Unanswered Prayer and the Existence of God

Brett's monthly letter for May 2010

Dear Friend,

“Why won’t God heal amputees?” The question caught me by surprise.

I had just finished my “Why I Am a Christian” talk at Calvary Chapel Chino Valley’s youth conference in April. After talking with a few students and leaders, a young man approached. He challenged me with this question, explaining his atheist friend had asked it earlier in the week. And he had no answer for his friend.

Apparently, it’s a question atheists make a big deal about. There is even an entire website dedicated to it (www.whywontgodhealamputees.com). The website claims “this is one of the most important questions we can ask about God.” Sometime, somewhere I had heard the objection but had never given it much attention. Now it was staring me right in the face. Immediate attention was required.

I proceeded in usual fashion—by asking clarifying questions. “What conclusion does your atheist friend draw from this question?” I inquired. He responded, “Well, if God doesn’t heal amputees when we pray for them, then He doesn’t exist.” I followed with a few more questions, gathering the gist of the atheist’s argument.

The atheist claims that alleged healings, like the disappearance of a cancerous tumor or diagnosed disease, seem to be ambiguous. Did God supernaturally heal the person or is modern medicine responsible? Both causes could be offered and both could be disputed. But according to the atheist, if an amputee grew back a missing limb after intercessory prayer was offered on his behalf, this would be a clear case of the miraculous and thus proof for God’s existence. On the other hand, no new limb means no God. A fail-proof test, right? Wrong.

First, I pointed out this atheist’s argument is guilty of a logical fallacy called a non sequitur. The fallacy is committed when a conclusion or statement does not logically follow from a previous argument or statement. If amputees do not grow back limbs when we pray for them, does it follow God does not exist? Of course not. His existence is independent of what actions He would or would not take.

But why limit myself to amputee miracles? Any miracle will do. A million dollars in my bank account today. World peace starting tomorrow. And if these miracles don’t occur, then God doesn’t exist. Well, I think you can see the irrationality of such claims. God’s failure to perform a miracle at my request says nothing about His existence. In fact, even if we granted the atheist his assumption that amputees are not healed, at the very most we could only conclude God does not heal amputees. Not a profound conclusion.

Second, I pointed out his atheist friend simply assumed no amputees have been healed. But just because an atheist says there’s never been an amputee healing in thousands of years of human history doesn’t mean it’s true. Now, I’ve never researched this question but I wanted this young Christian to catch a healthy bit of skepticism, particularly when it comes to anti-Christian claims. Research is now in order but my point was you cannot simply assume what needs to be proven.

Third, I reminded this young Christian that God does not promise He will answer every request with a “yes.” Many times he says “no” or “later.” And it could be there are some requests He says “no” to all the time. Might God have a morally sufficient reason for doing so? Absolutely, even if He never reveals those reasons to us in this lifetime. As a dad, there are things I do for the good of my kids—taking them to the doctor for shots, punishing them for wrong behavior, or forcing them to eat their vegetables—which they don’t understand right now. The same is true between God and us.

And this last response requires a bit of maturity to understand. Frankly, many atheistic arguments are childish. “If God doesn’t do what I ask right now, I don’t have to believe in him.” Well, I don’t think God is really interested in becoming a magic genie. He’s interested in something much deeper and more profound. He’s interested in the kind of human being you become. Indeed, Jesus suggests voluntary “amputeeism” for the sake of character development: “If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:30).

After our conversation, the young man thanked me and walked away with a look of relief. An atheist’s challenge was turned into a teachable moment. And a teachable moment strengthened this student’s trust in God’s existence and character. Thank you so much for making that moment possible.

Turning challenges into opportunities,

Brett Kunkle
STR Student Impact

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Brett Kunkle