There is a lot about Christianity that I don’t understand, from giving up your life in exchange for being spared eternal punishment, to LGBTQ+ discrimination, to not eating meat on Fridays during Lent, to Noah’s Ark. But one of the greatest mysteries to me is prayer. As people grow older, their prayers typically evolve from asking God for what you want to thanking God for what you have and asking him to guide you in the right direction. While the latter appears to be more selfless and appropriate, I can’t help but see it all as just silly.
One of my greatest pet peeves of religion is allowing prayer to take the place of action. I believe that if you want something badly enough, rather than praying for it, do what you can to achieve it, or if you’re going to ask for help, ask a friend, a parent, an organization, someone who you know can respond and make a tangible difference for you and your cause. I’m not saying that praying will be detrimental to your cause, but it can be when it is a placeholder for action. This week, my school held a 24-hour Prayer for the Nations. That’s 24 hours that could have been spent donating, volunteering, or raising awareness for international issues, but instead it was spent praying for peace.
Here is what I really don’t understand, though: if God was going to bring peace to the nations, would he really need my classmates to remind him to do so? Doesn’t he already know whether or not world peace is something they want? Hasn’t he known his plans, what he will do, and what we will do, for all of eternity? Why would our asking him to do something change what he was going to do? And if it would, then he’s either not all-powerful or all-knowing. I like the way this was summed up in a poem by Karen Owens:
“Can omniscient God, who
Knows the future, find
The Omnipotence to
Change His future mind?”
Even if God could change his mind, I don’t see how a prayer before a test or a prayer for world peace could do so. If God exists outside of space and time, then how do you know that he received your prayer before the event instead of during or after? If your prayer lasts for 24 hours, then how do you know that he understood it at all if he doesn’t exist in linear time? How could a disembodied deity understand anything without ears or neurons firing to make sense of sounds? Personally, I can’t fathom or wrap my head around the idea that there is an invisible, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving presence out there, up in the sky and down in the ground and everywhere in between that personally listens to and speaks to and caters to all of the billions and billions of people that are speaking to it all at the same time. I know that Christians may see these as nitpicky and foolish questions, and it can’t be used to disprove the existence of a deity—nothing can—but for me, these are the questions that prayer raises.
I understand that the mystery of prayer is something that Christians face a lot, and I know that the response is generally that our finite minds simply can’t understand God’s mysterious ways, but my finite mind wants to know. To me, the paradox doesn’t make me sit back in awe of God’s mysterious ways, but rather, it makes me wonder, “How can people really believe this?”
115 thoughts on “The Paradox of Prayer”
Great questions and observations! Especially that last question … 🙂
My great aunt Jenny was a Benedictine nun–a cloistered order in Boston– and their main goal in life was prayer. Their main goal in this life was a contemplative one, and when I was a kid, it was to pray for peace, and the end of communism.
That is what they did. (True, they also ran a home for wayward girls, which in those days also existed) Day after day, year after year, they prayed to God to end Communism. And Im sure that when communism finally collapsed/ended/came unglued, all of those nuns were utterly convinced that their prayers helped.
The beauty and dangers of prayer are that if it works, you feel you’ve actually done something, and if it doesnt, well, God has his reasons. You cannot lose.
And like the baby and the molasses feather, it keeps them busy, it keeps them focused, and makes them feel useful.
How differently you turned out from your great aunt Jenny!
I can see the usefulness in prayer as a form of meditation, to create a mindset for one’s subconscious to work through issues rather than consciously stressing about them.
Beyond that it seems pretty useless.
personal meditation does exactly the same thing. In fact, that was when I realized how similar meditation (looking inward) and prayer (looking up)are: both require the same concentration and trust. The difference comes when you realize you are looking inward for the answers from YOURSELF, rather than waiting for an unseen deity to butter the toast for you. Active, vs. passive, if you will.
Is there a belief that results in an unseen deity doing housework for believers? I could get behind something like that!
Oh if we could all have our own household gods (like leprechauns, y’see) to help with the chores. Mine would have to bring their own axes but I’d let them use the vacuum, gladly. =)
Raised Catholic, prayer was a big thing, rosary and all that. It was all ritual then, quite meaningless as we sweated out the wasted time we could have used playing… Perhaps the only point it served then was to teach patience, and a bit of selflessness. But today’s prayers, particularly in the evangelical protestant world, are quite silly. I was working for a Christian lady recently and as she remarked on my skills and health, she mentioned how I should thank god for helping me, and taking care of me. The only answer to that which came to mind was, “Why is god taking care of someone who is quite able to take care of herself, and not out in Africa or the Middle East protecting innocents and helpless people from the violence of war, or from starvation and lack of shelter? What’s wrong with your god are his priorities: how could I trust such a heartless god?
It is the duty of Christians to go “…out in Africa or the Middle East protecting innocents and helpless people from the violence of war, or from starvation and lack of shelter…”
That’s why Jesus said to his apostles:
“Go into the whole world and announce the Good News to all people.”
God isn’t going to just snap his fingers and fix all of humanity’s problems. He wants us — all 7 billion of us — to play a part in fixing them ourselves.
For the same reason a person would teach you how to fish instead of catching a fish for you:
To give you the means to save yourself and, thus, not be dependent on another for your livelihood.
You’re not joking; you actually believe that, do you? To each his own, but I’m sure that given a choice, Africans and others who experienced the “loving” touch of torture, enslavement and forced conversions would have much preferred their original condition. Think of it this way: if a bunch of bigoted, ignorant crazies invent a god in their own image to create a “heaven” for them to go to after death, and another bunch of relatively happy pagans end up in a “hell” of their own where majority must rule, and I was given a choice of which place to to to at death, I would certainly choose the pagan hell. I left Christianity because of too many encounters with Christians who assured me they were going to heaven and I decided that would be the very last place I’d want to end up in. As below, so above. The evil one who does religion on earth isn’t changed by entering into her/his heaven: that next state must reflect the previous one. People are supposed to become better, not worse, through faith and the practice of their religion. History and observation tell a totally different story. God’s other fault, and he has many, is that he is blind in one eye and can’t see out of the other.
