Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The Reason For Prayer and Miracles

I stumbled across this exchange online and the lack of understanding from the atheist side pains me.
Although I wonder if maybe they actually understood what prayer and miracles were about, perhaps they might not be atheists? We can only hope.

Let's tear this apart.

Terry (the Christian here) gives the explanation of what prayer and suffering is about.
It's obvious that the non-believers here don't understand what he is trying to say.

Joe begins the exchange with the old cliché that God doesn't heal amputees. Although he doesn't use amputees as an example, he uses disabilities and broken limbs. I'm fairly sure some of the miracles Craig Keener covers in his work actually deals with miraculous cures for these kinds of things, but that's beside the point anyway.

The problem Joe and his fellow atheists here have is that they are looking at prayer as a demand that God must fulfil if he loves us. If we are in pain, he must heal us if we ask him to.
God isn't a puppet or a performing monkey. His relationship with us in this life isn't to provide a comfort blanket for every boo-boo. This is a common misconception. I have no idea why so many people think that prayer is supposed to be a way of getting all the things we want and avoiding any suffering.
Jesus himself prayed on the day of his crucifixion that his Father would save him from the cross. The important thing to notice about Jesus' prayer was that he asked the favour with the condition that it be according to the will of the Father, not because it was what he himself wanted.
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” -- Luke 22:42 
That's what every prayer should be. You can ask God for anything you feel like, but you will only get it if it is in line with God's perfect goodness and his plan for ultimate salvation. He's free to refuse if you ask for something self serving and unhelpful.
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. -- 1 John 5:14-15
If Jesus himself (God's son, the only sinless human being) can pray to escape suffering and be refused, then why should anyone else expect better treatment?

So that's the first take away. If you believe in God, and love God, and you pray, it doesn't mean that you will always get what you want. When God says "no", it means he (in his infinite wisdom) has something more important in mind.

We can see in this exchange two people with disabilities of various kinds who have responded in different ways. One, the Christian, has learned that although his disability can make things difficult for him, in other ways it has been character building and has helped him become more empathetic to other people with whatever they might be suffering with.
The other, the atheist, wonders why he has been afflicted and expects to be fixed by a God who cares about him. Since he hasn't been fixed, he concludes that there is no God.
The difference should be obvious. The Christian has learned a valuable lesson from his suffering and can actually thank God for it. The atheist hasn't learned anything and wallows in self pity.
This isn't to say that because one is a Christian and one is an atheist they have come to these conclusions. A Christian may have an easier time of coming to terms with suffering because of their beliefs, but an atheist who begins to think about purpose and meaning could come to the same conclusion if they stopped looking at the situation from their rigid perspective.

See how Terry admits to having a disability, and then Joe immediately expects the Christian to have been blessed with a miracle cure simply for being a praying believer? Yet Terry both having a disability and being a Christian seem to be a contradiction in Joe's basic view of what Christianity is. In Joe's Christianity, Terry could not possibly be a Christian and be in pain. God wouldn't allow it because he loves believers.
Over and over again, the Bible tells the opposite story. Believers, the faithful, the heroes, they suffer and their faith is tested, but they become stronger for it: Abraham, Joseph, Job, Moses, Samson, Jesus himself! Just to name a few.

Terry tries to explain this to Joe. Suffering has reason and he can be thankful for it. Joe says he knows the reason for one of his problems: his bad diet. Here Joe is confusing 'reason' with 'cause'. His bad diet caused his problem, but perhaps the 'reason' or 'purpose' for his problem is that he should learn to treat his body better.

The other two atheists parrot the same misunderstanding. If God exists and loves us, then we shouldn't need hospitals. Or at least believers shouldn't ever need hospitals.
We're not in Heaven yet guys!
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison -- 2 Corinthians 4:17 
This life is about learning and growing and trying to be as good as we can be. God will arrange perfection for us later. Compare our average of about 80 years on this planet with an eternity of paradise and anything we have to put up with here will one day be an extremely distant memory.