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Tag: Answered Prayer

Your God is Not Here

barbara ehrenreich god quote

Several years ago, I watched the movie Dark Places. Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel with the same name, Dark Places tells the story of a girl who survived the murder of her mother and sisters. After the killings, the murderer scrawled a message in blood on the bedroom wall. The message said: YOUR GOD IS NOT HERE

Your God is not here . . . five little words, yet they succinctly summarize one of the reasons many people walk away from Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals believe that God hears and answers prayers, and is intimately involved with the day-to-day machinations of life. This God is all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. For Evangelicals, they “see” God everywhere, even going so far as to say that God lives inside of them. He walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own, Evangelicals sing, rarely considering how often in their lives God is nowhere to be found.

Evangelicals are taught that God is everywhere, yet it seems — oh, so often — that the everywhere-God is AWOL. In 1 Kings 18, we find the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Elijah challenged the prophets to an Old Testament cook-off.  Verses 20-24 state:

So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel. And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God.

The prophets of Baal went first. As expected, their God was silent and no fire fell from Heaven. Then it was Elijah’s turn, and sure enough, God heard the prophet’s prayer and sent fire to burn up the sacrifice. Not only did God burn up Elijah’s ground chuck offering, but he also totally consumed the stone altar (imagine how hot the fire must have been to melt rock). Afterward, Elijah had the prophets of Baal restrained and taken to a nearby brook so he could murder them. All told, Elijah slaughtered 450 men.

I want to focus on one specific element of this story: Elijah’s mockery of the prophets of Baal. As these prophets called out to their God, Elijah began to mock them:

And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

The Living Bible puts it this way:

“You’ll have to shout louder than that,” he scoffed, “to catch the attention of your god! Perhaps he is talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”

Every time I read these words I think about the Evangelical God, a deity who is supposedly on the job 24/7. If this God is so intimately involved with his creation, why does it seem that he is nowhere to be found? This God is supposedly the Great Physician, yet Christians and atheists alike suffer and die. Where, oh where, is the God who heals? This God supposedly controls the weather, yet tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, avalanches, and mudslides maim and kill countless people, leaving those who survive without homes, food, and potable water. This God supposedly causes plants to grow, yet countless children will starve due to droughts and crop failures. This God is supposedly the God of Peace, yet hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children are maimed and slaughtered in wars and terrorist attacks. This God is supposedly the Giver of Life, yet everywhere people look they see death — both human and animal.

Perhaps it is the Evangelical God that is — to quote the Living Bible — “talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” Taking a big-picture view of life leads many of us to conclude that either the Evangelical God is a heartless, indifferent son of a bitch or he doesn’t exist. For atheists such as myself, our honest, rational observations make one thing clear: there is no God. Perhaps — throwing a bone to deists and universalists — there is a hand-off God, but is he worthy of worship? This God created the universe, yet he chooses, in the midst of our suffering, to do nothing. What good is such a God as this? Warm “feelings” will not suffice when there is so much pain, suffering, and death.

Imagine how different the world would be if the Evangelical God fed the hungry, gave water to thirsty, healed the sick, brought an end to violence and war, and made sure everyone had a roof over their head, clothes on their back, shoes in their feet, and an iPhone (the Devil uses Android) in their pockets. Imagine if this God tore the pages of the book of Revelation from the Bible and said, my perfect, eternal kingdom is now!

Christians have been promising for centuries that someday their God will make all things new. Evangelicals warn sinners that the second coming of Christ is nigh, after which God will make a new Heaven and a new Earth. In Revelation 21:3-5 we find these words:

I heard a loud shout from the throne saying, “Look, the home of God is now among men, and he will live with them and they will be his people; yes, God himself will be among them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new!”

Yet, despite the promises of better days ahead, the world remains just as it always has been, an admixture of love, joy, kindness, hatred, heartache, and loss. I ask, where is God? 

I think the murderer was right when he scrawled on the bedroom wall, YOUR GOD IS NOT HERE. Surely, the cold reality and honesty of atheism is preferred to begging and pleading with a God who never answers. I spend each and every day of my life battling chronic pain and illness.  Gastroparesis, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis dominate every waking moment.  My health problems started fifteen years before I walked away from Christianity. Countless prayers were uttered on my behalf. I pleaded with God, Help me, Lord. Heal my broken body. Take away my pain. God uttered not a word, nor did he lift a finger to help. As a pastor, I prayed for numerous dying Christians. I asked the churches I pastored to pray for the sick and the dying. Yet, despite our earnest petitions, all those we prayed for died.

