Yesterday, in our discussion of Alma 14, our Gospel Doctrine teacher read an oft-quote passage from Spencer W. Kimball, which prompted some thoughts about the nature of prayer.
Then-Elder Kimball’s statement is as follows:
Now, we find many people critical when a righteous person is killed, a young father or mother is taken from a family, or when violent deaths occur. Some become bitter when oft-repeated prayers seem unanswered. Some lose faith and turn sour when solemn administrations by holy men seem to be ignored and no restoration seems to come from repeated prayer circles. But if all the sick were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the Gospel, free agency, would be ended.
If pain and sorrow and total punishment immediately followed the doing of evil, no soul would repeat a misdeed. If joy and peace and rewards were instantaneously given the doer of good, there could be no evil-all would do good and not because of the rightness of doing good. There would be no test of strength, no development of character, no growth of powers, no free agency, no Satanic controls.
Should all prayers be immediately answered according to our selfish desires and our limited understanding, then there would be little or no suffering, sorrow, disappointment, or even death; and if these were not, there would also be an absence of joy, success, resurrection, eternal life, and godhood.
As I listened to this line of reasoning, I begin wondering how God decides which wishes to grant and which to deny. (By the way, I use the word “wishes” rather than “prayers” to avoid the debate about whether God answers every prayer. That issue is slightly to the side of the issue that I am interested in exploring.) After pondering this issue for all of, say, two minutes, I jotted down these questions on my Ward Newsletter: When we see something that we pray for come to pass, are we seeing an answer to prayer? Or are we witnessing the simple conguence of our will with His? Is it possible that faith does not so much cause things to happen as it allows us to submit our will to the Father’s?