“You’re not joking; you actually believe that, do you?”
“Think of it this way…”
Think of it from the missionaries’ perspective:
If you believed that every human being had a soul.
If you believed there were two final destinations for that soul: Heaven or Hell.
If you believed that, ultimately, the way to Heaven was to accept Jesus Christ as one’s savior.
Than what would be the more cruel act:
To share the teachings of Jesus. (i.e., Preach the Gospel.)
To tell a person nothing about Jesus. (i.e., Not preach the Gospel.)
Furthermore: The Bible doesn’t condone forcing anyone to convert:
“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”
You have to complete the comment, at least to the next verse: Mt. 10:15 I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
Absolute condemnation. Believe in me, or go to hell. Some choice, huh?
The fate of souls is, ultimately, known to God alone.
It is not for me to say who ends up where.
And: For what it’s worth:
“Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.”
~Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 847
Another “religious” observation. I’m an ex-Catholic, ex-born again Christian, ex-Christian, in fact a failed Christian. There’s a serious problem with Christianity and that is, very simply, it’s an impossible conundrum. No one can live it – I’ve never met a real Christian – and the amazing thing is, billions claim to be of that faith, yet could not even begin to live according to the real demands it makes of real disciples of Christ. Even a cursory reading of the synoptic gospels reveals this. Yes, a backhand way to comment on your comment I suppose, but hey, I’m not of those who do not know Jesus Christ. I’m of those, if you follow your commandments to the letter, who is an admitted blasphemer. Having known and having rejected, I’m utterly condemned. Some other commenter said he’d pray for me: why waste his time when there are so many he could ostensibly bring into the fold, I wonder? Well, it’s a fishing expedition isn’t it, and if you bring in a prize fish, you get a prize, or a pat on the head: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant” and all the rest. Unfortunately for all religionists, I’ve seen the real wizard behind the tapestry and the special effects. I could tell you what he’s really like but you are prevented from believing that, so I’ll let you carry on with the marching song and in awe of the special effects. We can talk the day you can demonstrate to me the real power of your god’s holy spirit through your mouth and hands; something simple like curing a cancer, raising someone from the dead, stopping a bombing raid about to obliterate a school or a hospital. Show me, don’t tell me, that’s my challenge to all and sundry religious people. No more pigs in a poke for me. Fair enough?
“The fate of souls is, ultimately, known to God alone.”
I think you need to demonstrate that there is such a thing as a soul.
As a Catholic, I believe that there is such a thing as the soul.
So far, I have come across nothing that invalidates that belief.
On a related note:
“…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Can you provide anything that validates the belief?
Being assured of what you hope for means nothing if what you hope for doesn’t exist.
“Can you provide anything that validates the belief?”
Nothing that would convince you.
Judging from the tone of your comment, nothing I say would be sufficient.
There is no tone. It’s a question.
To reiterate my answer to your question:
Nothing I say will convince you that my belief in the soul has merit.
Because: You come across as the kind of person who does not want to be convinced.
I’m convinced by evidence.
On the question of the existence of a soul. You’ve provided excuses.
Explanations for my current thoughts and feelings.
“Being assured of what you hope for means nothing if what you hope for doesn’t exist.”
The key word here being “if.”
My life would hardly change if I renounced my Catholic faith and became an atheist, so I’d rather live with the belief in life after death (i.e., keep my faith) than with the belief that this life is all there is (i.e., become an atheist).
The notion that this life is all there is a notion that I find, for lack of a better word, boring. I am reminded of a quote by Stanley Kubrick:
“Perhaps there is a certain element of the lumpen literati that is so dogmatically atheist and materialist and Earth-bound that it finds the grandeur of space and the myriad mysteries of cosmic intelligence anathema.”
So you believe because it comforts you. Not because you know it to be true.
Now you’re just putting words in my mouth.
Oh the irony.
Question: If you don’t like the truth, would you prefer that I lie to you?
I think truth is awesome.
I’m more concerned about you lying to yourself.
“I think truth is awesome.”
So do I.
“I’m more concerned about you lying to yourself.”
You just proved the point I made earlier.
That point being: My answer to your question will ultimately do nothing for you — you will essentially be the same person after my answer that you were before my answer.
Because, after all: If you believe that my beliefs as a Catholic are a lie, which your concern about me “lying to [myself” implies, than ultimately it doesn’t matter how I choose to justify my belief in the Catholic teaching that is “There is such a thing as a soul” since to you such a teaching is, when all is said and done, a lie.
Well, in the absence of the demonstration of a soul. The declaration that there is one is effectively a lie.
You could, instead of pontificating and guessing the state of my mind, simply bring out the evidence for a soul.
“You could, instead of pontificating and guessing the state of my mind, simply bring out the evidence for a soul.”
It is because of “guessing the state of [your] mind” that I find “[bringing] out the evidence for a soul” to be an exercise in futility.
I’m not a mind reader.
But: Everything you’ve said to me so far, and the way you’ve said it, leads me to believe that ultimately you do not care what my answer to your question is — leads me to believe that, no matter what I say, you will still believe that my ultimate basis for my answer (my Catholic faith) is a lie.
And who was ever convinced by evidence they believed to be false?
You’re going through a lot of effort to avoid demonstrating the soul. It’s as if you’ve not got any to present and would rather distract by attacking my motives.
“It’s as if you’ve not got any to present and would rather distract by attacking my motives.”
I am not “attacking” you.
I am telling what I’m honestly thinking. Which is why I asked the rhetorical question “If you don’t like the truth, would you prefer that I lie to you?” earlier.
