Does God have our future mapped out for us? Or do we have free will to make choices? The answer is: Yes. It doesn’t make logical sense, but the answer is still — yes.
With that in mind, does what we do or how we pray make a difference? Recently, I’ve found some interesting blog posts that touch on these questions:
I was introduced to the blog My Charming Kids when a number of famous bloggers wrote posts asking for prayers for Stellan, a little boy with serious heart problems. Stellan’s mom blogged about his medical journey, and just recently, she happily wrote that the doctors managed to do some procedure on Stellan’s heart that seems to have completely fixed it. Stellan shouldn’t have problems with his heart again.
Stellan’s mother wrote a post, entitled “Miracle,” expressing her thankfulness over her son’s successful surgery, as well as her gratitude for all the people around the world who were praying for Stellan. But, she also wonders why prayers were answered for her son and not for the children of others. She writes:
While for Stellan, the doctors hit a home run, for others, who are just as prayed for, loved and special, their child faces more hospital stays, more interventions and more medicines. Children died this week. Children who were every bit as loved and important. Children whose names were also lifted to God, with parents and families and friends who went to Him with the same fervent spirit that you did, that we all did. But there are children who, even so, were not healed on earth.
That just doesn’t make sense to me, or to my husband … It is pretty clear from reading the Bible that we are not meant to understand God’s ways, we aren’t created to make those decisions about what type of healing arrives, what plan God has for any family … But He does give us something. He gives us faith. It is faith that can help us to accept what He allows to come our way, and faith that He will give us the strength and judgment and wisdom to keep going, especially if we do not get the miracle we wanted.
It is so easy now for me to sit here and say I would have trusted God no matter what, even if Stellan had died. But the truth is, finding the miracle in the situation when a child dies is something I do not understand … [God] chose to allow the doctors to fix Stellan’s heart. And I’m just struggling with what my response is to that. While our son is recovering, other sons and daughters are not. We are reunited as a family of six, yet other families are separated because of death. I could not be more grateful for our healing miracle, but at the same time my husband and I are grieving anew with those who grieve. It is unfair and beyond our grasp of comprehension.
I’ve had a similar experience myself. Curious J could easily have died during her delivery, but she didn’t. However, another little baby girl, equally loved, arrived at her time to be born in the same physical situation as my baby, even down to the two girls sharing the same due date, yet my baby made it safely through the delivery while the other little girl did not. Why did her baby die and not mine? I have no answer, except to hug my daughter tightly and praise God for his great mercy and love.
But, does prayer even make a difference? The famous mommy-blogger who writes Her Bad Mother recently wrote about this topic in her post Just Like a Prayer. I don’t think she is a believer in any particular religion herself, but she wrote about the topic of prayer in regards to a fellow famous mommy-blogger with three young children who last week had a sudden massive stroke, and is now fighting for her life. (You can read her husband’s blog post updates on his wife’s condition here.)
Her Bad Mother writes:
I don’t believe in petitionary or intercessory prayer. I’ve written about my reasons for this at length, but it boils down to this: I don’t believe in, can’t believe in, a God who responds to such prayer. As I said some months ago, ‘why should God help us find a cure for cancer, and not for muscular dystrophy? Find one lost child, and not another? Help the Red Wings win while leaving children dying in sub-Saharan Africa? If God is a god who lets bad things happen, the only way that I can understand that is if the point of letting bad things happen is to compel us to cope with pain and heartbreak and evil ourselves, alone, to better understand those things. And that idea of a didactic God doesn’t square with a picture of God as a moody patriarch who dispenses favors to his children on the basis of who supplicates most fervently.’
But that is not what prayer is for, I don’t think. It’s not a letter to Santa, it’s not a note to the Tooth Fairy, it’s not a solitary or collective clapping of hands to show that we do believe in fairies, we do, and please don’t let Tinkerbell die. Not that there isn’t some force or value in letters to Santa and notes to Tootherella and fervent Tink-saving hand-clapping: these are powerful expressions of our faith and our desire and our will. And when they are wrought collectively, they give us shape as families, as communities, as circles of love and hope and friendship. But wishes – even the strongest ones, even the ones that issue from a thousand hearts at once – don’t come true from the asking. They just don’t. And as go wishes, so go petitionary and intercessory prayers.
Is Her Bad Mother right? Do many people today believe in the collective power of prayer, meaning the the higher the number of people praying, the better the chance that God will hear and answer? Is prayer about the numbers, or is there something else involved? I agree with Her Bad Mother on this point: I don’t know if I could believe in the kind of God who chooses to act simply based on the amount of prayers headed his way on a certain issue. Thankfully, I don’t believe in such a God. My belief in God is very simple; I believe in a God who works everything out for good for his children (Romans 8:28), and “working things out for good” can and most definitely does include life in heaven.
In fact, I’ll tell you something that might make some of you angry at me, or at least confused: I didn’t pray for Grandma Violet to get better. (Well, she wouldn’t have wanted me to anyway because she was eager to get home to heaven, but that’s not the point.) And, I didn’t pray for my aunt to be healed. Instead, for both of these wonderful women, I prayed that God would continue to work out the circumstances of their lives for their own eternal good and for the eternal good of those around them. Is that a vague prayer? Yes. But I believe this kind of prayer treats God as God, and it trusts that he knows better than sinful humans do how to truly work things out for the good of his children.
I have to admit, though, sometimes I’ve wondered about prayer myself. Does it really make any difference to pray? If God is going to work everything out for good anyway, do I even need to pray about it? God knows exactly what’s going to happen in the future anyway, right? But yet, I know that Christians are instructed to pray: “In everything, present your requests to God.” (Philipians 4:6) And the Bible also says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16) So, as with other doctrines in Christianity that don’t make logical sense to human reason alone, I have to just trust what God says and stop asking so many questions.
Meanwhile, I keep on praying for my father to find a job. Well, what I actually pray goes something like this, “Lord, if it’s your will, please help my father to find a good job that can support him and Mom. But whether you decide to provide a job for Dad or not, thank you for your promises to always provide for your children. Help all of us to trust that you’ve got a perfect plan, and even if we can’t understand it, we know that your way is best.”
It’s not an easy prayer to pray. It’s easier to simply tell God what he should do. And, of course, I really do hope that my dad finds a job! But at the same time, I’m trying to trust that God’s got everything under control. Holding onto this kind of attitude saves one from feelings of guilt (like my first blog quote) or from hopelessness (like my second blog quote). Christians have to let God be God, while holding to the knowledge that “whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8) In the end, our focus in life should not be about sickness or health, employment or unemployment, or even happiness or sadness. The focus of our life on earth should be on heaven, always remembering that this earthly life is short and a poor reflection of what heaven will be like. We look heavenward; it’s not about our “best life now,” it’s about our best life then.