Prayer and the arrogance of believers


(Thomas) #1

What exactly does the Bible say about prayer? From what I have read, Jesus was not speaking to everyone when He said that one can ask anything in His name and He will do it. No, He was speaking to his Disciples. He is also clear that one must have the word within Him and be following it with all his heart before God will answer their prayer.
I have never met a Christian that follows Jesus Christ’s teaching completely however, for they all have flashy houses and a myriad of possessions they refuse to sell. In an amazing act of arrogance and corruption, they will claim that Jesus didn’t literally mean to sell everything. Sure, because that is convenient isn’t it?

These very same people will go around making up lies involving answered prayer or angelic interactions and claim that their trivial, shallow prayers were answered. Never mind the desperate prayer of the parent losing their child to cancer in Hospital. Never mind the child that has just been run over by a car and manages to tell his mother through the blood rising in his throat that he doesn’t want to die… Before dying from his injuries. Never mind the desperate plea of the man married 50 years who is losing his wife and wishes to join her but goes on to linger alone for another miserable, hopeless Decade or Two…

I work with a rather simple man, not too bright but very good natured. He is a ‘Pentecostal’ Christian (yes, the mentally impaired ones who dance and shake and spew gibberish while wagging their tongues). He believes everything he is told in his congregation. He does not rant or shake himself, but he believes it is legitimate when others do it (as if God would take the time to cause people to do this). Anyway he recently lost his key to the work site we are both employed at, we spent roughly 45 minutes searching high and low for this key, all the while he was clearly very concerned (losing this key would result in all the locks it opens to have to be changed and the one at fault receiving a nice fine). Finally he finds the key in a bin he was using and begins exclaiming that he prayed to God to find the key and God answered his prayer. Never mind he just got lucky, never mind the time we spent searching… It was God. Of course it was… Because the key was found. Had it not been found, God’s name would never have been mentioned at all…

I like this man, but I became very angry with him after this, I held it back but still waved his claims off by saying he got lucky, that God was busy in Children’s hospitals NOT answering their parent’s pleas to heal them instead… He laughed and said he knew I was going to say that, because he knows how I think. Fair enough. But how can someone truly be so thoughtless? How can he believe his TRIVIAL, PETTY prayer was answered while countless people suffer actual tragedies and receive no aid from God?

Regardless of what science, philosophy, mathematics and plain logic may state on the existence of God. Regardless of the fact I actually accept the existence of God myself on an intellectual level. I, and any other rational person, cannot believe that God answers our prayers. Of course He doesn’t! Just take a walk in the real World and see for yourself! The evidence is clear, the verdict is in… God does NOT answer our prayers.

I maintain that one of Two things is occurring (perhaps both at once). The first is that none of us are worthy of having our prayers answered, and the second is that the Bible must be being misinterpreted.

Any circumstance where a person’s prayer is actually answered can be explained away by luck or simple circumstance. A series of everyday events that occasionally lead to a nice conclusion. For example, for a long time I believed that I met my wife through the power of God. That in my darkest moment (so far) I was introduced to a beautiful woman who changed my life and gave me purpose again. But the fact is, she and I met through a mutual friend who mingled in both our circles. By chance, she happened to see a post on social media that I had taken part in and she became curious enough about me to ask this friend who I was.
Was this all guided by a God seeking to improve my life and deliver me from the jaws of death (I was suicidal at the time)? Was God helping me through something I could not handle alone any longer? A struggle I was about to lose? Of course it is possible! But how arrogant and even SICK must I be to accept that my wretched self was given attention and delivered from my woes when innocent children are dying daily in the most unjust ways imaginable?

Nay… God does NOT answer our prayers.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #2

@Find_My_Way

Ben,

If you want to ignore God and find your own way, that is your choice. As for me, I need all the help I can get, whether it is from God or from other people, which is why I pray.

