Readers. I am thankful that we have a short chapter tonight. My evening has been spent with events here involving the Zeitgeist movie. My friend, the webmaster at preventingtruthdecay.org, a link you can see here, has information and many more links on this movie for those who have some questions. I’ve been out late discussing it with a skeptical friend.
I suspect I’ll pass out at work tomorrow.
So tonight, it’s on unanswered prayer. I think we can all relate to this one. Loftus starts out with talking about a prayer he prayed regularly for the conversion of Elton John. That hasn’t happened yet of course, but we all know about praying such prayers. For conversions, I pray regularly for the conversion of Richard Dawkins. Readers know I have been doing a research paper on him and I think I genuinely like the guy and I would love to see him convert.
Of course, I’ve prayed for other things. I’ve prayed for a special lady to come into my life who will be my wife. I’ve prayed for a better job with more income that I enjoy. I’ve prayed for the conversion of a good friend I have here who is an atheist. I’ve prayed that my family will have an easier time with their finances. (This is also in case any of you want to know some areas where I’d like prayer as well.)
These haven’t happened yet, but I still pray.
Loftus says early on that a recipe for disaster would be to give us just whatever we ask for. As soon as I see this written though I think, “Then what is the problem of unanswered prayer?” (For the record, when we speak of this, I take it to mean having a prayer request not answered in the affirmative. I would say that we have prayers answered either yes, no, or not yet.)
I also don’t think the arguments given on verses like Matthew 7:7 and John 14:13 are convincing. Matthew 7 talks about persistence in prayer so it can’t be a one-time event and it is understood in the social context. You would get what you want if you were asking for that which was in God’s will. As for the Johannine passages, look through that Upper Room discourse. You’ll also find that it promises suffering to those involved. God wasn’t giving a blank check and some bad things were going to happen.
The first inadequate reason Loftus gives is that of how we say they are unanswered. The Word of Faith is one example. I will gladly condemn such a movement as well so there’s no argument there. The second is that some are answered no. I really don’t see how this is a problem as Loftus has said that it would be chaos if God gave us whatever we asked for. The last is that they may be answered but not the way we want. Loftus himself ends by saying that while it may be true that God gives what is best, that does not mean he gives exactly what we asked him.
It really makes me wonder when I see that kind of statement where the problem is.
Another objection is sin in our lives. Now while we are justified of our sins, this does not mean that God is unaware of sins that we are dealing with and when our hearts are not fully consented to his. Of course, we may never reach that point this side of eternity, but there are times when we’re farther away than others. Sin, then, is a proper reason for God to not grant our requests.
The second is selfish motives. I will grant that much of what we do is for selfish motives, but not all. I think we have a problem with selfishness as well. It is not wrong to consider yourself. It is wrong when done at the needless expense of others. If looking out for yourself was a sin, we wouldn’t go to the grocery store or go to jobs. We also find Paul telling some that they should marry if they have strong desires. In other words, your desire is a fine reason to marry. It is my conviction that the church has advocated a level of selflessness that Christ never taught.
Are there some selfish motives though that won’t be answered? Yes. I believe the criteria I have mentioned is what is covered. Does that mean we know definitively? No. I do not see how this is a problem though. We are told to pray without ceasing regardless and if God is not obligated to answer our prayers as we want and when we want, it is not proper to complain when he doesn’t.
The next is lack of faith and here Loftus reveals more about himself on how we feel guilty if our prayers don’t get answered. Maybe I’m the exception, but I don’t. I had a friend who passed away a couple of months ago of AIDS. I had prayed and she didn’t recover. It doesn’t mean I felt guilty. I just trusted that God’s will had happened and he had taken her home to free her from the suffering.
While Loftus says we cannot have childlike faith any more, I disagree. We just focus on ourselves too much instead of looking to God. It could be though that many of us have killed the good child side to us. There is a bad child side which Paul talks about in 1 Cor. 13, but I think there is a good child side that looks at the world with wonder. Readers know I am quite strong on wonder and I firmly believe atheism kills wonder.
