Pesky Questions: Prayer, Personal Responsibility, and Pat Answers

A few weeks ago, Ricktopher and MLE were in a discussion group with a bunch of church people and the discussion topic was prayer. Everyone was asked to read a quote they were given on prayer and then say something about it if they so chose. Part of the evening went something like this:

Everyone else was saying how comforting prayer is, etc. and only citing positive examples of how prayer “works.” “You know, sometimes it seems like God’s not answering a prayer, but then one day, you’ll look back on it, and realize, ‘yeah, that was answered.’”

When it came to MLE’s turn, she said, “I struggle with prayer sometimes. What about the parent of a child who has a totally curable illness, but because they can’t afford to get them treatment, all they can do is pray? They pray, but the child dies anyway. Are they going to look back someday and say, “Woah, I totally get why my child died of that completely curable illness.”

Someone in the group responded, “Well, we often don’t know God’s ways; why he does what he does.”

MLE replied, “Is it really ‘God’s way’ for this to happen? Is this God’s justice and love? Or it is us humans, flagrantly misusing our agency? (This denomination’s big on personal agency.) (Okay, she may not have said, “flagrantly.”) Perhaps we are the ones not answering this parent’s prayer.”

Often, we don’t want to ask these questions. We’re comfortable in our complacency. But perhaps we’re called to more. Dodging self-examination and the tough questions don’t make them disappear, nor does it help those non-hypothetic people in the world who suffer like those in MLE’s hypothetical situation.

We do ourselves a disservice by trying to be, or at least appear, overly confident in our certainty. Sometimes, we don’t question because we don’t want to appear “weak in the faith.” How sad! Could it be that we cheat ourselves (and others) out of opportunities to explore our struggles with others?

Much can be gained from a rich prayer life, but what is a rich prayer life? Is prayer more than personal pep talks and/or complaints? Is it only for me and mine, with the vague cover all prayer for “peace on earth” or to “be with” or “bless everyone?” Are we ‘doing our part’ by praying; in a sense, releasing ourselves of our responsibilities? The “Well, I’ve done my part” approach.

Are our prayers for peace or for God to be with others any more effectual than those of the parent of that child?

Maybe instead of noncommittally praying for “the poor,” maybe we should ask to be made more mindful of how we can work to end poverty, then square our shoulders and roll up our sleeves.

Note: This post was prompted by a post from the nakedpastor about prayer. It includes a great cartoon featuring a person asking for showers from Heaven and getting so much water that they’re completely immersed. It’s a great post and blog. Check it out! (And, of course, that’s all his content, so please, don’t misuse the image or anything, guys. That’s just not cool.)


2 responses to “Pesky Questions: Prayer, Personal Responsibility, and Pat Answers

  1. Really interesting blog post. In the case of a child whose parents can’t afford treatment, I’d say that was society’s fault.

    The question of how much God steps in to shape events is a complicated one. I don’t know if He does cure illness. I don’t really believe it. I believe He can give peace to someone who is seriously ill. That’s what I pray for.

  2. Hi, Cerlaire!
    I tend to think it’s society’s fault, too. What I question with that, though, is what is society? Isn’t it just a big group of us? If not, what is it? Hmm. More questions. 🙂

    I’ve heard prayers that God give people peace say, for example, when they are grieving or ill. I like that. I’m not sure everything needs to be a quick fix, and maybe sometimes a quick fix isn’t what’s best for us.

    It seems like some are eager to give absolutes about prayer and other God-related activities and beliefs, but how many of us can really explain with certainty how much God steps in to shape events? Challenging questions. But isn’t challenge where we often grow?

    I think it’s helpful and healthy to talk about about what we’re unsure of or don’t really get, or struggle with. I think that’s just being honest with ourselves and others.

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