If you read my replies to you, you will know that I do have a basis for my belief in the soul — my Catholic faith — but feel that explaining such a basis in detail would be futile since you believe it to be false in the first place if your words “I’m more concerned about you lying to yourself” are anything to judge by.
If you are really wanting to know why I believe what I believe, and you weren’t just replying to my comment earlier today in order to troll me, than here: A post I wrote a while ago going into some detail about why I believe what I believe:
Frankly, I don’t care if you view my belief as “irrational” or “emotion-driven.” I believe what I believe for my own personal reasons, that is enough for me, and that is all that matters to me.
And: If, after I died, I found that there was no life after death, than I wouldn’t care. Why? Because I would be dead and, thus, no longer able to care about anything.
These are my last words in this conversation.
Golly. All i did was ask for evidence for the existence of a soul. I might read that post. Though I’ll predict in advance there’s no evidence presented there either.
From my own experience, the whole point of organized religion, unlike other worldly powers, is to manipulate a gullible species into believing without ever seeing any evidence. In fact, if you push it, evidence would make your faith null and void. As was quoted from Hebrews 11: “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” That’s the con. If they can get you to play at this particular stand in the circuses’ midway, they have you, but more importantly, they have your money and allegiance, guaranteeing that whatever they ask you to do by that faith, you will do. History. A very sad and dark history that no true faith person can ever give credence to. Evidence spoils the illusion and the illusion is what it’s all about.
I apologize for my behavior yesterday.
Thinking more about it, I realize I was out of line and I unfairly judged your motive for replying to my comment on this post.
Though I believe what I believe for personal reasons that I don’t image will ever change, that fact is no excuse for the un-Christian way I treated you.
Thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to say that. I in turn apologise that i wasn’t clear enough that felt the need to respond in the way you did.
“Believe in me, or go to hell. Some choice, huh?”
Do you understand why the choice is “believe in me, or go to hell”?
God is ultimately the source of all that is pleasing and beautiful.
And, if you want no part of God — if you choose to reject Him — than you implicitly want no part of anything pleasing and beautiful either, since all pleasing and beautiful things ultimately have their source in Him and, thus, it is not possible to have one without the other.
So God, honoring your free will, will honor your implicit choice to want no part of any pleasing or beautiful aspect of life, and you will be in a place where there is neither: Hell.
God sends no one to Hell — people choose Hell through the life that they live. This is a tenet of the Catholic faith.
On another note: To reiterate what I said earlier:
Despite what the Bible says, ultimately, the fate of souls is unknown to us mortals. God alone knows the fate of souls. And God is loving, merciful, and understanding.
My point being: It wouldn’t surprise me if there are a number of atheists in Heaven, and a number of Christians in Hell.
“…giving up your life in exchange for being spared eternal punishment…”
Could you give me an example of this?
The reason I ask is:
I will die for a loved one. And, yes, the possibility of ending up in the eternal bliss of Heaven — John 15:13 — is one reason why I would do it. But the main reason I would do it is just because I love that person and I don’t want them to be harmed or killed. If I see a car speeding towards the woman I love, I’m not going to spend precious seconds thinking about what wonders hopefully await me in Heaven — I’m going to sprint to push her out of the way and, if possible, get out of the way myself.
The reason Christians are against, for example, gay marriage, is because of Genesis 2:24: God means for man and woman to be fruitful and multiply. Which is something that two men or two women can’t do. Two men can go at it all night, but their coupling, no matter how passionate, will not result in the existence of a third person. (A baby.)
“…not eating meat on Fridays during Lent…”
It is believed that Jesus died on a Friday. So, during the time of Lent, a time of self-improvement and self-reflection that recalls Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the desert (Matthew 4:1 — 11), Christians deny themselves something they love — meat — on the day their savior died to remind themselves that there is more to life than the pleasures of the world.
Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis characterizes these chapters as “not conforming to the historical method” as practiced by ancient as well as modern writers, calling them instead “a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people” in “simple and metaphorical language.”
“…one of my greatest pet peeves of religion is allowing prayer to take the place of action.”
The Bible criticizes people who allow their prayers to take the place of action:
“Faith without works is dead.”
~James 2:14 — 26
“If God was going to bring peace to the nations, would he really need my classmates to remind him to do so?”
No. God, being God, doesn’t need a reminder.
“Doesn’t he already know whether or not world peace is something they want?”
“And hasn’t he known his plans, what he will do, and what we will do, for all of eternity?”
Yes. God knows everything that can happen but not everything that will happen.
He’s like a spectator watching a parade from a blimp: He knows all the routes the parade can take through the city, but he doesn’t know what routes the parade will take through the city.
“Why would our asking him to do something change what he was going to do?”
Because: If God is love — 1 John 4:8 — that means he is willing to listen to us, his creation.
For example: Imagine if your boyfriend never changed his mind about anything — nothing you ever said or did convinced him to not do what he had already decided he was going to do. Could it really be said that your boyfriend loved you then, since he was unwilling to take your thoughts and feelings into account and change his ways?
It’s like that with God: God wants us to come to him and ask for things. Sure, God knows what he wants to give us, but he also wants to hear what we ourselves want. Why? Because: Communication is the backbone of any relationship. For example: https://youtu.be/MsNHqPXu67o
“…how do you know that he received your prayer before the event instead of during or after? If your prayer lasts for 24 hours, then how do you know that he understood it at all if he doesn’t exist in linear time?”
It depends on what you believe about God.
For example: Just because God exists outside of space and time does not also mean that he isn’t aware of what is happening in space and time at the moment it is happening.
Let’s say you built a doll house. Now, you are not doll-sized. So, you’re not existing inside of that house along with your dolls. But: That doesn’t you can’t take the roof of the doll house and see everything that is happening inside it even though you yourself are not inside it.
