Prayer and the arrogance of believers

I sense some arrogance in this statement - each of us feels as he/she does. The only person who can speak for all of our suffering is Christ. It is here that you become confused - Christ suffered at the hands of humans, and yet He accepted this as God’s will. This is from a man who was free from any crime, wrongdoing, and free from sin before God Himself. I do not think you will ever find an answer until your appreciate what Christ means through His life of teaching, healing, suffering, dying and being resurrected. This is the profound message that Christ brings - salvation.

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Christ WAS God though. So any sacrifice He made or suffering He endured would have been easier for Him than for us. How much easier would it be to die knowing that you will just come back? How much easier is it to endure suffering knowing that once it is passed, you will never have to endure it again?

I think the one with the true authority to speak of suffering is still the innocent child that died, confused and scared. Who only wanted to run and play with the other kids but suffered in a Hospital his entire life. Knowing NOTHING of a second life. Or at least never knowing if it was actually real.

I keep trying to put myself in their shoes. Not God’s. God knows nothing of THAT kind of suffering.

You seem to change the conversation, but that is ok. I can only speak of any pain I may have felt, although I would sympathise with others who suffer. But who can speak for all of us except the one who created us? In one sense, to enter into your outlook, I would imagine the greatest suffering would be on those who are innocent of any wrong and are helpless - so in that sense Christ would be in the shoes of those children and any other innocent people.

Knowing something may come later has never removed any pain I have felt, and I think others may feel the same. But I cannot get into degrees of suffering - each person can only truly know his own pain. You are confusing the way we deal with pain, with a world to come, which is our hope for such a world that we anticipate in Christ (and only He decides who will inhabit it with Him, so the security you imply is still in doubt). Even Christ was tempted, and even He would have preferred another fate - but as always, He did God’s will. This is why Christianity means “Christ-like” or trying t imitate Christ.

Now, if Christ was fully human, as the Faith teaches us, and He did not turn to any divine power or attribute during His time one earth, then I cannot see your point - in fact you are indulging in theological error by claiming His suffering differs or was easier than that of any other human being.

That last post from me is crossing a line. I’m feeling incredibly guilty for the things I am typing in this thread. I just get passionate, or rather just upset and angry about the whole thing. And frustrated that I cannot find a way to understand. I can’t help but feel that way though. But alas, it can’t be helped. We cannot understand the mind of God. He wouldn’t be God if we could. I’m now just moving into unhelpful territory so I am going to leave it there. I have said all I can say on it.

Thank you for your replies. There were a few good ones that I will try to keep in mind.

You could try out the whole “maybe the Bible itself stands in need of redemption” approach. A number of people I have known with complaints similar to yours have found it helpful. Kenton Sparks deals with this idea in Sacred Word, Broken Word.

BioLogos has a Sparks white paper that includes some of the material he put in the book.

You need to do something totally different. Have you ever gone to the children’s ward of a hospital? Not to see the suffering, but to bring them some joy? Play with them. Open their hearts.

Ben, you shouldn’t feel frustrated. You have expressed the problem very succinctly: Even when strongly motivated, no one can understand the mind of God. From the side of Faith & Religion, the biblical experts at BioLogos have helped me a lot. Previously I thought the Old Testament was more of a distraction than a help, just as the theologian, Patricia Williams wrote in her book: In “Doing Without Adam and Eve” (p.52), she phrases this dichotomy as: “Genesis 1 portrays God as omnipotent and benevolent, the author of a good creation. Genesis 2 & 3 portrays God as inept and ignorant, even vicious.” BioLogos has shown me that scripture would not have been interpreted that way some 3,000 yrs. ago.

