© Graham Dean/Private Collection/Bridgeman Art Library

Eyes closed, head bent and hands clasped together, a man pleads with God in this 1981 painting by contemporary British artist Graham Dean. In the Gospels, Jesus seems to promise that God will grant whatever we ask for: “Ask and you will receive” (Matthew 7:7 = Luke 11:9). But according to author Jerome Murphy-O’Connor in the accompanying article, early Christians, like modern ones, struggled to understand why some prayers go unanswered.