“Demons have lost all intelligence because they do not know what is actually their self-interest. Even if they have information of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they decline to approach Him; it is not possible for them to get their desired boons from the Supreme Lord because their purposes are always sinful. It is said that the dacoits in Bengal used to worship the goddess Kali for fulfillment of their sinful desires to plunder others’ property, but they never went to a Vishnu temple because they might have been unsuccessful in praying to Vishnu.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.19.1 Purport)
The natural partner of a belief in God is prayer. If you have firm faith in the existence of the highest power, the author of everything good in this world, you will surely seek benedictions from Him. Put more simply, you will ask Him for things. “O Lord, please give me the strength to fight through this. O God, please grant me the ability to succeed in this venture. O father, please hear our prayer.” What if the thing requested doesn’t arrive? What if fate takes a different turn? Does it mean that there is no God? This is a common reaction to the unanswered prayer, but from the Shrimad Bhagavatam we get the accurate understanding.
A famous recording artist of recent times authored a song that praises the Lord for having not answered one of his prayers. This person later on realized that they wanted something different. They were in ignorance the first time, and they saw the light later on. Not necessarily relating to the true identity of the soul or the nature of this temporary world, but their knowledge increased on some level during the process. Therefore they were thankful that their first prayer was denied. They were glad that the man upstairs didn’t agree to their initial request.
The occasion and purposeful denial of requests makes the Supreme Lord unique from all other worshipable entities. If you simply ask God for things, you’re essentially viewing Him no differently than you would an order supplier. Like an online retail outlet that features a shopping cart, next day shipping, and one-click payment, the Supreme Lord is seen as the person who can provide any goody. You simply kneel down in front of your bed, compose some heartfelt words, and voila, you get what you want.
By definition things cannot work this way. For starters, there is the issue of duality. There is only one television set left in a store. Two people want it. Both go home at night and pray to God to grant them their wish. Since there is only one television, one person must be denied. This doesn’t indicate a flaw on God’s part, but rather in the request itself. If one person gets the television, the other person does not. This means that one person’s happiness comes at the expense of another’s. Is this an issue for God to resolve? If He is considered all-loving, why would He make decisions that are guaranteed to make someone unhappy?
From the Shrimad Bhagavatam, we see that the Supreme Lord Himself stands above this. There are other divine figures who can grant rewards. Their interactions with their devotees are similar to business transactions. First come, first serve. If you have enough cash, you’ll get what you want. They don’t take into account the nature of the person. If you’re purchasing a new smartphone, the retailer doesn’t do a background check to see if you have a criminal history. If you’re buying groceries at the supermarket, the cashier doesn’t ask you if you plan on eating all the food and not throwing any leftovers away.
One of the many names of the Supreme Lord is Vishnu. This addresses His personal form, which is the original. Personal references a personality, a distinct entity who can hear, taste, touch, see and smell. As Vishnu is the highest being, He is free to do as He wishes. Therefore He doesn’t have to answer a prayer if He thinks the request is inappropriate. Those who know of Vishnu inherently understand this behavior of His. Therefore they won’t go to Him to fulfill their material desires. They know that Vishnu will sometimes say “no.”
And actually, these occasional denials show real mercy. Only Vishnu is kind enough to look into the future to see the ramifications a specific reward will have. In our ignorance during youth we think that our parents are mean for not giving us so many presents for our birthday. But actually, the more requests they deny the more good they are doing for us. They are loving us so much more by controlling our behavior and curbing our material enjoyment.
Vishnu acts in the same way for His devotees. He sometimes takes away everything from the devotee if it helps them to become more attached to Him. Vishnu takes the helm and brings the devotee towards a point where their attachment for Him can only increase. Attachment to Him is the greatest boon in life, for then one has complete reliance on the only all-powerful and all-benevolent being. Vishnu is without flaw, and He is all-pervading. He can hear prayers from any place, coming from any person. In His original form He is all-attractive, and so attachment to Him automatically brings unending pleasure.
As attachment for the Supreme Personality of Godhead increases, so does the purity of the requests made to Him. Therefore, in one sense the pure devotees never have their requests denied. This is because they only wish for good things for the Supreme Lord. They desire to remain in His association in thought, word and deed. They wish for Him to display His transcendental strength when the occasion calls for it. They ask that He reveal to the world His unmatched potency and splendid beauty. They pray for His victory, and since the pleas are heartfelt and serve the ultimate good for everyone, they are never denied.
Despite all sincerity applied,
Sometimes prayers denied.
This by Supreme Lord is done,
Unique behavior, like others none.
With business served who first initiative took,
Winner takes it all, loser elsewhere to look.
Despite motive, with Vishnu all to gain,
Since with outcome attachment to attain.