so did the Psalmists and John of the Cross and Mother Theresa. So did Jesus. Jesus cried out from his cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46). Jesus felt the sorrow of forsakenness that we sometimes associate with unanswered prayer. Does that mean Jesus thought his Father didn’t hear him or didn’t care? Did Jesus blame his Father for His silence or blame himself for lack of faith?
No! God the Father’s answer to Jesus’ death was Jesus’ resurrection, as Jesus himself had many times foretold (see Mark 8:31, 9:9, 9:31, 10:34). Jesus did not suddenly come to doubt what he himself had predicted, nor did he question his unity with God the Father, which he had so often proclaimed (see Matt 11:27; John 6:57, 10:30, 14:11, 17:5). Jesus, in his humanity, did indeed want what his Father did not. He expresses this in the garden of Gethsemane when he prayed, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26:39). Jesus naturally and rightly wanted to avoid torture and death. But more than that, Jesus wanted what his Father wanted because he knew that his Father’s wanted what was best. Thus, he immediately adds, “Yet, not as I will, but as you will.”
Jesus felt sorrow in his soul (see Matt 26:37-28). He not only felt the physical pain of a torturous execution from which he recoiled with every fiber of his human nature. He also felt the conflict between that human desire and his desire to do his Father’s will by submitting to his crucifixion. He felt the forsakenness he expressed in the words of Psalm 22. He nevertheless maintained the trusting confidence in his Father that is expressed in the same Psalm. Jesus knew the sorrow of forsakenness that we sometimes feel. For Jesus, however, the tension between his human desire and his Father’s will is resolved not in doubt or in blame, but in trust: “Not as I will, but as you will.”
Jesus trusted that his Father always heard him (see John 11:42) and would answer him in the best way, in the shocking glory of his Resurrection that brings good news for whole world. At the same time, Jesus knew the sorrow of soul that we can feel when the good that we naturally and rightly want is not the good that our Father wants. God seems silent and unheeding. We feel let down and forsaken. We are not wrong to feel that way. Jesus felt that and wants to accompany us in our sorrow. Jesus also wants us to accompany him in his trust.
God may seem silent, unheeding, and unresponsive. But we believe that God is faithful, and we trust in His loving care for us. God always hears the prayers of His children and always answers. Therefore, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor:5:7), “knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence” (2 Cor 4:14).