PTSD Spirituality: What If My PTSD Healing Prayer Is Not Answered?

Does God inflict us with suffering?  Do we deserve our PTSD?  If we pray for healing and we are not healed, has God abandoned us?  Does it mean God does not exist?  Let’s begin an examination on prayer for PTSD healing.

Questions like those above and their variations are often asked by many of us who have survived trauma and/or care about a trauma survivor.

Sometimes these sorts of questions may lead us to misplaced guilt or even rejection of God because we don’t understand what has happened or what it means.  And, don’t forget: PTSD wants us to deny God.

MRIs, Computers, and Cars…Oh My!

It may help to frame our spiritual expectations in relation to our mundane, non-spiritual, expectations.

For example, I don’t fully understand the physics of a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) exam or the mathematical details of how my computer functions or how turning the key in a car’s ignition will start the engine.  Yet, I don’t deny the reality of these things (After a recent MRI I was told I have no brain tumors, so I am especially appreciative of MRI technology just now, even though I have no deep understanding of how it works).  When we take something that is paradoxically as simple and simultaneously as complex as God, we often feel as if we should understand every iota of how God works.  That is an unrealistic expectation.  For an adult, it is an immature expectation.

Just because I don’t understand these processes does not mean I should quit having MRIs, using computers, or driving a car. Wisely, we don’t abandon these things just because we don’t fully and completely understand how they work.  Likewise, we ought not to give up on God because God turns out to not be easily understood or as easily manipulated like a key that starts the car’s engine.

With Who or What Do We Choose to Be Patient?

It is odd that we sometimes give machines like MRIs, computers, and cars, more of our willingness and patience to not immediately comprehend their workings than we allow for the mystery of God.

Someone, somewhere, understands all there is to know about current MRI technology.  But, except for Jesus of Nazareth, no person on the planet will ever completely know and understand the nature of God.  Neither Moses, nor Enoch, nor the Apostles, nor later Christian Mystics ever claimed to fully understand God. None of those mentioned in the last sentence abandoned God because they did not receive something they prayed for; neither should we.

Our prayers are evidence of our relationship with God, they are not supposed to be our transactions with God.

We continue to strive to learn more about God, but it is foolish to think we understand God 100% or can compel God to particular actions.  Indeed, theologically, to think we can compel God to a particular action is a form of heresy.

Wounded Bodies and Wounded Relationships

If I break my leg, I will need medical attention and probably physical therapy (assuming the insurance industry allows me to receive care).  Mending a broken leg and attempting to bring it back to full strength is a time-consuming process; sometimes, the leg never fully heals (trust me, I know…ouch!). While I may follow the instructions of my doctor and my physical therapist, I may still not fully recover; even if I pray for rapid recovery. But, my prayer was not “denied” or “ignored,” it still has meaning and value.

If I suffered abuse from a spouse, sibling, parent, priest, or at the hands of an absolute stranger, it is legitimate to petition God for healing. The damage from such abuse is often both physical and spiritual.

Short of amputations or visible scars the spiritual wounds will last longer than the physical wounds.

We may need to seek out a counselor, a pastor, or a trusted friend. And, we would benefit from seeking God.

Unanswered Prayers Have Value and Worth

Whether we seek to call it a friendly conversation, psychotherapy, counseling, or prayer, we recognize that spiritual wounds can take longer to heal. Again, we may feel that our prayer has not been answered because we did not get exactly what we asked to receive. The reality, however, is that while the petitionary prayer may not have been immediately answered in the way we sought it was still an effective prayer.

Yikes! Is There Benefit in Unanswered Prayer? Yikes! How is it that I can say that a prayer that has not been answered in the way we want is still an effective prayer? It is still an effective prayer for an important reason: In every prayer we continue to deepen our relationship with God, and in this sense, in our particular experience or circumstance of surviving and healing from PTSD.  If we pray we risk having a fuller experience of God.

