Why Does God Answer Some Prayer and Not Others?

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The Lord answered prayer miraculously for my son when he was 8 years old. He had open-heart surgery and survived without any permanent problems. But my husband was diagnosed with cancer three years ago, and we prayed for him night and day. Nevertheless, he died last January.

I just can’t understand why God heard my prayer for our son but allowed my husband to die. Is He there — or isn’t He?

I assure you that He is there and that your prayers for your husband received no less attention or compassion than those for your endangered son. What you’ve experienced is evidence of the sovereignty of God. He will always be the determiner of what is best for those who serve Him.

One of the most dramatic illustrations of this divine nature occurred in the lives of my good friends, Von and Joann Letherer. When Von was just 1 year old, his parents noticed that he bruised badly whenever he bumped into furniture or even tumbled in his crib. They took him to their doctor, who diagnosed Von with hemophilia — the hereditary “bleeder’s disease.” His blood lacked the substance necessary to coagulate, actually threatening his life each time he suffered the most minor injury. There was very little treatment for hemophilia in those days, and Von was not expected to live beyond childhood. Indeed, he survived because of prayer, and because of nearly 400 pints of blood transfused by the time he reached the end of adolescence.

During those teen years, when Von’s life repeatedly hung in the balance, there was a young lady standing by his side. Her name was Joann, and she was his childhood sweetheart. Joann understood very well that Von’s future was uncertain, but she loved him dearly. Hemophilia, they decided, was not going to determine the course of their lives. The couple was married when he was 22 and she was 19 years old.

A new crisis occurred several years later when Joann was carrying their second child. She became seriously ill and was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a type of cancer that attacks the lymph glands. It was usually fatal in that era. Although a treatment program had been developed, Joann’s pregnancy prevented the doctors from prescribing it for her. She and Von could have aborted their baby, of course, but chose instead to place themselves in the hands of the Lord.

They began asking for a miracle — and promptly received one. Several weeks after the initial diagnosis, the hospital repeated the laboratory and clinical tests. Doctors concluded that there was no sign of Hodgkin’s disease in Joann. She has been cancer free from that day to this.

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Now, notice what occurred in this instance. As we have seen, Von was born with a painful, debilitating illness about which his father, a minister, and his mother prayed diligently. They asked repeatedly for God to heal their son. When Von got older, he began praying on his own behalf. Then Joann came along and joined the chorus. Despite these and many other petitions, the Lord chose not to heal Von’s hemophilia. At 63 years of age, he is still afflicted with the disorder and suffers daily from immobile joints and related physical difficulties. Von has taken medication every day for many years, just to cope with the pain. Yet his indomitable spirit has been a witness to me and thousands of others through the years.

Why has the Lord been unwilling to heal this good man? I don’t know. Some might say that his prayer team lacked faith, except for the fact that Joann was healed in response to their petitions. The same people who asked for intervention in her life were also praying for Von. In one instance the answer was yes, and in the other it was no. And life goes on. The Lord has offered no explanation or interpretation of His response, except, by inference, “This is My will for you.”

In this and countless other circumstances that occur within the human family, only one conclusion can be drawn: God will do what is best, and we must continue to trust Him regardless of the outcome.

To the woman whose husband recently succumbed to cancer, let me offer this word of encouragement: The Father has not lost track of your circumstances, even though they seem to be swirling out of control. He is there. Hold on to your faith in the midst of these unanswered questions. Someday His purposes will be known, and you will have an eternity to talk it over. In the meantime, I pray that the Lord will help you cope with this tragic loss of, or should I say temporary separation from, your partner and friend.

Get more of Dr. Dobson’s perspective from his book, When God Doesn’t Make Sense

The above answer and more information on family topics can be found in the Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide.

Copyright © 2005 Focus on the Family, Used with Permission.

Dr. Dobson is founder and chairman of the board of Focus on the Family, a non-profit Christian ministry dedicated to the preservation of the family.

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