It is interesting that in speaking of the guilt, Loftus says he blames the Christian faith.
Hmmm. I blame Pop Christianity. If there is a position I think dangerous today, it’s this Pop Christianity that believes we are getting messages from God and tries to treat Jesus as a buddy-buddy figure. We need to get back to seeing Jesus as the sovereign Lord of the universe and we don’t approach him like we do our best friend.
The fourth is that it isn’t God’s will. I agree with that and contrary to Loftus, I don’t think we need to know God’s mind on a matter necessarily to pray. We should just pray and then say that we will leave it with him. Prayer is giving our input, but there is no requirement that God has to act according to our input.
Another point is that surely God wants people to be saved. I agree. However, I think he wants them to be saved because they want to be saved. He is not interested in simply showing his existence to give intellectual consent. God is not a means to knowledge. Our quest must end in him. He is not the means to stifling our curiosity in an area. God is there for those who seek him. He is not trivia. He is personal.
The next is that it must be within God’s power and here I agree. If two sports teams playing against each other are praying that they win, well both of them aren’t going to get a yes. If two different guys are praying for the heart of the same girl, they’re not both going to get her.
The next is that we are not told we will have our prayers answered in our lifetime. Again, I wonder why the problem. Do I wonder sometimes why my prayers seem unanswered? Some. I just trust God though and I do believe it is entirely possible to do that as I have said.
Seventh is that some prayers will just go unanswered. Loftus gives the example of praying for death to go away. That won’t be until the new kingdom. I could say imagine praying that pre-marital sex would be moral for you so that you can do as you wish with your girlfriend. Imagine praying that the Law of Noncontradiction would be null and void. These prayers will go unanswered. It doesn’t matter how much or how sincerely we pray. These are not going to change.
The eighth is because of free-will. What about prayer for skeptics? I think this is a fine point and something is worth noting. While I pray that hearts be receptive, I think we should pray something else. We should pray when talking to non-Christians what the apostles prayed. They prayed that their words would be well-spoken and that they would be bold. When praying for conversion, they focused on their presentation more than the receptiveness of the lost person. We need to pray that we will have the right words to say and do our part in studying and learning so that we can be ready when the time comes. Tonight gave me just such an example as impromptu I had to answer a range of questions on a litany of topics.
In some closing thoughts, Loftus says that it is extremely hard to come to the throne of God as Hebrews 4:16 says even if we don’t know what to pray which Romans 8:26-27 tells us to not worry about. I agree. Especially for guys, it seems that prayer is difficult. I think Paul saw the same thing in writing to the Philippians on telling them to praise God and not be anxious. They were to focus on the good things. Prayer is hard for us and many of us need to learn how to do it.
Second is why should we pray for things? Shouldn’t God do them if they’re the right things? Pascal answered this by saying prayer gives us divine causality. God does what he will do knowing what we will pray in advance. It could be that some things happen, and the Bible would support this, because people prayed.
Thirdly, it’s not just petition. There is also praise, thanksgiving, and intercession. Indeed, these are the kinds of things I think I focus on when I pray. My prayers often seem to turn into long thoughts on who God is and what he is like. It is a time to discover the God that I believe in.
There are two more things to cover. The first is scientific testing of prayer. I’ve never really been convinced by this aspect, although Michael Sabom in his book “Light and Death” speaks of a study done that might be different. I don’t think we can submit God to this though as he is a person and not obligated to act in any way.
The second is the question of why God doesn’t heal amputees. My first thought is that we don’t know that he doesn’t. My second is that God won’t do this just because people want to see if he can. In fact, it could be that such a challenge would make it that God won’t respond. He’s not wanting people to come just because they see miracles, but because they truly want to see him.
Tomorrow promises to be interesting. It’s on the lessons of Galileo, science, and religion. Stay tuned readers!