The absence of God from the human narrative of life is but one of the reasons I no longer believe in the existence of God. I think Jimmy Stewart summed up my view best with his prayer on the movie Shenandoah:

Video Link

There is no God that is coming to deliver us from pain, suffering, and loss. We are on our own, so it is up to us to ease the suffering of humans and animals alike. Knowing that death always wins shouldn’t keep us from attempting to alleviate the misfortunes of others. We shouldn’t need promises of homes in Heaven to motivate us to help others.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

A Few Thoughts on a Lifetime of Praying to the Christian God

unaswered prayer

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected.

From the earliest age, I was taught to pray. As a child I prayed, Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Bless Mommy, Daddy, Bobby and Robin, and the pastor and the church, Amen. As I got older, I learned to pray extemporaneously. Prayer was God and me conversing with each other. As I matured in the faith, I came to believe that the divine purpose of prayer was to conform my will to God’s will. I thought it was proper and right to pray as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, Lord, not my will, but thy will be done. On earth as it is in Heaven.

As a pastor and a married man with six children, I spent much time in prayer. Hours and hours a week were devoted to praying. I started and ended each day with prayer. I prayed throughout the day. I prayed over every meal, and I prayed before and after each of the thousands of sermons I preached.  I prayed before, during, and after every time I preached on the street. I spent thousands of hours in church prayer meetings. Needless to say, I have a good bit of experience when it comes to praying.

I believed God answered every prayer I prayed in one of three ways:

  • Yes
  • No
  • Not now

It was not until I had left the ministry that I began to seriously look at praying in general and specifically the prayers that I had prayed over the course of fifty years in the Christian church and twenty-five years as a pastor.

I know that many people benefit from praying. They find it soothing and comforting to pray to a God. They find strength from taking their troubles and burdens to the Lord. Even if God doesn’t exist, prayer, at least for them, is still beneficial, often bringing peace, comfort, and direction. I don’t criticize people for praying, and I certainly don’t ridicule them. If praying helps get them through the night, who am I to condemn or mock them? God needn’t be real for people to find help and solace through prayer. I know to rationalists and atheists, such a thought sounds absurd, but religion has left a deep imprint on humankind, and praying to a deity is very much a part of the lives of billions of people.

Several years ago, I sat down and carefully considered all the prayers I had prayed. There were some big prayers I prayed asking God to deliver people, save people, keep them from dying, restore marriages, elect certain people to office, end abortion, etc. I prayed for my personal needs, financial needs, physical needs, and the needs of my wife, children, and extended family. I prayed for the church I pastored. I prayed it would grow and that we would see many souls saved. I prayed God would send us new members, people with a servant’s heart, ready and willing to get busy for God.

Did God answer my prayers? How could I know? Since God could say yes, no, or not now to every prayer I prayed or get me to modify my request, so my will lined up with his, how could I ever know if God ever, actually, one time, answered a prayer of mine?

unanswered prayers 2

Christians tend to think that proof of God answering prayer occurs when something they perceive as good happens to them. They get sick and they pray that God will make them well, and sure enough they recover. Thus, God healed them. Money is tight and they ask God to get their employer to give them a raise, and sure enough they get a raise. It’s God that gave them a raise. Since God is good all the time, when good things happen it is God’s doing.

What about when bad things happen? Is God behind the bad things that happen, as in the case of Job? Shouldn’t God get credit for everything that happens to Christians? Since God is sovereign and in control of the universe, shouldn’t the placard on God’s desk say, The buck stops here? This is a thorny, troublesome issue for Christians. They don’t like blaming God for the bad things of life so they come up with different ways to excuse God:

  • The Romans 8:28 excuse And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
  • The James 1:12-15 excuse Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
  • The Romans 9 excuse So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour.
  • The Hebrews 12 excuse And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?

What do these four excuses tell us about bad things and their relationship to God?

  • There are no bad things. God means everything for the good of the Christian. Things perceived as bad are really good since their objective is to make one a better Christian.
  • That God chastens (spanks, whips, disciplines, corrects) Christians so that they might be better Christians. Once again, bad things happening are really just God getting the Christian’s attention.
  • Enduring perceived bad things from the hand of God will result in a reward from God when Christians get to Heaven.
  • Questioning God’s dealings with Christians is not permitted. God can do whatever he wants. He is, after all, God. He created everyone, so he can do whatever he wants with us. So what if it seems God is being evil and malicious towards us. He has the power, authority, and right to do so. Besides, God is good all the time and he means it for their . . . let the circular reasoning continue.

answered and unanswered prayer

Now back to my own prayers. WHY always lurked in the background. WHY is this happening? What is God trying to say to me? Is God judging me, teaching me, chastising me, building me up, tearing me down . . .? You know the drill.

Why did God lead me to leave a church I pastored for eleven years and move to Texas? Why did God then change his mind after seven months? Why did God lead me to sell some prized possessions I owned so I could help a family move from Texas to Ohio only to change his mind and have that same family move right back to Texas three months later? These are but two of a number of stories I could share about God, through prayer, leading me to do this or that, only to change his mind a few days, weeks, or months later.