Beware Gumball Theology

We need to be careful of “Gumball Theology” where we think we can manipulate God as if we placed a quarter in a gumball machine, turn the crank, and expect an assured result. Alas, God does not do gumballs (remember, you heard it here first!). We cannot force God to do things for us with a mechanical expectation. Saying so many prayers, or doing so many good deeds, cannot force God to act.  God is not a dog we train to obey our commands and signals.

Gumball Theology is the prayer level of a 12-year-old child. The child thinks God is Santa Claus and if you just does X, Y, and Z, then he will receive a candy cane in his stocking and not a lump of coal. Viewing God as the great Santa Claus is fine for a 12-year-old child as their faith and spiritual maturity are at an early stage. But an adult is supposed to know that we cannot bribe or coerce God into particular actions.  God does not obediently bark when we whistle.

Beware the Invisible Asterisk

It is right and just for us to present petitionary prayer to God. Yet, we need to make sure that there is not an invisible asterisk attached to our prayer that seeks to demand of God a mechanical response to something we have done. Honest, humble, prayer does not come with an asterisk.  It comes with an ever deepening love and appreciation of the divine reality that is God.

What we need to remember here is that:

Our actions and omissions matter, but they do not compel God to act as we request or demand.

Willing to Allow God be God?

Mainstream Christianity understands God as a mystery, an ultimate reality that we will never fully understand.  Even though I am a professional theologian who gets paid (peanuts) to study and teach theology, I will still never in my lifetime plumb the depths of the beauty and reality that is God.  If I am honest about that I accept that while I may enjoy the beatific vision in heaven, I will never exhaust the fount of wondrous being that is God.

The Suffering Jesus as Exemplar

Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane for the cup of suffering to pass him by.  It did not.  He was crucified.  It hurt, a lot.

Early Christian prayed for deliverance from persecutions, yet many were martyred.  We can legitimately pray for our own suffering to pass us by.  We can legitimately pray for God to heal others and eliminate their suffering.  But, we are wrong to demand it or expect God to respond like a gumball machine.  Are we willing, like the early martyrs, to be a witness to the love and completeness of God?

Each of our prayers, whether petitionary where we ask for something, or prayers of thanksgiving where we are grateful for God’s redemption of us and love for us, or for any other reason are a deepening of our relationship with God.  This is always a good thing.  We may feel a prayer to be unanswered, but if we were honest and sincere in our prayer, then it has value.

Maturing from Spiritual Child to Spiritual Adult

As children we sometimes “loved” our parents because they gave us good things.  Later we loved them for who and what they are, we love them for the relationship we have: We loved them for their love.

Similarly, a twelve year old child may “love” God based on the Santa Claus effect.  Later, in maturity we seek to grow where we love God for God’s beauty, redemption, and relationship.  Our spirituality does not grow from zero to 100% in an instant; it is a maturing process (see 1 Peter 2:2 and 1 Cor 3:2).

God is Eternal Beauty, Not a Gumball Machine

We will begin a deeper healing of our PTSD soul wounds when entrust ourselves to experience God as ultimate being and beauty and not as a candy-spewing gumball machine.  The more we learn of God the more we love God: Why? For, God is Love (1 John 4:8).  The possibility of mundane healing is always there for us and it is fine to desire it, but the deep healing of our PTSD soul wounds comes from the depths and limitless grace of realizing that God is Love and that God loves us, even me, even you.

God’s love is another reason we all have value.

(As time and health permit I will explore the issues of theodicy, prayer, love, and grace in future PTSD Spirituality essays.  I will also pursue the reality of “redemptive suffering,” that not all suffering is meaningless, it can help us and others to grow…even though God does cause the suffering.

On another note: To those who have been praying for my physical health and well-being I am extremely grateful.)

Semper Pax, Dr. Z

Comments

  1. Comparing God to a gum ball machine when we are asking something as serious as saving our lives is just not cutting it for me. I am not asking God for gum . I am asking him to help save a life that up until 6 years ago was painful but one of service to others and a testimony to whatever spirit was in me. Now I am a nothing. I am mean, hateful, terrified, paranoid, a zombie. I am not asking God for a gumball. I am asking for my life to be saved. You are not addressing this issue correctly. These gumball answers do not address the severity of this. God ask us to have faith in him and see him as a father who is more holy and righteous than our own fathers and yet he is willing to let us die. I am not buying it. I am angry. Like Job? I believe if God is real this is not the answer he would want to give us. If I lose faith in God because of this whose fault is it? Why do we take so much blame? This is a horrible, horrible thing. God has some asnwering to do. Asking for your life back is not manipulation. This kind of faith is anti person. You are asking us to accept death? And not just death, suicide?

