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Ethics and Religion Talk: Does God Listen to Prayer?, part 2

Is God really able to hear my prayers and does he really care?

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

//The Rapidian

[Note: The Ethics and Religion Talk panel shares four responses this week in addition to the four responses published two weeks ago.]

Father Michael Nasser, who writes from an Eastern Christian perspective and is Pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian Church, responds:

“Let’s answer the second part of the question first: the Christian faith is founded on one enduring principle: that EVERYTHING God has done in His creation, He has done for one reason: His love for us. He proclaimed His undying love for us so loudly that it echoed throughout the whole world, in the silence of His Son enduring His suffering and death on the Cross. Not only was Christ’s work of salvation meant to destroy the power of death itself by bringing His divine nature right into the middle of it by entering into it with His human nature, but also to show us that there is no limit to God’s love for us.

“As to the second part, yes, God knows everything and therefore knows every thought we have, and He hears every prayer. We may not always get the answers we want, but we always get the answers we need.”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“The Hindu tradition offers a few different views on this subject. One option that many subscribe to envisions a personal deity who does listen to the prayers of the faithful, and occasionally rules in favor of the petitioner. There is, however, a school of thought (that I am more inclined towards) which teaches a different purpose of prayer. It is not an exercise in attempting to persuade a deity located in some antiseptic corner of the cosmos in how this or that situation might turn out. The highest form of prayer is that which attunes the devotee to the divine presence. If one strives in that direction, then all outcomes can be seen as opportunities to become more spiritually aware. This does not mean that we passively accept any negative circumstance as “God’s will,” and suffer through it without attempting to improve the situation.  We must use the arsenal of talents given to the best of our ability to change what can be for the highest good.

“To cultivate this mindset, which I admit isn’t easily accomplished; I recommend the practice of meditation, combined with devotional observances.  Those of virtually any religion can include such a routine in their daily lives.  In my experience, I have seen many people from various faith traditions realize a more powerful influence as they grow spiritually.”

Chris Curia, the Director of Youth Ministries at Fairway Christian Reformed Church, responds:

“Author and activist Phileena Heuertz describes silence as the first language of consciousness and therefore God’s original dialect. When we create space for ourselves to be honest amidst the noise to which we can easily numb ourselves, something of our being tunes in to the divine frequency of silence. And in that peace, we hear God’s voice—more of a feeling, really; the gentle reminder that we simply are and that is enough. It is that act of tuning to the divine frequency that changes us, even when we, at first, feel the coldness of its supposed silence.

“May you find comfort in the act of self-care by being honest with God, even when you understandably perceive that your grievances go unheard.”

My response:

God as the infinite creative force of the universe is indescribable by means of human language, because the Divine is beyond human. Human emotions and desires, the limitations of the human body don’t apply. However, when we communicate beliefs about God, by necessity we articulate our thoughts of God using the same language we would speak of any other being. We attribute physicality, action, emotion, and desire to the Divine Being, because without such language, we would have no way of describing God.

I know what it means and feels like to listen to my wife and children, and to care about and for them. But philosophically, I don’t understand what it means for God to listen and respond, or to exhibit the emotion of caring. To believe that God suspend the laws of physics and nature to protect me from harm is deeply paternalistic, as if I have no part in wisely choosing my life’s path.  To believe that God simply grants the prayers of my heart and adjusts the universe accordingly is deeply selfish, as if the world revolves around me.

Nonetheless, we say that God listens and God cares because we believe that our thoughts, desires, and prayers matter. We believe that we, as praying human beings, affect the world around us. But our prayers only matter within a religious system that also demands that human beings take loving action for each other. They matter when we are engaged in a lifelong journey to master our impulses and better ourselves.

So yes - if you care about living in a relationship with God, then I believe that God hears your prayers and cares about you. If, however, your prayers are pro forma or only meant to get for yourself what you want, then the metaphor of the listening and caring God breaks down. In that case, no, I do not believe that God cares and listens.


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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