I live in Nairobi, Kenya, and I have several questions about prayer. 1) Why does it takes such a long time to answer our prayers? I have been asking God to give me sponsors to go to Bible College and I have been fasting all the time. 2) Why do many, many people in Africa suffer so much more than white people? Does God hear African prayers?
You ask some very important (and very profound) questions. As I think about your questions, they seem to fall into two categories: 1. Questions concerning petitionary prayer (i.e. making requests of God, or asking Him for something) and 2. Questions concerning the problem of evil and suffering.
Concerning prayer, I can safely begin by saying, Yes, God does hear the prayers of Africans. But if this is true, you want to know why it takes God so long to answer your requests. Now as I’m sure you already realize, I really cannot answer this question—for God has not told me why He is waiting to answer your request. However, there are a number of things that can be said about why (in general) God may take a long time to answer a person’s request. First, of course, the answer may simply be “No.” Just as we wouldn’t give our children everything they asked for, so also God doesn’t give His children everything they ask for. Of course, if His answer to a particular request is “No,” then we can (and must) trust that He has very good, loving, and wise reasons for answering in this way.
Second, God’s answer might be “Yes; but you need to wait.” This can be hard to hear, of course. But again, my children sometimes ask me for something (like a snack) to which my answer is, “Yes; you can have a snack. But not right now. You need to wait until after dinner.” In the same way, God sometimes has us wait a while before giving us what we have asked for. In my own case, I prayed that God would provide a particular kind of woman to be my wife. I prayed nearly every day for ten years before He finally granted my request. So sometimes, God does intend to grant our request, but he first requires that we wait a while. We can learn a lot of important spiritual lessons about trusting God, being patient, persevering in prayer, and so forth, as we wait upon the Lord. I’m not saying this is easy. But God wants to develop us into certain sorts of people. And one of the ways He does this is by having us wait a while before He grants our request. After all, for many of us, if God granted our requests immediately, we wouldn’t appreciate what He has given us nearly so much. By having us patiently and prayerfully wait upon Him for a time, before granting our requests, we often come to appreciate much more the blessings God has given us.
Third, God might be willing to grant a particular request immediately, but does not do so because we are harboring unconfessed sin in our hearts. We all struggle with sin in many ways. If we don’t confess our sins, but continue to pursue that which the Lord hates, He may think it better not to grant us our request.
There are other reasons why God might not immediately grant a request as well. Some of these you can find in my article “Problems and Promises of Petitionary Prayer.” I think you would find this article helpful, especially the last two sections on “Qualifying Christ’s Promises.”
Having said all of this, however, I want to reiterate that I do NOT personally know why God has not yet granted your request. Whatever the reason, we all need to learn to trust in the wisdom, love, and goodness of God toward us in Christ, whether He grants our requests quickly, slowly, or not at all. He has very good reasons for doing things as He does and we need to learn to trust Him.
Now concerning your second question, why so many people in Africa suffer so much more than white people, I must (once again) honestly confess that I do not know. This would be yet another instance of the problem of evil and suffering in the world. How can we reconcile the existence of an all-good, all-loving, all-powerful God (like Christians believe in) with all the evil and suffering in the world?
Now I want to be clear, Christian philosophers and theologians have proposed very good answers to questions such as these. But these answers essentially aim to show that God can have very good, morally sufficient reasons, for allowing the evil and suffering that He does—even if we have no idea what those reasons are. As you can see, therefore, these answers (even if they’re successful) will not be able to explicitly tell you why so many people in Africa suffer so much. Unless God tells us the answer to such a question, we simply do not know. And it would be dishonest for me to tell you otherwise.
Having said this, however, I do like what the Christian philosopher William Lane Craig has to say about such matters. He, along with many others, points out that there is a very strong statistical correlation between the amount of suffering in a particular area of the world and the number of people coming to Christ for salvation. That is, he observes that in those places where there is a lot of suffering, there are often a lot of people coming to Christ for salvation. But in that case, one of the very good reasons that God might have for allowing suffering and evil, is that it ends up being a very effective means of moving men and women to give their lives to Christ that they might be saved. And this, it is crucially important to note, ends up insuring THEIR ETERNAL WELL-BEING.
In this respect, it’s important to bear in mind that this life is not all there is. People will continue to exist after they die physically either in fellowship and communion with God in heaven, or eternally deprived of such fellowship and communion in hell. If God knows that more people will freely repent of their sins and turn to Christ for salvation if He allows suffering to enter their lives, then (somewhat ironically) the most loving thing He can do is allow suffering to enter these peoples lives. For by doing so, God knows they will repent, trust in Christ for salvation, and be saved. And this means they will have all eternity to enjoy God, without any pain or suffering. If you would like to read more on the problem of evil, here are some links to articles you might find helpful: 1. The Problem of Evil, 2. Christ and the Human Condition, and 3. The Value of Suffering. My colleague Sue Bohlin has also provided her speaking notes for a message When God Says No: Reasons For Unanswered Prayer at Bible.org.
At any rate, a great deal more could be said about the questions you have raised, ______. For the questions you have raised are very profound questions. But hopefully, this brief answer will give you some help and comfort as you continue to wrestle with these issues. As I have said, I really cannot specifically answer your questions. These are questions which no one knows the answer to but God—and it’s very important to honestly say so. However, the Christian tradition does offer genuine wisdom in thinking through questions of this sort. And I’ve tried to share a bit of that with you in this letter.
Posted Aug. 2013
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