“How could a disembodied deity understand anything without ears or neurons firing to make sense of sounds?”
Less-evolved organisms react to changes in their environment without hearing organs or neurons. Like germs. Germs and adapt in order to survive, and they don’t have ears to hear or complex, human-esque brains.
My point is: There are more ways to be aware of something than ears and neurons.
The idea of fasting on Friday has no Biblical counterpart. It came about, as i understand it, because of a long famine and plague era during the middle ages and in order to keep the faithful from eating their way through the meager livestock they did have, the church decreed a period of fasting (two days a week , if I recall correctly) and when the famine ended, softened that to once a week and then to no meat. With stiff penalties if you did.
I can’t find the citation for it, but I know I read it somewhere and thought, how typical of the Church to turn a famine into a religious experience. it did work, and people went hungry, but no one ate Bossy, no matter how good she would have looked on the table as hamburg…
“The idea of fasting on Friday has no Biblical counterpart.”
The Catholic Church’s teachings are often are rooted in the Bible, but do not come directly from the Bible.
For example: During Lent, Catholics recall the 40 days Jesus fasted in the desert and, thus, fast too. But: As you pointed out: There is no Bible verse that says a person must fast.
And, depending on which Catholic you ask, the methods of fasting vary.
For example: There are Catholics who will eat no meat at all during Lent, and there are Catholics who will eat no meat only on Fridays during Lent. And a Catholic can fast anytime, from any kind of food — it’s just that Lent is a time where a Catholic is required to fast.
“…how typical of the Church to turn a famine into a religious experience.”
The Church, mighty though it is, like all human institutions, is at the mercy of disasters like famines.
And in the midst of such disasters, the Church does what it can to make the most of a bad situation.
On a related note: One of the Corporal Works of Mercy is “Feed the hungry.”
there was a time, Timothy, when Catholics who ate meat on Friday were considered sinners, and told if they died without confessing such a thing, it was the straight line to hell for them. Mortal sin.
I was with a friend and her mother one day, shopping. We stopped for lunch and as I was about to bite into my hot dog her mother noticed and said, “if you die on the way home, you’ll go to hell for that.” And she meant it.
Even after the mortal sin edict was lifted, many Catholics still continued to uphold the mortal sin premise and continued to eschew meat on Fridays. We learn, and sometimes it’s hard to unlearn.
I was merely saying that they were clever and powerful enough to make a famine into a life saving operation (these were ignorant people, for the most part, laborers and farmers) by attaching it to the church as a religious event. Telling people they would go to hell for eating meat was a very effective way of regulating the food supply at a time when there was only a small amount to regulate…
“…many Catholics still continued to uphold the mortal sin premise and continued to eschew meat on Fridays.”
In my experience, it is not the threat of mortal sin that drives a Catholic to abstain from meat on Friday during Lent.
From what I have observed in my own parish, the only driving force behind a Friday fast from meat during Lent is the desire to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and deny oneself something they love, like Jesus denied that which he loved during his 40 days in the desert.
In my experience, it is not a desire to escape Hell that drives a Catholic to do what they do — it is a desire to enter Heaven. There is all the difference in the world between doing a thing because you fear Satan, and doing a thing because you love God.
But is not eating meat on a Friday during lent really that big a sacrifice? people seem to replace it with some pretty yummy things these days.
“people seem to replace it with some pretty yummy things these days.”
For some people it is a sacrifice, and for others it isn’t.
“Yes. God knows everything that can happen but not everything that will happen.
He’s like a spectator watching a parade from a blimp: He knows all the routes the parade can take through the city, but he doesn’t know what routes the parade will take through the city”
Oh my! You are a Deist, then? Or are we living in the grandest video game of them all?
I’m not a Deist.
Free will means that one’s final destination — Heaven or Hell — isn’t pre-determined.
No one is destined for Hell, and no one is guaranteed Heaven.
I’ve always been taught to live my entire life so that I can end up in heaven and have a pleasant afterlife. It’s why I was baptized, why I should take communion, why I should pray and be nice (or judgmental) to others. I know that Christians such as yourself do good works because they are good to do, but most of the ones I know would do it primarily because it is what God wants them to do and they have blinders on towards the afterlife, and they don’t know how to appreciate the life they have now, which I believe is the only life they will get.
As for the LGBTQ+ discrimination, I have heard Leviticus 18:22 being cited for that case far more than Genesis 1:28, which at least has a practical reason of why they might say homosexuality isn’t preferable.
“…they don’t know how to appreciate the life they have now…”
That is unfortunate
A Christian should live with Heaven in mind, but live too knowing that appreciating the life they have now is one way they get to Heaven.
God created us to create, explore, and do — to write stories, help a grieving friend, go skydiving, etc.
God didn’t create us to just have us sit on our hands all day, everyday, doing nothing but thinking about Heaven.
For more on this: The Parable of the Talents: Matthew 25:14 — 30.
“…which at least has a practical reason of why they might say homosexuality isn’t preferable.”
Regardless of its practicality, as you know, Genesis 1:28 is one reason for Christians’ views on gay marriage.
Psychology has found that the act of repeating something absurd can make it become acceptable in the speaker’s mind.
Whimsical and bizarre beliefs work like this too.
Choose something ridiculous and repeat it to yourself. After a while, it becomes familiar. Keep going and it becomes acceptable. Go further, and you may start to actually believe it’s true.
That’s how prayer works.
After the events of last week, the hashtag #prayforlondon trended, to which I asked the question, ‘what does prayer actually achieve?’
An answer I got was, ‘prayer changes the prayer’.
Okay, so what does that do for the people who were injured or the people who were bereaved or the people who now need to make decisions regarding the future of this country?
Prayer, it would seem, is the safe space for those who can’t be bothered to do anything.
