Why do you keep praying when prayers aren’t answered? Why do you keep trusting in God when your suffering does not fit with your notion of a good, loving, and caring God?
These questions, and others like them, are inspired by the response I received to my June 4th article on the Huffington Post, “When Prayer Makes a Difference in Suffering”. My main point was that prayer can be a great help to those who suffer, in spite of the fact that many of their prayers may have gone unanswered, and their suffering might suggest that God has abandoned them.
It didn’t take long for the negative reactions to start pouring in, principally from atheists and other skeptics. Response after response charged that prayer simply does not work, and it’s delusional to think it does. At best, praying is a “placebo.” Mostly, it is a waste of time. At worst, those who promote prayer are misleading suffering people and failing to truly help them in practical ways. At least, that’s what the detractors argue.
For example, here is what Kadene and Scott had to say:
“Prayer merely provides an avenue of hope for the marginalized and dispossessed, and keeps them servile and inert; it really doesn’t solve a thing.” (Kadene, 6/7/10)
Prayer doesn’t work, how about doing something more constructive with your time like trying to make the world a better place through actual actions and not hocus pocus. (Scott Ferguson 6/17/10)
Bloggers like these two individuals, and many others like them, seem to want Christians to face up to the “facts” of this life and to quit fooling themselves about the existence of God. The argument goes something like this: If there is so much horrendous suffering in the world that doesn’t seem to square with any notion of a just, loving, and powerful God; if God routinely does not respond to the prayers for help from those who suffer the most; and if so-called “answers” can be explained by good luck that randomly falls to believers and nonbelievers alike; why in the world would any sane, rational person keep praying?
This summer, I’m going to raise this and other such questions for us to thoughtfully reflect on together. I not going to offer any “proofs for God”—I don’t think one exists. And I am not going to attempt a full-blown, intellectual “apology” (defense) for the Christian faith. (Countless books are available on the subject, if you’re interested.) Also, if you’re interested in my thoughts on human suffering and faith in God, you can read my lecture notes, prepared for a church group a few years ago on our Resources Page at our Faith, Hope and Love Global Ministries site.
Rather, my plan here on this blog is to talk about the value of prayer in the lives of those who look at life through the eyes of faith, without ignoring the valid objections and questions of those who do not believe in God and Christ. Drawing on my own personal experience as a pastor, ministry leader, spiritual life coach, and teaching minister, I’m going offer my own working hypotheses on the presence of God in the life of Christians.
I invite you to use this series of articles to think deeply about the existence of God and the value of prayer for yourself—by considering the teaching of Scripture, drawing on your own intelligence, reflecting on your perceptions of the presence and working God, and asking God to lead you to greater insight and understanding.
To this end, here are some of the additional questions I invite you to think and pray about with me in the coming weeks:
• What if you got a raw deal in life?
• Where is God in unanswered prayer?
• Who really wins when we pray?
• Is prayer a cop out?
• Wouldn’t it be just as good (or, better) to answer your own prayers?
• Is prayer a con?
• How can a rational person still pray?
The series of articles begins next Monday. For now, how would you respond to Kadene, Scott, or any other atheist who insists that prayer is a waste of time? In light of all the legitimate reasons to doubt the existence of God and the efficacy of prayer, why do you keep praying?
“…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV)
To read my Huffington Post Article and some of the comments for yourself, go to When Prayer Makes a Difference in Suffering.
Please feel free to copy or send to as many other seekers of God as possible!
Proper crediting of author and source required.