Greg and Amy answer a listener’s question, “How would you respond to someone who says one of the reasons he’s not Christian is that, even when he believed in God, his prayers were never answered? He grew up nominally Catholic and is now turning to tarot readings because they seem to give him more immediate help.”
Greg: I’m going to offer a challenge here, but I’m sympathetic to the concern. “I prayed and I didn’t get the answer. I went to tarot cards, and I got help.” Notice that he is acknowledging implicitly the realm of the supernatural, but he is assessing God largely on whether God is giving him what he wants, and he is making a request of God when he wasn’t even a Christian by biblical standards. Jesus said, “You must be born again.” And, so, the promises for Christians and believers broadly is not just that you believe in God—the demons also believe and tremble, James points out—but rather that you are in relationship with him. So, one should not be surprised, if they are not in relationship with him, but are just asking for things they want, that God is not going to answer those prayers. It’s a misunderstanding of God.
Now, I’m not saying that God never hears the prayers of non-believers, because you’ve got Cornelius in chapter 10 of the book of Acts, who prayed to God, and God listened to his prayer and brought more information through Peter so that he could actually put his trust in Jesus, the savior, and be regenerated. He was not, in our terminology, saved. However, he was a God fearer. He was pursuing God the best he knew how in a humble fashion. A lot of non-believers who are kind of doing a little Christian thing are interested in God when they have a personal need they want fulfilled. They are not interested in God for God’s sake. So, I would tell my friend that there’s a reason, or at least a rationale, that can be offered why he didn’t have his prayers answered. It’s the same reason that, if he went up to some stranger and asked for $50 because he needed it for something for himself, the stranger would not give him that money. God was a stranger to this guy. He had no relationship with him, and he’s only knocking on God’s door when he wants something from God. That’s not the way God works.
If your friend is getting useful things from tarot cards, it’s only because the supernatural realm is real. If he said he doesn’t believe in God because God didn’t answer his prayers, there’s a whole lot of other reasons to put a confidence in the existence of God apart from that factor. Even if God doesn’t answer your prayers, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. There are many other reasons why there might be silence from God.
By getting involved with tarot cards, he’s getting involved with the supernatural. He’s getting what he wants, but it comes at a price. He is not getting what he needs. He might be getting what he wants, but he’s not getting what he needs, and what he needs is forgiveness, and that’s the first step to enter into a relationship so that then he could go to God as a son from inside the family rather than a rebel from outside the family.
Amy: I would ask more questions about what he means. Does he really mean that he concluded that God doesn’t exist? Or does he mean that he wanted someone who would do more things for him? Because depending on what he says to that question, you’ll know which direction to take this. If his problem is just that he didn’t get what he wanted, well, now there’s a bigger problem, because now we’re talking about somebody who’s just trying to use whatever he can with no care about what’s right or good or true. So, maybe if he answers that way—“Well, I just wanted something that would work for me”—maybe you could try and say, “Well what about truth? What about beauty and goodness? Do you care about those things?” You could even ask, “What prayers were you asking for?” It could be he asked for something legitimate and good, but there could be all sorts of reasons why God wouldn’t answer somebody’s prayer the way he wanted, especially if you’re younger and you’re asking for things you have no idea what is involved with the answer and what would happen if you got that thing you’re asking for. We just don’t have the information.
So, number one, we don’t have the information to know if the thing we’re asking for is really good for us. We don’t know what God’s trying to do. But, secondly, we don’t have the right goals. God’s goal for us is not our comfort and collecting things. God’s goal for us is to know him and to be shaped into the image of Christ. If we’re asking for those things, those are the things God wants to give us. It’s not just, “It’s not working for me because God didn’t give me a new car.”
Be aware that sometimes people might have had frivolous requests, but sometimes the request could be something like, “My mom was dying of cancer, and I prayed, and she died.” That brings in a whole emotional element, and it’s a lot harder for a non-believer to understand that we submit to God’s will for us, even when that involves suffering, because God is worth it and he’s good. It’s easier for us to see that as believers, and for somebody who’s a non-believer, that adds an element of difficulty in answering this question, but at least you can throw some ideas out there, and you never know what the Holy Spirit will do in opening his eyes.