Prayer often asks things of an unseen entity, sort of a letter to santa
Meditation searches for answers inside ourselves. No Santa involved.
Like Jason and Judy said in another comment, if all that your prayer hopes to accomplish is self-gain, then why not just meditate?
Any kind of meditation is far more beneficial than prayer, simply because it IS prayer but without the promise of false hope. Only with meditation you listen to yourself and call it yourself, not a deity ‘out there’ somewhere. And you have no one to blame, or praise, but yourself.
oh looky there, we just came right back to empowering, again. =)
Prayer can be a sort of mystery sometimes, yes, I would agree. As a Christian, sometimes I feel silly praying for certain things. However, I have learned that prayer is not about God being a sort of “magic genie lamp.” So many times, prayer is used as a “wish.” That is not what it is for. Throughout the Bible, we are told to pray, ask, thank, and praise God. I fully believe that prayer is merely the action of talking with God. It is a moment of reaching out to him. Following Jesus is meant to be a relationship with God. What would a relationship be if we never talked? Also, praying for little things daily is a way to say to God, “I trust you with everything.” Do I believe that I have had prayers answered? Yes. Have some not come out the way I desired? Yes. It is confusing.
Do we need to remind God of his own plans and to love us? No way. That is not the point. As in with praying for others with the 24 hours of prayer or #prayforLondon, think about what those people are doing. They don’t believe they are just talking to the air. They are asking God to help those in need. They are asking for food for the hungry and clothes for the naked. This is an act of compassion and care. Also, as Timothy so well pointed out, we are called to act as well.
Why do we do all of this? Well, in my experience, I would say it is to show a love that cannot really be explained. If everything could just be made perfect for me at the snap of my fingers, I wouldn’t care about God at all. If it was someone who did that, I would probably forget about them. The Israelites had so many miracles performed in front of them and they could almost literally see God himself, yet, after a little while, they forgot all about him. God uses his followers to show his love in a way that touches hearts and meets you face to face.
This is very hard to think about and I feel the same way you do sometimes. And I know this isn’t much of a help, but that is where faith and hope comes in. I’m sorry if that feels like a cop-out. Also, I have experienced these things personally. I understand that is not much of an answer either. I encourage you to continue pondering these questions.
“They are asking God to help those in need. They are asking for food for the hungry and clothes for the naked.”
And god does none of those things, other people do them.
“This is an act of compassion and care.”
on your knees where no one can see you is an act of compassion and care? Like hell it is. Going out into the world and feeding the hungry and clothing the naked is the act of compassion and care.
There are millions of Christians that go on missions trips and thousands of ministries world-wide that are dedicated to helping the needy and loving others. Lets eliminate God and Christianity from all of that. There would be a lot more need without them. I see all that I have, money, time, education, material possessions, etc. from God. The Bible states that I am to use those blessings to help others. So, yes, God is helping. We are his hands and feet. Let’s say there is a miracle directly from the hands of God. It wouldn’t matter. Others would try to explain it away or dismiss it.
Prayer is an act of kindness. Think, just for a moment, and see what others believe. Those people praying, they fully believe that they are asking God to provide, heal, serve, love, and care for others. How is that not compassion? They fully believe this. I would agree, going out is another act of compassion. But, it is a different act. There is faith, and there is action.
Question for Joshua Woodard:
When you pray for compassion for the hungry and the naked, do you feel that the prayer is sufficient help, or do you then do something (anything) to physically help the hungry and naked? I am asking this in all seriousness. What action do you take, if any? And is that action continuous, or just a one-time thing?
My experience as having been a homeless person is that most help comes only once, and is often offered with conditions. A hungry person will agree to almost anything for food, but is seldom sustainable, just as the help is not often sustained. Hunger invariably returns the next day, or the next. It is almost better to not have received it at all. The helper seldom gets to know how or if his/her help was actually meaningful or not. But they walk away feeling good, so at least they have been helped. But what does it all mean?
And what does the prayer for compassion mean? Not much, if it comes without action… sustained action.
I agree with you that prayer without action, or even faith without action for that matter, is dead. It’s useless. James stated the same thing in the Bible. James said in James 2:16: If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” I believe that Christians are the hands and feet of Jesus. We are supposed to show that love and care for others. Indeed, Jesus said that at the end times, he will praise those who have loved the “least of these” by giving them food, giving them clothing, helping them when they are sick, etc. So, again, I agree, we are to physically help and love, always.
When I ask for God to help others in prayer, especially those far away from me and whom I cannot help, I am asking him to work in their lives for good. I do not know how or what that would look like necessarily. However, I believe that somehow, God can and does break into people’s lives whether that be via other people, events, or even maybe the rare miracle. Honestly, when I do not have the resources or ability to help, for whatever reason, I often pray for God to raise someone up who can. I ask for him to bring someone up who He has blessed to be able to help those in need. It’s compassionate because I believe that God is listening.
Example of a former minister’s prayer and response: “God please bless us with girl twins. And God blessed the wife with girl twins. What God didn’t mention is that the twins were conjoined, chest and face, nearly completely. Pregnancy became so pathological and dangerous, that a team of around 15 specialists gave absolutely no chance of survival to twins, and if carried over, less and less chances for the wife. So minister decided to keep his wife, lost his beloved twins and discarded God…”
That former minister is me.
What a terrible choice to have to make, and yet not a choice at all.
I ache for what that must have been like, both for you and your wife.
What’s more surprising were the faithful, subsequent ministry for a further 20 years, looking, studying, praying for an answer from the “god of love, prince of peace, loving father etc”.
I guess discarding everything afterwards, wasn’t at all unjustified since no reasonable reply ever came…
Thank you for your thoughts 🙂
Esh! What a heart wrenching story.
I’m on the move so I can’t get into your whole post or the comments but I’m intrigued and I will read it completely.