    • Thank you for taking the time to visit this site and especially for taking the time to write your heartfelt comment.
      I am comparing some people’s behavior/expectations concerning God as if he God is a gumball machine. I am not comparing God himself to a gumball machine. Rather, I am exploring how some people will treat God as a gumball machine and then be discouraged when they don’t get what they want.
      When you write, “I am not asking God for a gumball,” I believe you. Yet many people treat God as if he is a mechanical device where if they enter the proper code or insert the right prayer or perform a particular devotional act, that God them owes them something. I am glad you are well beyond that two-dimensional understanding of God. Yet, many people are not yet where you are and act as if they can compel God to do things for them.
      PTSD would have a person believe that they are now “…mean, hateful, terrified, paranoid, a zombie,” that they are “nothing.” I remain grateful that the opposite is true: Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, in relationship with God. All of God’s creation is inherently valuable and is in relationship with one another and with God. Our continued strength, regardless of how are bodies perform, is in God’s love. We can heal in that love. PTSD strives to make us zombies, but we can heal from zombification and still experience God’s love and grow.
      PTSD also generates a quantity of anger. We may lash out at God, ourselves, and one another. Part of the struggle is to not allow the anger to control us or manipulate our understanding of God. We still seek, like Job, to understand our experiences and how they correlate to our knowledge of God. I don’t find Job so much as being angry as he is bewildered at the events that have taken place…just as we may be often be bewildered at what has happened to us. We are encouraged by the presence of the Book of Job in the Bible to ask these questions ourselves and risk the whirlwind…just as Job himself did.
      For the record, I am not asking us to meekly accept death, and I am especially opposed to suicide. Upon re-reading the essay, I do not see where I am asking us to blithely accept death or suicide. I am asking us to realize that we cannot manipulate God, and I am asking us to acknowledge that prayer is beneficial even if we don’t get what we ask for. I am asking for us to risk the knowledge that God’s response maybe greater than our ability to immediately comprehend.
      I am sorry if the metaphors used in the essay don’t help you. When trying to discuss the intersection of God’s mystery with mundane human experience, one is often reduced to metaphor and similes. When doing so, I try to follow the teaching/explorations of God’s Kingdom that Jesus does through the use of parables. Jesus does not give us divine math, he teaches with stories and similes….and, of course, by personal example.
      Having said all of this, I am more concerned for your well-being than I am about my use of metaphoric gumball machines. I am glad that you are looking for answers and explanations…that means you have not abandoned yourself to zombification. The PTSD Spirituality website is useful to some people as they make the PTSD journey and at the same time it is not useful for others,,,as I often say, “Your mileage may vary.” Yet, it is my hope and prayer you continue to seek God in your own particular journey and that you may experience God’s healing and solace, God’s immense love for you. Semper Pax, Dr. Z.

  2. Kristin Stone says:

    Thank you for writing this. I actually googled “why should i pray when God doesn’t answer my prayers” to see what kinds of good answers are out there. This brings to mind the documentary series i just watched called This Emotional Life. I think the part that impacted me most was when one vietnam pow described some of the torture he endured in a rather matter-of-fact way, and later said that if he could change the fact that he had been so horrifically treated for 8 years he would not do it! His reason was that all he endured taught him about himself such deep things that he could have never gotten any other way. Wow! That is character.

    • Greetings, Thank you for visiting our site and also sharing the story from “This Emotional Life.” There is much we can learn from our suffering. We don’t volunteer for it, but when it comes, we can combine it with grace and find that at the end of a long journey we have grown so much. In your own prayer life, the very act of prayer and even the desire to pray and share your life’s joys and struggles with God is an act of grace. I hope the website continues to be useful for you. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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