One thing that you need to understand and that God is not limited in what God can do. Just because God is helping one person find his key does not mean God cannot help another overcome sickness. Some people believe that God assigns special angels to help individuals so God does have to have to do all the work, but God is perfectly capable of helping everyone do what they need to do all the time.

Now you are right, some of your prayers seem relatively trivial. However God helps us not because of the importance of our prayers, but because we are important to God. God does not play favorites, but loves and cares for everyone, even you and me, so we are free to ask for the help we need to do what is right, however trivial it may seem and however insignificant we may seem to be.

I am concerned that some Christians think that God answers selfish prayers because God does not. If we are blessed by God with many possessions, and fail to use them to bless others, they will become a curse rather than a blessing. God answers prayers that help us do God’s will to help others, whether they are trivial or not.

Also God at times answers prayers by saying NO, God is still in charge and we need to pray like Jesus, Not my will, but Yours.

Again, if you do not want help from God to find your way on this world, that is your choice, but you need to stop being concerned that others seek help from God. On the other hand if you do decide that you need help, don’t think that you are taking God’s time from others who need it more.

Also so not think that you are not worthy of God’s help. While is in some sense this is true, we have all failed to do what we should have done and be what we should be, nonetheless God still cares about us and God still has a place for us in God’s Kingdom.

Finally we do not understand how and why God does things such as your wife saving your life. But we know that God created this wonderful world. We know that God wants the best for us. Therefore we tank God for all the blessings that we have received including the love of your wife. Certainly there is no reason to feel guilty or selfish because you are blessed. God’s business is to bless and help everyone, even the unjust. God is able to help everyone and we are called to follow the Example of Jesus to do the same.


(Kathryn Applegate) #3

Dear Benjamin,

I can’t say we have an official position at BioLogos on prayer, but all of us on staff pray. We pray together twice a week here in the office, and I’m confident each of us prays individually and believes in the power of prayers.

In my experience, prayer is the hardest of the spiritual disciplines, because it is truly where the rubber meets the road in terms of faith. Do I really believe God is good and actually cares about me, my family, my church, the rise and fall of nations, global health crises, gun violence, terrorism, (fill in the blank)? Do I really believe that Jesus said he would never leave or forsake us? It’s hard to pray if you don’t.

I agree with you that there are many blind spots that Christians have, such as love of money and lack of caring for those in need; none of us follows Jesus perfectly. I think it’s presumptuous, though, to assume that God should only answer prayers for “holy” people, or only when it’s big or urgent. I think God delights in listening to my four-year-old’s prayers, even if they aren’t particularly profound.

Prayer is more than just asking for deliverance from some tragic situation. It’s the daily conversation we have with our heavenly Father. It’s how we maintain a vital relationship with the Lord. Imagine if you only talked to your wife once every six months or so. How close could you really be?

I’ll take a moment now to ask that God would move in this conversation, and deepen our collective understanding about this important topic you’ve raised, Benjamin. You’re asking good questions.


(Patrick ) #4

Kathryn,
The efficacy of prayer whether individually or in groups has been tested scientifically many times for many religions including Christianity. So far all these tests showed no benefits over individuals or groups who don’t pray.


(Albert Leo) #5

Patrick, did you honestly think that, if there is a God, He could be the subject of a scientific test? Surely you are smarter than that! I could not believe it when the Templeton Foundation funded such a test on the efficacy of prayer. Arrogance is too weak a description of the attitude of anyone who would plan such a foolish “test”.

Does God answer prayers, and if so, how? has been especially important in my life–both in matters of life & death , literally, and in more mundane matters. I have mentioned both types in my contributions to this forum–first, in surviving a surely fatal wound in WWII and second, in helping a colleague reach a true understanding of Christian Faith. None of my relatives who prayed for me as a 19 yr. old infantry private ever doubted that it was due to their prayers that I returned to them alive. However, the second instance, relieving my colleagues’ doubts about Christianity, was in answer to an unspoken need, not expressed directly as a prayer. (I called it the Miracle of the Panel Truck in a response to a blog by Kathryn Applegate.)