First two thoughts, one off topic and one on. “Giving up your life in exchange for being spared eternal punishment” isn’t what it’s all about. It’s a trusting relationship that returns us to our true way of being – to be loved and to love in return. God never says give me your life or I’ll eternally punish you. Gross! Here’s another way to say that but by a guy named Ty Gibson. http://www.digma.com/atheist-too/?video=play
As for prayer, it’s conversation with God as with a friend; it’s sharing our hopes, dreams, burdens, cares with the one who listens and has something to say about it. It’s listening to our good good father who always has our best interest at heart. It brings our minds into sacred space with the divine. With that said it’s never meant to stop or prevent us from acting. Our faith is revealed in our actions If we say to a person who is struggling I’ll pray for you but then do nothing to help that person with their burdens then we’re just a noisemaker, annoying and unhelpful.
… and has something to say about it Really??? Or perhaps it’s YOU that you’re hearing.
If we say to a person who is struggling I’ll pray for you but then do nothing to help that person with their burdens then we’re just a noisemaker, annoying and unhelpful. Best part of your comment.
“As for prayer, it’s conversation with God as with a friend”
I dispute this analogy. A conversation with a friend is an interactive meandering experience that changes subject constantly and will have interruptions and agreements and disagreements and is a genuine two-way dialog. Prayer, by definition is not that.
I guess I’m doing it all wrong because that’s what my prayers are like!
How does a child talk with a parent? Basically as you just described. Maybe that’s a metaphor you might resonate with?
You might want to check out Paul Miller’s book, “A Praying Life.” If you do Audible audiobooks I will even gift you a copy.
What? God appears to you as friend or parent/child would in physical form for you to see and converse with? I bet not!
Do you hear an actual voice in the room and you chat back and forth while you get on with your daily tasks like the washing or when eating or sat watching TV? I bet not!
You’ll have to give me some specific about what happens when you pray because I really don’t believe you when you say your prayer is exactly like chatting with a friend.
I don’t think I said exactly like. I’ve never had an experience where God is showing up personally. But I know people who have had that happen. But I don’t think somebody has to be in front of you and physical form to communicate with them like a friend. We talk on the phone or we text or email. It’s similar. I think perhaps where we are not connecting is it sounds like you are thinking of how and what talking with a friend looks like, where as I am talking about a relationship attitude.
I do pray all through the day. It’s hard to pray when the radio or TV is on just like it’s hard to communicate with a friend when you’re distracted.
The few times I’ve hear a voice, not necessarily audible but it’s definitely different than my own thoughts. Sometimes it’s impressions, sometimes things are brought back to my mind, sometimes it’s just a peace, a calmness, or stillness that settles me.
I often pray with the Bible. That might mean I’m reading it and thinking about what I’m reading but at other times it means that I’m actually praying the words. It often happens that the response or what I “hear” is in those words or in the passage around those words.
I get what you’re saying, which is why I challenge the idea that prayer is in any way comparable to a conversation with a friend.
When you pray and you say you ‘hear’ responses back. These are not independent words and thoughts coming from another individual. They are thoughts and ideas that are occurring in your own mind.
You have no way of telling whether these thoughts are genuinely from your god or your own imagination. That is the point I am trying to get across.
I would like to gently and respectfully say that one would say that if they’ve never talked with God as with a friend. Jesus, when talking about himself being our Good Shepherd, said, “…the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice.”
I know his voice.
I am a former believer, I have many years experience of what it is you are talking about. It is a very difficult and painful thing to come to terms with the reality that what you thought you knew was the voice of god actually wasn’t.
I apologize as it sounded like it was not something you had ever experienced.
How did you determine it wasn’t God’s voice?
I could not confirm that it was ever god’s voice and I could not tell the difference between what were my own biases and what might be from god.
On that basis there was no good reason to conclude I was ever in conversation with a god.
Before you quit, did you ever go through “Experiencing God” by Blackaby?
No I didn’t.
I’ve been lurking, following this interesting discussion, and butting in here, “the sheep follow him…” That could be the problem right there: you have to be sheep to follow, and I’m not a sheep but a self-empowered, detached, purposeful human being. As such following would be counter productive, like a high school graduate returning to kindergarten. You can have your space in your kindergarten of followers – after all my taxes contribute to your buildings, your little programs, books and toys – but allow me the freedom to express myself outside of your self-imposed little mind prisons; to determine my own chosen path in this life and beyond.
Well… it’s a metaphor within the context of a sheep herding culture so it’s not meant to mean you shut off your brain, lose your identity, or creativity.
God also says, “Come let us reason together.” And Jesus said, “If the son sets you free, you are free indeed!” And “I no longer call you servants, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. But now I call you friends, because I have told you everything that my Father told me.”
God never takes away our freedom of choice and only invites into relationship with him based on love.
Sha’Tara, I would like to add that I agree with you in one sense. As I journeyed from atheist to Christian, I would have never have committed if I found it to be a “self-imposed little mind prison.”
Like I said before, I think the challenge is you are thinking logistically – is God present physically, do we hear him audibly, etc.?
However, I am speaking relationally and attitudinally. God is my friend, he desires my good, loves me in spite of myself, calls me on my self-deception, self-promotion, and self-righteousness. I know he cares, I know he listens, and I know he speaks – sometimes audibly, sometimes through the Bible, or in nature, or in my conscience, or through others who are also his friends.
For those reasons, when I pray, I converse with him as I would with a friend. I don’t have to get it right, say magic words, or perform rituals. I just talk and I slow down and listen. Because I’ve been doing this for 15 years, I know his voice.
Isn’t that how we converse with a friend?
No, that isn’t how we converse with a friend because a friends words don’t appear in our own minds as thoughts. There is no way that our thoughts can be confused with a conversation with a friend. That is not true of prayer and responses allegedly from god.