To explain to laymen their intense motivation to understand the Laws of the Universe, several famous scientist (e.g. Einstein and Hawking) have used the phrase “wanting to know the Mind of God”. But they, like the theologians, have found the task too difficult for the human brain. So be satisfied and proud, Ben, that you have made the effort. We all hope that God is pleased when one of His creatures tries.
Al Leo

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The questions you have posed in your own manner have been asked by many Christians and others (religious and non-religious people), because they go to the heart of the quality of life for all of us, and the entire planet. I would feel guilty if I was not concerned with suffering of any type - the aspect of helping others as much as we can and are able, is central to being a human being. Christ spent as much time healing others as He did teaching His disciples, and a basic requirement to becoming a Christian is that we help those in need - He stated that when we alleviate the suffering of others, it is the same as alleviating His. I understand the difficulty faced by some is understanding how all powerful God may act and will. Lots of theology has been discussed on this matter - a good starting point is that we are the created, and He is the Creator.

So I think you are in good company - but asking questions is not enough. We all need to find the answers; this is also part of being Christian, in that we exercise our free will to arrive at what is reasonable and we live by faith. I wish you well in your endeavours.

You could try out the whole “maybe the Bible itself stands in need of redemption” approach. A number of people I have known with complaints similar to yours have found it helpful. Kenton Sparks deals with this idea in Sacred Word, Broken Word.

Christie, I can’t help feeling that, in this case, your counsel is not the wisest.

FMW’s problem is not primarily with the Bible, but with God himself, as we find him to act in this world: not with Canaanites but with Syrian refugee children, and not with those left unhealed by Jesus, but with those dying next door.

At the moment he appears to be “theodicy-proof”, and that’s not surprising because the problems he dwells on are inherent in the very concept of ethical monotheism. If there is only one God behind everything, then everything is ultimately his responsibility. That’s why inventing demiurges like an autonomous evolution to say “things just happen” doesn’t help - God made evolution. Even blaming freely-willed human evil can bring back the response, “God could have left free-will out of creation - or not created anything at all.” You can’t rescue monotheism by reverting to dualisms.

Kenton Sparks’ program is to accept the “assured findings” of critical scholars, though they change every year, and that may successfully explain away any “unacceptable” acts of God in the Bible as Hebrew errors, but does nothing whatsoever to explain why God appears to leave prayers unanswered in the 21st century.

Moreover, important to Sparks’ (and Enns’) scheme is that Jesus, if fully man, must have been prone to error (he’s less clear on the implications of Jesus also being fully God, it seems). The key marker of Jesus’ life, and totally relevant here, was his complete trust in the wisdom and goodness of his Father’s will. He taught us to pray “thy will be done”. In the garden, in the face of unjust suffering, he prayed “nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” He accepted, even with tears, the future terrible destruction of Jerusalem that he prophesied as inevitable and just - it would also be his own vindication (see N T Wright on that in Jesus).

But that might, if Sparks’ view of incarnation is right, and if FMW’s analysis of the problem is right, simply have been Jesus’ greatest, catastrophic, error. He could have been a good man trusting, even to death, in an incompetent or malevolent monster. In orthodox Christianity, his bodily resurrection vindicated both the Father and his faith… but remember how many critical scholars demythologize the resurrection as another “error” to be “redeemed” by scholarship. And if the Bible is so wrong about a fundamental thing like the trustworthiness of God, even a genuine resurrection could have been a capricious trick on God’s part.

Now, remember that the very origin of ethical monotheistic religion in the world is the Bible. The God of classical theism is the God of Israel - there have never been any other candidates. Even Mohammad claims continuity with Abraham. Historic Christianity, accepting the Bible as God’s truth, says that those who understand the meaning of suffering best are those - like Moses, the prophets, John the Baptist or Jesus himself - who best understand faith. The gospel, in particular, says we can only know the Father by knowing him in and through the faith of Christ - who knows the Father not as “wise”, but as wisdom, not as “loving” but as love itself, and not as “just” but as the very origin of justice.

The theistic personalism that sees God as just one instance of wisdom, love or justice to be put under our moral scrutiny is doomed to forget that any sense of right and wrong we have originated in God alone. It may try to solve its conflict by denying that God exists. It will then either have to accept the world as blindly unjust and its outrage as an illusion, or become one of those pathetic atheists railing against the God they’ve stopped believing in!