I would be a poor scientist if I did not demand solid proof of what my colleagues propose in scientific matters. In matters of Faith, I have been most fortunate that God seems to have provided proof of His caring whether or not I have prayed for it. It’s no wonder that I see that asking God for Scientific Proof is the highest kind of arrogance.
Al Leo


#6

Actually, the results are inconclusive, for the simple reason that we cannot control for God’s actions. In the “not being prayed for” group, is there any way to prevent God from acting? I don’t think so. So this wasn’t a scientific experiment.


(Patrick ) #7

Al,
A billion Muslims pray five times per day, many of them forced. Is there any evidence of benefit to any of them? Is God ignoring them and only listening to Christian prayers?

Neither did the relatives of the unfortunate 19 yr old infantry private in the same platoon who didn’t return alive.


(Patrick ) #8

Oh yes, we can have a control group, the large group of people in the world who don’t pray. Is their health, living conditions, happiness any different to those who pray? If they live in a secular society, both groups of non-prayer and prayers are the same. But in non-secular societies, the lives of non-prayers are highly discriminated against.


(Brad Kramer) #9

@Find_My_Way thanks for sharing your heart here. This is a very difficult topic, and I sense a lot of emotion behind your words (which is appropriate, given this topic). You deserve straight and clear answers to these questions.

Your basic premise seems to be: Christians believe that God is perfect in power and goodness, and that he cares deeply for us. We also believe that God wants us to pray about our needs, and that he answers our prayers because of this care and love for us. However, lots and lots of people suffer and die, even those who pray, and this shows that prayer doesn’t matter. In fact, this shows God to be arbitrary, cruel, and at best, useless. He may exist, but he doesn’t care.

I agree that, given these premises, your conclusion is correct. But you’re not taking into consideration a very key part of the puzzle: The biblical image of the “coming Kingdom”. A kingdom is where a King’s rule is expressed. If the King is seated on a throne, everything within the Kingdom bows to him. Now, there is a sense in which God is the “King” of the universe, being its creator and sustainer. But the entire Bible speaks of God as the coming King, and his Kingdom as the coming Kingdom. Jesus’s message in the gospels consists almost entirely of announcing the coming of the Kingdom, and what this Kingdom is like. Turns out that when God’s Kingdom is fully present, everything looks the way it’s supposed to look. All penitent prayers are answered. Everyone is healed. Death is defeated. And so on. Jesus’s ministry is an example of what the Kingdom looks like. But he made it clear that his power was only a glimpse of a more final “coming” when the Kingdom will be fully present on Earth. Thus, believers are supposed to live in light of this hope of a final reality in which God is King and evil/death/suffering are no more (Revelation 21).

How does this change the equation when it comes to prayer and suffering? Think of a young child who dies of cancer. The parents pray and pray for his healing, but the child dies anyway. Now, if this reality was the only and final reality, then we could conclude that God either doesn’t care or can’t care. But if there’s another reality that’s more real and important and final than this one in which all wrongs are righted, then the picture changes. That child’s healing is accomplished in this future reality, even if it wasn’t accomplished in this one. The prayer is still answered. And if this future reality is eternal, when Christians believe, than that young child’s suffering is only a small blip in that eternity.

Of course, we could still ask why God would create this sort of reality at all, if it includes so much suffering and death? Is there anything that can really make up for the death of a child? To these questions, I admit, I don’t have all the answers. I just don’t know. It probably has something to do with the value in a creation which includes free, rational beings capable of choosing to love God.

Here’s another thing to consider: This idea of the “coming Kingdom” is what makes the Christian moral vision so distinctive. Before Christianity, if a baby was born with a birth defect, it was assumed that the gods didn’t want the baby to live, so they let it die of exposure (here I’m speaking of some pagan societies, not Jewish society). But Christians looked at a baby with birth defects and saw God’s love for that child, even if that love was not expressed in terms of instant healing. They looked at the baby with Kingdom eyes. And that revolutionized society. It enabled Christians to protest suffering and evil because God was on the side of the oppressed and suffering.

