Heather Koop blogs at Sober Boots. Recently she wrote a touching piece with the same title as this post where she struggles with the tension of praying and not seeing answers. I suggest that you read it in full here. This passage from it reveals her thinking about the question:
After we hung up, I couldn’t help wondering how long he could hang on.
Or how long I could. Sitting there in my office chair, cradling the phone, something about this whole prayer-of-faith formula—at least as I’d been practicing it—began to enrage me. I just couldn’t bear the responsibility of praying hard enough to save my son anymore. Neither could I deny any longer the betrayal I felt about the very idea that I had to twist God’s arm harder to make Him care more.
I began to cry. More truthfully, I wailed. I told God that I was sick and tired of feeling like I was being forced to repeatedly watch my child about to fall off a high cliff, knowing that no matter how fast I got there, it would not be soon enough to catch him.
And then I felt myself being led where no mother wants to go—deep into the territory of worst-case scenario. In my imagination, and more important, in my heart, my son died. I cried and keened and wrestled with God. I don’t know how long this went on, but I finally arrived somewhere outside of and beyond my faith.
For the first time, I realized that I could not trust God to keep my son—or anyone’s son—out of harm’s way. Because God can’t be trusted to deliver a particular outcome. He can only be trusted with, or in spite of, any outcome. He can only be trusted no matter what.
But “no matter what” is a dagger to a mother's heart, because it means that your only hope is to surrender all hope. “No matter what” is a place you never want to go. Now I saw clearly that it would have to be everything or nothing. Either I trusted God with Noah’s entire life (and his death if it came) in a way that surpassed my understanding of what is good, or I didn't trust Him at all.
That morning, I decided to place my son and all my hope in the hands of a God whose love is so vast and incomprehensible that it encompasses everything— even tragedy. I decided to put my hope in a God so good that one day, if only in eternity, even death and suffering will make some kind of beautiful sense.
Of course, I didn’t resolve all my questions about prayer that day. But something shifted. I determined that I would no longer pray to a God who was a puppet on a string, His will being tugged this way or that, depending on how hard people prayed or if they managed to stay awake.
I still pray. I still ask God to intervene. I still think that kind of prayer has a place. Why else would “Help me!” fall from our lips so often and so naturally? In fact, my entire recovery from alcoholism rests on my belief that God does intervene, that He can and will do for me what I can’t do for myself.