But it will never be able to find peace with God, because that’s only found by learning the faith of Jesus, in the God of Israel, that’s found in the Bible. That is why the Bible completely ignores the kind of rational theodicy originated by Leibniz in an attempt to justify God apart from faith. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” - it was Adam who first tried to put things the other way round by getting wisdom first, hugely unsuccessfully.

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Point granted. But he mentioned that he could not reconcile the God of the Old Testament with Jesus. That is a theme that is taken up in Sparks’ book. Presumably many of the OPs ideas about God originate from an inerrancy-focused approach to Scripture.

I know people read books in differently ways, and maybe I project my own way of reading on other people, but I assume that no one reads a book with the intention of completely accepting or completely rejecting the ideas the author presents. Authors can stimulate a person’s thought in a direction, but that doesn’t mean the reader is going to take exactly the same path or end up in the same place.

Sparks and Enns have been very helpful to several people I know who were on the verge of deconverting and expressed similar sentiments about not liking or trusting God’s character. If someone is about to fall off a cliff and rejects the new and sturdy rope on their right, but is willing to grab onto a frayed and dirty rope on their left, you encourage them to grab the rope.

Something I find helpful to understand God’s allowing suffering in the world is to consider:

10,000 teenagers annually die in car accidents. It is leading cause of death in that age group.
When your child that you love dearly reaches 16-17 and is licensed to drive, what do you do?
You give them the keys to the car, you may even buy them a car.
God gives us the keys to life after giving instructions, knowing that we may suffer. We could lock our child in the basement and never let them out, and they would be safe from auto accidents and such, but it would not be right, and it would not be loving. God could isolate us from the ills of life, but He chooses not to do so, as that too is ultimately not love, despite the risks.

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Well, if it’s just a question of tailoring ones canon to fit ones preferences, another possibility would be to go with Marcion, who rejected the whole Old Testament and accepted only Luke and Paul’s writings in the New. That ought to remove many more possible causes of offence.

Marcion got his scissors out because he too imagined two separate gods were decribed in the Bible. He has the advantage, though, of solving the problem of evils in the non-biblical context too, by declaring that the material world itself, and its maker, is indeed evil. He has some followers today - but the question, surely, is whether his particular rope - or any other - is anything like the one that Jesus clung on to? Because if not, it’s not so much a frayed rope as a “splintered reed of a staff, which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it.”

But I almost forgot - that’s from Isaiah, Jesus’s favourite prophet - but Old Testament.

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Really. You’re going to go there and link Enns and Sparks to heretics? I guess I have a more generous orthodoxy. You can approach the Bible a number of different ways and still arrive at the reality of Christ’s lordship and sinless atonement. In my book missiological prudence trumps theological prudence when the two conflict, but I’m happy to agree to disagree.

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Did I call Marcion a heretic? I implied only that he found what Jesus believed and taught about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as handed down in the Church, to be distasteful. He set up his own preferred alternative about what Jesus was really about in the light of the gap he perceived between Jesus and Yahweh. He kept the lordship of Christ as divine, his sinlessness and his salvation, tweaked in a Docetic direction rather than the kenotic way more congenial in today’s climate, and reinterpreted Paul and the bits he kept of Luke in support, for example by saying Paul’s “god of this world” meant the God of the Hebrew Scriptures.

And that word “climate” is a key one, for it is argued nowadays that Marcion made complete sense given the intellectual climate of his time, when to many his scheme seemed eminently plausible, and the orthodox faith with its barbaric (and Jewish) Scriptures out of synch with the times.

The point is not whether he was orthodox by someone’s modern subjective definition, or even by the definitions of his time, but whether it mattered that he departed from Jesus’s view of truth. Did he, in the long term, actually help those who followed him become better disciples of Christ?