What about when after you “talk” with a friend and then later reflect on what you heard? Are you hearing their words or your own?
You’re remembering the words that they said to you in your face-to-face conversation.
What if it’s a letter, email or text?
You’re reading the unique message that they wrote to you.
Am I hearing their “voice?”
You’re remembering the event and the source event is what we are referring to.
Sorry busy weekend… what if you never met the person you’re talking with. Just letters or email. Are you still hearing them? What happens if you save letters like that and years later you read them again? Do you still “hear” them?
I’m thinking of this two ways. You have people who become friends without ever meeting face to face. They begin to know the “voice” of their friend.
On the other hand, have you read a book and then it’s made into a movie and the actors don’t sound like you think they should?
I don’t understand how that applies to the base question of how you can be certain it’s god’s voice to start with.
Butting in again (I’ve been following this discussion all along), if God can speak outside the printed and preached material, to an individual, so could any number of other discarnate entities. How would anyone, believer or not, know it was the “voice” of God? My other question, as an ex-Christian (emphasis on the X) is why would I want to talk to God, and why would God want to talk to me, unless it was to reveal something new, something not in any writings, or never as yet divulged to this world? If God was going to play the role of just another friend on Facebook (and I truly hate Facebook and signed off of that a while ago) why would I waste my time with such trivia? The main reason I no longer believe “IN” God (though I know God certainly exists) is because “He” has never bothered to talk to me in order to give me directions on how to deal with a world of religious systems that are utterly corrupted by the influence of monetary and political ideologies and forces; and as far as Christianity goes, make an utter and complete mockery of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Since God ostensibly doesn’t care about the misbehavior, mismanagement, non-compassionate workings of His major religions, why trust such a character?
This ties into my question about Experiencing God. The author suggests, and from many witness I agree, that God speaks to us through the Bible, through nature, through our conscience, and through godly people. The key is they have to agree and they tend to confirm each other.
At the same time, it’s my understanding that people have a voice even if you never hear them audibly. They have a way of speaking that, when we know them, we can have confidence that we are hearing them and not someone else.
The last piece is faith/trust. The Bible says God has and does speak, we are invited to have a relational prayer life with God, and he wants to experience a deep intimacy with him. I have faith that that is true and I believe that’s what I have – in a stumbling, stuttering way but that’s what a little child does.
So I would suggest that when all the above comes together, with time and practical living, a person can know they are hearing from God.
A more accurate analogy of how reading the bible would be compared to direct communication with a friend would be this: Your friend Patrick (God) wants to write you a letter, but he doesn’t know how to put his feelings into words. He asks his friend Michael (the human authors of the bible) to write it down for him. Michael writes the letter based off of what Patrick told him to write. Michael then gives it to his friend Alice (the Roman Catholics who put the bible together and distributed it) to give to you. You know that Michael wrote a message to you from Patrick and that Alice delivered it to you. Since Michael wrote it, you don’t know that it is really what Patrick was saying to you, or if it is all fabricated by Michael. There’s also a good possibility that Alice tampered with it and took out sections and added others.
If you were having a real, reliable written conversation with Patrick, it would be Patrick himself that wrote it and delivered it to you. But since he was never directly involved in the creation of the letter, you don’t know that he was ever a part of this whole thing at all. A Christian would believe that Patrick truly told Michael what he wanted him to say, but an atheist would say that Patrick isn’t real and Michael made the whole thing up.
That would be about the size of it, from my point of view. It doesn’t mean there isn’t some valid information in the message, but the writers’ viewpoints and agendas must always be seriously considered before accepting the information. Of course, the point here is that “the Bible” or message, is not, never was, a personal message from God, unless one realizes that God only exists at the insistence of believers in the concept who continually re-create God in their own image. Remove all believers and related activities to do with God and presto! God no longer exists. And that is the whole problem with faith which “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” What faith fabricates out of thin air is a repeating chimera.
True it is complicated and faith is involved. There are a couple things that help me in this area which is more about trusting the Bible. First, there are significant quantities of manuscripts very close to the original sources and they overwhelmingly agree. Even after all that “tampering” what we read in an English version is extremely faithful to the earliest manuscripts.
As a side note, did you know that there are scribal “voices” that allow translators to determine where copies of the scriptures were being copied?
The second thing that helps me have trust in the message and the messenger is that there is a consistency in the message between the books of the Bible – from OT to NT. I find it remarkable that even thought all those letters were written over hundreds and hundreds of years, across many different locations, by a wide range of authors (prophets? scribes?) there is a harmony to it.
With that said, we were originally talking about prayer. I find that the approach that gives me confidence that I am hearing God’s “voice” versus someone else’s voice is that there there is a confirming process between the prayer, the Bible, conscience, nature, and by the testimony of godly people. If there isn’t agreement, then I would find it to be suspect.
I don’t pray and don’t ever expect to again, but even when I was Christian I always felt prayer was talking with myself, with my inner spirit. Most of your comments about God not being omnipotent or being an absentee landlord (my words, your feelings) i have thought of at one time or another, but have you ever considered you are talking directly to your subconscious mind, or spirit, or whatever you want to call your inner core being? As a kid, yeah, you ask for the things you want HOPING that you will get them by thinking about them so hard. Later you say you give thanks for what you have, but isn’t that just adding up the score to see if you are beating or losing to your neighbours. And asking God to guide you, to me that is simply telling yourself that you already know where you want to go, but if you don’t give your feet good directions they may take you into a bar or other “den of iniquity” when you know you should be at home with your family. That is what prayer is all about to me, telling yourself your hopes and dreams, then scoring yourself on getting them or not. And once you have that score, it’s human to compare yourself to others, and find a way to think or even believe you are the better person. You are happier if you are winning, and a good deal more morose if you know you are losing.
