When God’s Answer Is No

Yael Eckstein  |  October 19, 2021

Young boy at the Western Wall praying.

Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the LORD. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace. — Genesis 19:27-28

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Vayera, which means “and he appeared,” from Genesis 18:1-22:24.

The other day I was praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. After reading a few Psalms, I took out a list of people who needed prayer. One of them is a young Christian boy, only 18 years old, who is suffering from a deadly disease. Someone who works with his mother in the United States told me about his situation and asked me to pray for him.

I asked for his full name as well as the name of his mother. According to Jewish practice, when we pray for someone in need of God’s mercies, we invoke their mother’s name as well. This way, we call upon God to have mercy not only on the person who is sick, but also on the loving mother who is suffering as well due to the situation.

I thought of other times that I had prayed for people in need. While God often answers these prayers positively, sometimes God’s answer is “no.” Or at least, it seems that way. When we pray and don’t receive the answer that we hope for, it can be difficult. Many people have a crisis of faith when God’s answer is no. They wonder, “Is God listening?”

When God’s Answer Is No

In this week’s Torah portion, Abraham is faced with just such a situation. After praying and praying to God not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham arose the morning after the destruction. He went back to the place where he had been praying only to see the smoke rising from the destroyed cities. He saw his prayers going up in smoke. God’s answer was no.

I think that the most powerful lesson of this scene is that Abraham did not cry out in anger to God. He did not challenge God at that moment. We see no crisis of faith or change in Abraham’s devotion to God after this event. No matter how hard Abraham prayed, his faith remained just as strong, even though as far as he could tell, the answer was no.

The very next verse tells us that God remembered Abraham and saved his nephew Lot. But Abraham did not know this. As far as Abraham knew, all in Sodom and Gomorrah had been destroyed.

God always answers our prayers, even if it’s in ways we may not see.

Your Turn:

Think back to a time that you did not get the answer you hoped for your prayers. Now reconnect with God in faith that He answered your prayers in ways you did not see.

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