I find the following quote from a paper dealing with Barth Dogmatics to be relevant to discussions within the Church:

" As a theological discipline dogmatics is the scientific self-examination of the Christian Church with respect to the content of its distinctive talk about God.
Ah! The language of the church needs to be examined, and it is the task of theology so to examine it! The language of the church is sometimes better, sometimes worse. What the church says about God and his Christ is sometimes more faithful, sometimes less faithful. All sermons, all creeds, all pronouncements needed to be criticized, and it is the duty of theology so to do. And there are standards by which such examination is to be conducted.

We are not free in the church to say anything just because we like it. We are not free to preach in any old way we want. We are not free to fashion God and his Christ in our own image. We are not free to invent the gospel. Instead, we are bound to the Word of God. It is our duty to frame our proclamation in conformity with it.
Think what non-sense and worse in the church could be avoided by paying attention to this one sentence summary!"

One area that ‘gets to me’ is the way faith is discussed, as if it were opposed to knowledge. The correct outlook is … “The Christian faith is not simply a matter of feeling or personal opinion. It is a matter of knowledge! And therefore theology, as a study of that faith, has to do with knowledge.”


Hi Benjamin, thank you for replying.

My reference to raving was in the sense of uttering as if in madness or talking wildly, as in delirium—disturbances of consciousness characterized by restlessness. It is apparent that you are concerned with the injustices in our world and that it appears that God is indifferent and does not act accordingly to remedy those injustices. In the hustle and bustle of today’s world, with all the stresses, worries, and anxieties (not to mention the terrible atrocities and injustices we may personally experience and those we see all around us on a daily basis—as you clearly point out) it is really easy to become disturbed and angry, and many fall over the edge of sanity. However, this disturbance and anger can be controlled, preventing us from going over that edge and falling into the realm of psychological and physical violence. Christianity teaches us about faith and hope—two virtues (apart from many others) that can safeguard us from this restless spirit that is primarily caused by feelings of despair and hopelessness which can drag us over that precarious edge.

If people knew which prayers God can or cannot answer they would be better positioned to understand in which ways God can help them, and in which ways He cannot. All things are possible with God—if, and only if, they abide by God’s natural laws. A miracle is an event in which the likelihood of it occurring is so highly unlikely that because of exceedingly unfavorable circumstances the event is said to be exceptionally supernatural. In the final analysis, however, it remains—the event follows natural laws, even though those natural laws are not yet understood. Thus, the event is considered supernatural because the natural laws for causing the event are not yet understood.

In the case for God answering prayers one must first have faith that God can answer prayers. The individual must then have his/her ears open to listen for God’s voice. God will then advise on the appropriate course of action to take in fulfilling that intended wish. Necessarily, the course of action involves the pertinent effort required to fulfill that wish.

Therefore, the collective wishes of mankind can only be fulfilled through their collective effort and appropriate course of action. It is futile to pray and wish for things without putting the necessary effort to achieve them and instead believing that somehow they will be magically fulfilled.

We pretty much agree on the overall concept of God and Jesus Christ expect for, perhaps, the minutia. The details, however, are critical in clearly understanding theodicy (why God has not, and does not intervene in certain areas of animal and human suffering), for understanding the function of prayer, and for understanding God’s plan (as outlined in the Bible) altogether. Considering things at the cosmological level regarding infinity, fine tuning, and Creation perhaps you should take a look at these two topics which were discussed in the forum here some months ago — Fine Tuning and Teleology, and, Panentheism vs. Theism.

The topic you began titled, Faith in Aliens and God has now been closed. This was your comment in reply to mine which I did not get a chance to answer;

I’m not following what you mean.

What I am saying is that the evidence for the probability equation arguing for design is all around us, this evidence demands a designer, and any designer able to create a Universe would have to be outside that Universe and not limited by it.
I don’t see any evidence to suggest there are Universes outside this one. And any Universe outside this one would also have to have had a beginning, and so on and so forth until something caused the first singularity to suddenly appear and expand.

This present post—and the links to, “Fine Tuning and Teleology,” and “Panentheism vs. Theism” should be pertinent in that regard.