To me, it makes total sense that we can’t manipulate and quantify the power of prayer, yet so many people have experienced its power. If prayer worked like magic, then it would just be another tool for the powerful to gain more power. God is God of the powerless, not the powerful. That’s why he came to earth as a poor homeless beggar and not a rich ruler.

This is not a full answer, but it’s the start of one. Feel free to continue the conversation.


#10

No, you need to control for God, whether or not anybody is praying.


(Patrick ) #11

Not really. If the assumption is made that either God doesn’t exist or chooses to do nothing, the conclusion is the same: doing nothing fails like prayer.


(Patrick ) #12

Brad,
The promise of an afterlife is illusory and could lead to decisions in this life that may be unwise and harmful to this life, the only one we may only have.


(Brad Kramer) #13

We’re well aware that you’re an atheist and disagree with Christianity, Patrick. But thanks for the reminder.


(Patrick ) #14

Brad,
This is no agreement among Christians about the afterlife, what it is, who goes there. You make it sound like it is settled theology. Is it? Or is it illusory as I mentioned?


#15

@aleo

During World War ll, among the allied and axis powers, 20 million military personnel were killed. Of those who fought the battles and died, can we conclude that it was because God did not hear the prayers of their loved ones? How does it make sense that God heard the prayers of your loved ones (allowing you to survive the war) but not the millions of others who fought alongside you and died?

Similarly, if the loved ones of someone who will be robbing a bank (and subsequently kills three bank tellers) pray that that their son return to them alive (because they weren’t able to convince him otherwise)—would it be logical for them to state that they never doubted that it was due to their prayers if he returned to them alive? No, of course not!

I’m glad you’re with us Al—Just questioning your reasoning on how prayer affects the outcome of events.

Tony


(Thomas) #16

All we know for certain is that we exist in THIS reality and that this current life is the only one we know we have. I realize I do not and cannot understand the mind of God or conceive of His plans, but I also cannot accept that our current struggles and sufferings are irrelevant or acceptable simply because there is another place planned for us that consists of only bliss and happiness, fun and laughter.

This physical reality we live in is where suffering and misery was born. The physical World is a place where suffering can and often does reach it’s full and horrifying potential, and we are born and grow to know this suffering intimately, like no other being can, not even God Himself.
We do not know that we will be raised again as Jesus did, so our deaths and all our struggles are infinitely more horrifying than they ever could have been for Him. We basically know nothing but what we can see, feel and touch. And what far too many people see, feel and touch is misery, pain, hopelessness, extreme fear and premature death. To downplay or try to make it seem irrelevant only shows an ignorance of the potential for suffering that this World makes possible and more often than not makes a reality.

There can be no forgiveness from me for anyone who has the power to prevent or stop senseless and needless suffering but chooses instead to do nothing. Especially an infinite, all-knowing being that knows, maintains and controls every atom in the entire Universe at once. Healing a child dying from cancer would be such a simple task for this being, that it wouldn’t even register as an effort.
Just watch a tragedy unfold before your eyes, read about one or try to imagine one… Every fibre of your being desires to reach out and help the sufferers. Is it not so? Now ask yourself how you could ever sit back and do nothing if you truly COULD help. You would absolutely prevent or heal the individuals involved if you could wouldn’t you? Of course you would. Only an utterly depraved and evil monster would not. Needless suffering is utterly unacceptable. It cannot be justified.

I am amazed that most people will still use their own, fortunate experiences which they happened to pray about as ‘evidence’ that God answers prayer. And I still maintain that it takes an incredibly arrogant, selfish, ignorant and thoughtless person to make such a claim. I would suggest these people leave their quiet little neighbourhood in their first World country and take a good look around… In the meantime, I hope they can understand why I find them disgraceful for implying that they are more special and important than an innocent new-born baby.

