Hey, Father! What is the point of praying? My brother was in the hospital for almost four months with COVID. We had prayers said, Masses, lit candles, a group said the rosary every night and he was on the prayer list at all the area churches. He died anyway. Did God say, “I want him to die, or I don’t care if he dies?” I think God is very selective of whose prayers he answers. It is like playing the lottery. Maybe he will. Maybe he won’t. What is the point of doing everything the church says for us to do when God turns a deaf ear?”
— Ann in Chrisman, IL
First, know that you and your family are in my prayers and thank you for having the courage to ask these questions. It is questions like this that are very heartbreaking to read, yet I have no doubt that it is one that many people have asked, or continue to ask, when they have a similar experience.
When we approach this question, I think it is important for us to begin not from the perspective of what God does or does not do, but to first consider who God is, as that will help us in understanding what he does. So, what do we know about God? I think St. John summarizes God most succinctly when he writes: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) The immediate reaction that many people raise to that statement is this: How can a God who is love allow such suffering? Or, to get a little closer to the situation mentioned above, the following question/objection might be raised: What kind of love would allow somebody to suffer and die?
With great reverence toward the painful experience of losing a loved one who suffered greatly, I invite you to re-read the words of the objection that I just posed, but as you consider it, I invite you to do so as you look at the crucifix. Then, hear these powerful words from Jesus recorded in St. John’s Gospel: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16-17)
The suffering and death of Jesus is the greatest sign of God’s love, a love that did not end with the death of Jesus, but a love which conquered death through his Resurrection. As our Lord himself says, those who believe in him will not perish, but will have eternal life. God’s greatest gift of love is not to give us everything we think would be best in this life, but to grant us the gift of eternal life, a gift which far surpasses what we could ever hope for in this life.
With that as our foundation of who God is, perhaps we can better understand what God does or does not do. When we pray in faith, asking God to show his love and mercy toward a loved one, what does it mean if he does not respond to our prayers by healing that person? Does it mean that he does not love that person? Does it mean that he is not listening? Does it mean that he is being selective? Remember that God is love. That is his nature, and everything that he is and does is an expression of that love.
When we pray, he receives our petitions with great love for us and for the ones for whom we pray. He responds to every situation with love, a love which is ordered to the greatest good, our salvation. Perhaps our prayers for healing serve to bring about healing in the soul of our loved one which prepares them for the gift of sharing in eternal life. Perhaps our prayers for healing help another member of the Body of Christ to bring them physical healing. But if God does this, it does not mean that he is loving our loved ones any less, but in every case, he is acting in love in the way that is most conducive to each person’s salvation.
There are a few passages from the Old Testament that I think speak to this last point. The first is from the Prophet Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is 55:8–9) Those thoughts are always an expression of love which seeks our salvation. The other passage that comes to mind is from the Prophet Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer 29:11) That future full of hope is the eternal life he has made possible through the Resurrection of his Son.is the eternal life he has made possible through the Resurrection of his Son.
As with any hard question with our faith, such a short answer is far from answering all of the objections that we might have, but I am hopeful that by being reminded of that fact that God is love, and that everything he does or allows to happen to us, his beloved children, is an expression of that love which is always working to prepare us for the greatest participation of love that awaits us in Heaven.
Father Brian Alford is rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield and vicar for clergy and vocations director for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.
everal years ago, I too faced a situation like yours. My brother was healthy one day and a day later was in the hospital with an aggressive form of leukemia. We prayed, offered Masses, and he received the sacraments. Our prayer was for healing. A week later, he died. He was 33. This quote from St. John of the Cross helped me profoundly in the face of this tragedy, especially considering all the faith related things we did, and I hope it helps you:
“Do not allow yourself to be overly saddened by the unfortunate accidents of this world. You are not aware of the benefits that they bring and by what secret judgement of God they are arranged for the eternal joy of the elect.”