My former favorite negro spiritual (“Ain't Got Time to Die” that I sang in BYU's A Cappella) was replaced a couple of years ago with Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel? when my daughter's high school a cappella choir sang it.

Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel, then why not every man?

Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel
Deliver Daniel, deliver Daniel
Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel
Then why not every man?

He delivered Daniel from the lions’ den
Jonah from the belly of the whale
And the Hebrew children from the fiery furnace
So why not every man.

The wind blows east and the wind blows west
It blows like the judgement day.
And every poor soul that never did pray
Will be glad to pray that day.

I set my foot on the gospel ship
And the ship it began to sail.
It landed me over on Canaan’s shore
And I’ll never come back any more.

It's my favorite, because I have lived the question.

Tracy's recent post quoted 3 Nephi 18:20:

And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.

This is, perhaps, the heart of the matter. I don't believe this scripture if taken literally — at least not without lots of contextual additions. Sure, you have the enormous caveat of “which is right,” but I honestly don't think God is as involved as the scripture might suggest. Or at least not involved in the way we often like to think he is. 

This is one of the classic problems of believers.

I have a friend — just a few years younger than I am (who I plan some day to write a post about) — who was a strong, valiant member. Went on a mission, married in the temple, had a family — did the whole “keep the commandments to the nth degree” thing. I once asked her if she would blog here. She is bright and articulate and very funny. She said she needed a few months.

Within that few months, her life fell apart. She left the church. She is now a single mom, back in college. And she is a solid atheist.

Her biggest sticking point — at least from our conversations — is the bad, terrible, evil things that happen to people. People who are decent, honest people who are trying to live good lives. Innocent victims, etc. Sure we all have trials, we all get that. But to have real, persistent evil perpetrated against you is something else. Why does God care enough to help you find your keys, but doesn't intervene when Andrea Yates drowns her five little kids?

I know pulling out the “which is right” card can be convenient, but can anyone really tell me that God “wants” (or thinks it's “right” for) babies to be sexually assaulted or abused? And can you honestly tell me that if I pray hard about this abuse (even a specific incident of abuse) that it will be resolved?

I don't think any readers here would say that praying would stop such things. So maybe it's the faith card we'll pull. Is it because we don't have enough faith? So if, say, President Monson prayed would it “work”?

This is a very hopeful scripture, but I honestly think it is misunderstood. Not that I have a better “translation” than the obvious, literal reading. But in my experience that reading simply doesn't match reality. As Stephanie posted a few years ago:

You need to know that I believe in God. I know he exists. I know that he can do anything. I just don’t think he will. At least not for my family and not for me. Unless he feels like it. And for the past many years he hasn’t felt like it.

In that respect, I agree with my friend. Horrible things happen to good people and bad alike. Praying isn't a magic genie, that — when rubbed with the right amount of faithfulness — pops out our “righteous” desires. Rubbing with faith doesn't turn on the magic, either. God allows lots of very, very wrong things to happen in the name of agency.

Does God care about those bad things? I assume he does. But that doesn't mean he stops them. So he cares in a sense that is pretty foreign to mere mortals. Sure, I might allow my child to bear the consequences of procrastinating an assignment or spending all their money on candy to “learn a lesson.” But I won't let them run into the street to learn the lesson about getting hit by cars. And I wouldn't dream of letting them be assaulted by an evil perpetrator, just so the perp can have his full expression of agency.

So I guess my question would be, what are the conditional things that make this scripture true? How do we reconcile the ideas of having a very involved God who “hears and answers prayers” with the reality of what many people (although, perhaps not you) live with every day?