But praying for peace is an old action which may appear every hundred years or so, I really have no knowledge in me about that, but during the atomic bomb scare in the 50s and 60s, many congregations of all kinds of religions spent their time praying for peace, hoping if enough people did it all at the same time God would grant their wish. That they should have been proactive instead of waiting for the other guy to do something, that to me was just to make the people involved feel like they were helping end the Vietnamese War, or some other conflict. that was just to make them feel good. To them, praying was acting, but since no one ever heard them, well, their prayers kinda fell on deaf ears. That way, too bad they couldn’t end wars, but they actually believe d they could. A little off course, yes, but it made them feel better inside,..
next time stick to one question… you ask too many questions to be able to answer coherently.
read this… it might help u
On the other hand, curryNcode, it might expand your mental ability to answer the questions you want to answer and ignore the rest. There’s no such thing as “too many questions,” just like is no such thing as a dumb question. I think CA’s blog would be pretty short if she only asked one question at a time, and I don’t see that it would help anyone but you.
to each their own!!!
What can I say? but if you really believe to each their own, why were you so harsh on CA. She has “her own” too.
I was not harsh… just saying!!!
or I didn’t mean to be harsh…I was trying to be casual
If you are afraid of questions, you are afraid of life.
A very astute post on the pradoxes of prayer. I am currntly reading a book by David Madison, an atheist and a former minister, “Ten Tough Problems in Chirstian Thought and Beilef” where he wrote about a number of the things you pointed out. I guess I could have skipped that chapter :).
Unfortunately, our misunderstanding of God subsequently affects a misunderstanding of prayer.
Would you mind elaborating?
Prayer is about relationship. The prayer and the answer to the prayer are both ordained by God. God ordains the end result, as well as our prayer, as the means of getting to that end result. He does this so that his people can be involved in his work and be drawn closer to him. God intends to change us through our prayers and has ordained that our prayer will ultimately lead to his good purpose in the world.
Sorry, but your comment sounds like blah … blah … blah. One would think at some point Christians would come up with better, more original responses.
When people seek, for example, “more original responses”, what I find they’re really seeking are more human responses; responses that satisfy human reasoning. I doubt that any response I’ll offer will ever meet that criteria…well maybe if I pray enough…nothing is impossible for God. I’m not commenting as an expert. I’m just one Christian man growing in his faith day by day. I don’t have it all figured out. I do appreciate this dialogue. These are good conversations. God bless!
So prayer only benefits the person praying?
Of course not; that’s not what I said at all.
What is prayer? For decades I prayed, not for myself, but for this world and all the sorrow in it; for decades I gave thanks to a capricious god who never acknowledged, either my requests or my thanks. Then it struck me: I was addressing an idol in my own mind. A request prayer is a slave’s begging a lord for some crumbs; a prayer of thanks is giving credit for one’s own accomplishments to an invisible sky wizard who couldn’t care less what I, or anyone else does. The only ones who care are those who benefit and profit from the whole religious enterprise and very lucrative business, even in today’s world of Darwinism and scientism. How was this put again? Is God willing but not able to prevent evil? Then he’s not omnipotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he’s malevolent. In which case, why call him God? Only a fool insists on believing in something that so obviously doesn’t work except as a tool of dis-empowerment. People worship their gods out of either slavish fear or self-seeking. Save me! Give me! Love me! The abused wife or Stockholm syndrome manifesting in billions of dollars for master con men. If God is responsible for good things for which prayers of thanksgiving are offered then it stands to reason that he is just as responsible for the evil things which he refuses to correct despite the many prayers for such correction assaulting his ears. But idols have neither ears, nor minds, nor will, nor power. They do however serve a purpose for those who learned how to do the special effects. For those, the motto is, prey on!
As I said in another comment, I’m not speaking as an expert. I’m just one man growing in his faith day by day. I don’t have it all figured out, and we could probably go back and forth all day long with no resolution. What I do have to draw from are my own sufferings (past, present, and I’m sure ones to come), and the love of God. God in the person of Jesus Christ who has literally walked in my (our) shoes. Christ who willingly allowed himself to be nailed naked to a tree to reconcile all of humanity. I will pray for you, but I will not insult you, your beliefs, or minimize your experiences; I will not respond in kind. God bless!
re “There is a lot about Christianity that I don’t understand, from … to not eating meat on Fridays during Lent”
Once you accept that religions are used by wealthy elites to control our behavior for their benefit (not ours), much of this makes sense. The ban on eating meat during Lent is a leftover from the past. Many people do not appreciate how much of Europe was theocratic for the thousand plus years before the Renaissance, but during that time, the population of Europe expanded greatly, so much so that the land was becoming exhausted because of poor agricultural techniques and over grazing, and pollution, etc. When the American colonies were founded, Europe was more than willing to send their “excess population” here and they did refer to those sent as worthless and they were glad to be rid of them.
Because of intermittent and then almost constant food supply deficits, the “Church” issue fasting days and days in which meat could not be eaten, not for religious reasons (although they came up with them) but so there would be enough to stock the dinner tables of the elites. (The elites do not consider themselves to be bound by the rules put into place for the masses.) Ordinary people were encouraged to eat cheaper and more plentiful foodstuffs. The English elites thought that eating potatoes was disgusting, something only fit for the Irish, for example. The religious were encouraged to eat fish on Fridays, have “meat-less Tuesdays, etc.
There is no religious reason for these things, other than the ones they made up. The real reason is if you have a control system in place, you will use it as often as you want to … to further your own interests … and they did.
As an aside, these things were not limited to small things. Consider the Fourth Crusade. An army is gathered to go to Jerusalem and recapture it from the Muslims. On the way, they decided instead to go to Constantinople and attack it, a city filled with and run by Christians. Christians, Muslims, whatever. Once to look at events through this lens, they make a great deal more sense. The theology is just there to control us for their benefit.