Dialogue with the Disillusioned: Why Keep Praying. Article 5.
(Climbing in Finnisterre, Spain)
The really sad thing here is that these “wiser, deeper, more thoughtful Christians” [to whom you refer in your online response to Thinkingwomanmillstone] still believe that the supreme being of all reality is sitting around giving them advice on how to turn lemons into lemonade, instead of being aware that they are doing it themselves through mature reflection on their experience; that they, not a figment of their imagination, are coming up with their own solution for their problem.
After all, practically speaking, how does what you describe functionally differ from what I describe? No gods, just people working it out using guts and common sense — and a crutch they don’t really need in the place of a self-confidence they don’t yet have.
A self-confidence people like you actively work to keep them from developing, striving instead to keep them dependent on a being that, as far as anyone actually knows, does not exist. (GalapagosPete, 6/10/10)*
In 2009, Hollywood produced its own critical take on religion and the human impulse to put their faith in God in the movie, The Answer Man. The main character, Arlen Faber is a national sensation—a much sought after religions guru, who captured 10% of the “God-market” after publishing his best-selling book, God and Me.
Turns out, though, that his claim to have heard from God is a lie. In fact, he is actually a disillusioned, cynical, dishonest jerk. Faber sells religion to make money, but doesn’t believe his own teaching, and certainly doesn’t live by it. As one disappointed fan of God and Me—and former fan of Faber—remarks at one point in the story, “He may have written the book, but he sure didn’t read it!”
From the screenwriter’s disillusionment comes a perspective on religion and life that says, in effect: “Everyone suffers in life, and God—if there is one—won’t help. No one truly hears from God, so don’t expect answers to your prayers, and certainly don’t listen to those who claim to know anything about God. Instead, listen to your heart, and believe in what you can do on your own.”
Such an angry rejection of faith and a brave, romantic reliance on human potential may be understandable and even inspiring to some, but remains unsatisfying to me and inadequate for most people. The assumptions of these “secular humanists” (as philosophers would call them) are naïve and their hope illusory. They may be right to be skeptical of any religious system, but too quick to reject belief in God. They arrogantly take faith in their own abilities, and too easily shortchange the value of seeking a meaningful relationship with God. Ultimately, such faith in self is based on a lie, because it simply cannot deliver on its promise of relieving angst and creating a better world.
So, what’s the alternative? Taking God out of the equation certainly isn’t the answer. Rather, the solution is to let God transform your heart and mind by his love and grace, and to let your life and work in the world flow out of spiritual vitality rooted in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Hope for the world will never come from secular humanism, a religious system, or any ideology, but only from humble human beings who are committed to serving God out a living relationship with God.
Such spiritual vitality begins by seeing yourself as a beloved creation of a good Creator, who has provided a Savior to meet your deepest needs that you cannot meet on your own. Believe that you are designed to know, love, and serve a personal God, who calls you to know, love, and serve others. Then, the more you experience the love and grace of God for yourself, you will actually gain greater capacity to show that love and grace to others as well.
Such a vision for life will help you to get beyond your own self-centeredness to want to serve God’s good purposes for your life, and to join God wherever the Spirit is at work doing good. Without such a vision, most of your noble intentions and humanistic ideals for society are going to collapse rather quickly when you don’t get what you want or need. Without this kind of personal relationship with God, you simply are not going to have enough to draw on within yourself to sustain your good intentions.
No matter how smart, capable, dedicated, or “lucky” you may be, you still need God. You need God’s Spirit to cultivate a heart of love within you. You need Christ to show you how to move beyond selfishness to true devotion to the well-being of others (including those you already love the most). And you need the Holy Spirit to lead you, to guide you, and to empower you to use your abilities, opportunities, and resources in ways that best fit God’s good purposes.
Seeking to know, love, and serve God is not about using belief in God as a crutch when you should be learning how to rely on yourself more, as if they were mutually exclusive options. Rather, maximizing human potential calls for doing all you can to grow personally and to develop your self-confidence in the context of seeking the kind of relationship with God that will be truly life-giving and service-empowering.
You don’t have to choose between faith in God and developing yourself, then. You just need to wisdom to know what part God plays, and what part you play, and how God and you can best work together to do what you simply cannot do on your own.
“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith…” (James 1:306a, NRSV)
“Loving Creator, thank you for helping me to better understand who I am and what my place is among others in this world. Please continue to help me to grow fully into the person you intend for me to become, and to develop the kind of relationship with you that most honors you and best serves your good purposes. Teach me when to rely fully on you, when to stand on my own two feet as a healthy adult, and how to integrate these two kinds of confidence in one Spirit-led person.”
*To read the original Huffington Post article that prompted this and other responses from bloggers, click here, “When Prayer Makes a Difference in Suffering.”