I understand and share your concerns of the atrocities and injustices experienced in the world, and I also understand and share your feelings of anger to that effect—how can anyone in their right mind not be concerned and share your feelings? However, as horrible as the atrocities and the injustices are the forces at work will continue to scourge and plague everyone and everything in their path until the karmic forces have been paid in full. It is so dreadfully unfortunate that so many innocent victims (especially the little children) have to pay for the criminal activities of corrupt leaders—but this is the significance of the scripture that closes the book of Revelation;

“He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Revelation 22: 11-12).

Pertaining to natural events (including children born with cancer)—as I have explained, the importance of understanding the minutia involved is critical—how can God intervene, as you also agree that God is “an all encompassing spirit” and that “God is pure energy.” That spirit or pure energy in nature, that we call God, has no capacity for making such decisions in natural events (or in the affairs of man). Nature will be nature—it does not distinguish between good and evil. Therefore, concerning the affairs of mankind, responsibility falls upon that aspect of the all encompassing Spirit and Pure Energy that lies within the hearts and minds of men and women in our world. As you said, “I also believe Jesus Christ is God in Human form and thus is also more than simply a spirit.” More than simply a spirit is the qualifying remark that makes all the difference in our understanding of why God does not intervene. However, Jesus Christ and His true and faithful followers—intervene they will, or perhaps I should say, intervening they are.

It is entirely true that things can be taken as personal attacks quite easily on the internet, and although we find ourselves on a Christian website, we are not immune from personal attack. BioLogos is a special place in regard to Christianity in that it is the hub of evolutionary creationism. There is no other group of intellectual thinkers that brings together all aspects of the Christian mission as thoroughly as it does. As such, I don’t think it is exaggerated to expect personal attacks considering that there are those bent on preventing the fulfillment of that mission. One should assume himself or herself a target if he/she divulges, or exposes pertinent information for that fulfillment. If your intentions are specifically the argument, finding the truth, and learning then you are in good company. I basically wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth. I understand your frustration here as well as I experienced similar reactions to my arguments. I am also intolerant of New-Age nonsense myself and would appreciate if you would care to elaborate on what you find nonsensical regarding my theories. I am grateful for your openness and sincerity, and find your arguments challenging and intellectually stimulating.

I also would like to leave you with this great inspirational song called Melancholy Man by the Moody Blues (perhaps you already know it?)—It kind of puts things into perspective.

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20 posts were split to a new topic: Theological differences between Islam and Christianity

If you think you know all the answers, why do you want to be here? Always circular arguments. We are trying to make people believe as you do. If you know all the answers of the universe, then you should not need this forum. :laughing:

Benjamin (@Find_My_Way) ,

This is the first time I have visited the site. I just wanted to say I really admire your passion for Truth, and to really understand complex issues. They are for certain not simple and so have no simple answers. Some of what Christianity entails can be thought, or known through the mind. God gave us an intellect for a reason. But many other parts of it are felt. This is the Holy Spirit and it’s difficult to describe.

My husband and I often laugh at how we once thought we were ‘in love.’ It surely felt that way at the time. But what we feel now when we are together, just talking to each other and being at home in sweats is more than just a feeling. We have actually changed each other. We actually WANT to change in order to please the other person. It isn’t work. It doesn’t ever seem difficult actually. It has been over 4 years, and our relationship is stronger and more fulfilling than it was when we first fell in love. This, we understand, is the Holy Spirit and we have never experienced Him in a romantic relationship before.

I remember when I prayed and my prayer seemed impossible. That’s how I know God was answering, because there was no logical explanation for what happened. Also, I felt it in my Spirit. I felt His Hand upon me. Why did God answer my few prayers and not others? I honestly don’t know. I am just so thankful for a God who cares, and who listens.

So anyway, I encourage you to seek the Holy Spirit above all. He/It will guide you, reveal Truths to you and give you understanding that is beyond intellect. I know for certain that God will answer your questions because you are sincere and truly want to know. Keep asking, and looking and listening. The answers are coming. Pursue Him, and He will Pursue you Back. Just know, we are not meant to understand everything at once, or necessarily in Intellectual terms that can be proven or even explained.

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