I wish I could be confronted with evidence that forces me to believe God answers prayer and alleviates suffering in the World. But sadly, the evidence against this claim is all around us. In every hospital, street, home, school and war-zone on the Planet
If a person has honestly followed the argument and come to the conclusion that God exists, how can they also sit there and believe He answers our prayers? That is not a conclusion any honest person can come to.

Now go on and accuse me of being misinformed regarding God, of failing to understand because I do not live the Christian lifestyle. But no reasonable and rational person can deny the logic and evidence behind my position. And when I face judgement, let it never be said that I am not compassionate and empathic towards my neighbour.


#17

Until recently, belief in some kind of afterlife was fairly universal.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #18

@Find_My_Way

You accuse people who pray for trivial things of being arrogant, selfish, etc. for thinking that such things should even be on ours (or God’s) mind at all while such horrendous misery continues to exist. Your point is well-taken, and indeed to some extent is well-warranted. It would be the height of selfish insensitivity, for example, for someone to hear from their friend how he is now living out in the street, not knowing the source of his next meal, to then confide to that same friend that they have had a sour year on the stock market and have been forced to cut back on what they can put away for their savings. That is indeed a perverse, obscene (and also pretty much nonexistent) mix of “concerns” to be shared in the same sitting. But let’s look at this from the other side.

So the homeless guy’s prayer ought to trump the richer one’s, right? Not so fast … what about somebody suffering from a dreadful disease? The homeless guy may miss a meal or two, but maybe he’s in no real danger of actual starvation. So is he arrogant to think he’s got the “real” need? On to the diseased person. Surely this then is the candidate for a real need. Not so fast. …and you can see where this will go. The son killed in a war … surely losing a child is the ultimate suffering. But what if an entire population is ravaged by something … whole families/communities wiped out. How could those who only lost a child be so selfish as to think they own the market on suffering? …What if entire populations were in danger? In the end even our entire planet is in but one little corner of the universe and for all we know our concerns for all 7+ billion of us alive during this blip of cosmological history may be trivial compared to whatever else is going on in the universe. So as you can see, your objection to the relative merits of concern is really an objection to all prayer everywhere, and it is therefore a logically incoherent objection. You impose your judgments in sweeping ways on everybody for having any various daily concerns. To chastise the wealthy for selfish prayers may be a much needed thing … I’m totally with you there. But if the widow sweeps her house to find her one coin, her prayer and rejoicing will not be denied. Or to pretend the sparrow worth a few pennies should for some reason be beneath God’s concern runs against the grain of what we are taught about God and about prayer. It makes no sense to think the entire world should be held hostage to the one most miserable person, who alone would allegedly deserve God’s attention (and that as if God can only do one thing at a time). God invites all of us to share our daily concerns with Him, including even asking him for our daily bread. If hope is to be denied to those who make so-called trivial petitions (which is pretty much all of us), how much more then, will hope be denied to those in desperate straights?


(Thomas) #19

I am not really saying someone should be ignored in favour of another at all. I am saying neither the person in need or the fortunate person have their prayers answered. At all. I only used the concept of fairness as an example to illustrate this fact. God clearly does not answer desperate prayers, therefore who could assume He answers trivial prayers? I conclude that God does not answer prayer at all.
One person gets lucky and the other is unlucky. One person makes bad choices and the other makes sensible ones. One person has the necessary skill, the other lacks it. These things determine the outcome of an event, not prayer. Never prayer. Prayer is, according to the evidence, a useless activity that has no effect on the outcome of any situation.


(Patrick ) #20

Yes, agree. But belief in an afterlife diminishes the value of this life and clouds your reasoning. I see it all around me. People making decisions about their loved ones with their judgment impaired by the belief in an afterlife. I am for cherishing and protecting this life of my family members.