When I took a big step back and began to look at my prayers and their connection to God, I came to see there was no connection at all. Good and bad things happen to everyone. It doesn’t matter whether a person prays. Shit happens, and that shit is called life. Praying changes nothing. It may help people feel better or give them peace, but in the morning whatever they are praying about is still there for them to face.

Praying often becomes an excuse for not dealing with life. Making a decision can be offloaded to God, and that way whatever happens is God’s will. Instead of owning the decision, God gets all the credit — that is, unless something bad happens, and then the Devil or the flesh gets the credit (even though, according to the Bible, the Devil operates under the control of God).

This seems quite maddening to me. I like my current view of life much better. Good and bad things happen. Good and bad decisions are made every day. Luck plays a big part in life. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. I am responsible for the decisions I make and I cannot control the decisions other people make. My new perspective on life has forced me to reevaluate the leading of God in the past. If it wasn’t God leading me or God answering my prayer who was it?

Me. That’s right, me. I did what I wanted to do. I may have couched my decisions in Christian-speak, but I was the one making the decisions. There is no imaginary God to blame and no imaginary God to praise. The only God in the equation is of human form. Take the two illustrations I gave above.

I left a church I started and pastored for eleven years and moved to Texas. I became the co-pastor of a young, exciting, growing Sovereign Grace Baptist church. I saw this as my once-in-a-lifetime move. My wife and I were excited about God “leading” us to this church. Yet, seven months later, we were back in Ohio, bruised, battered, and abused. We had our hearts ripped out. The church even went so far as to excommunicate me and to this day they consider me a “publican and heathen” (Matthew 18). What went wrong? Did I “mishear” God? Did God just want to move me to Texas so he could give me an ass-whipping? (See I am a Publican and a Heathen.)

The truth is we should never have moved. The new church offered me a pay increase that doubled what I was making in Ohio. They offered us a new mobile home to live in, rent and utility free. I saw it as a golden opportunity, a chance to get out of the financial hole we were in. I also saw the move as an opportunity to put my evangelism skills to good use.  Everything about this move said . . . YES! YES! YES!

However, I ignored the character, personality, and temperament of the man I was going to work with. He started the church and, while I was going to be co-pastor, there was no doubt who was the REAL pastor. This man was just like me. Driven. Strong-willed. Bull-headed. Arrogant. Temperamental. Prone to anger. Certain of his beliefs. It took me all of a few weeks to realize that the church wasn’t big enough for both of us, and over the course over the next six months I lived just this side of Hell. In the end we fought and bickered like a couple of tom cats. We had no love or respect for each other. It was ugly and I am just as guilty in all of this as the other man. So much for a Christianity of love, peace, joy and understanding.

Take the other illustration I gave. Why did God lead me to sell some prized possessions I owned so I could help a family move from Texas to Ohio only to change his mind and have that same family move right back to Texas three months later?

This one is easier to parse. You see, this family was part of the church I was excommunicated from (though they had left it a short time after we moved away). Since God was “leading” them to move to Ohio and I felt “led” to help them, I did everything in my power to help them move. I spent $2,000 helping them move, including going to Texas to help them make the move. I had to sell several prized possessions so I could get the money necessary to help them move. One item I sold was a bolt-action Mossberg .410 shotgun. I bought it new when I was twelve years old for $22. The gun had special meaning to me, BUT God had a work for me to do so I sold it, along with several high-powered rifles, shotguns, and a handgun.

Those of you on the outside looking in can see what was going on in this story. This wasn’t God “leading” . . . it was me getting back at the pastor I had a falling out with and the church that excommunicated me. The family moved to Northwest Ohio, only to moved back home three months later. Why didn’t they stay? They were Hispanic, and they had just moved from racially diverse San Antonio to Anglo rural Ohio. The culture shock was overwhelming. I had talked to them about this before they moved and they were sure they could handle it. Everything about Ohio was different from the Hispanic culture they moved from. I don’t know what happened after they moved back to San Antonio. I heard they went back to the church and pleaded for forgiveness. Perhaps they repented of following after the evil Bruce Gerencser. I wonder how things are for them.

I tell these stories to illustrate the fact that in each of these cases I was certain that God was leading me and answering my prayer. I have come to see that throughout my Christian life that it wasn’t God leading the way at all. It was me. Was God leading me to go to a Christian college or was it that I wanted to be a pastor and I needed a college education to do that? Did God lead my wife and me to get married or did we get married because we were physically and emotionally attracted to each other? Every church I ever pastored grew numerically. Was that God’s doing? Was God answering my prayers for power from on high? Or did the churches grow because I worked hard, was a friendly pastor, and a pretty darn good public speaker?

As I look at every major decision I ever made that I attributed to God, I can see the hand of Bruce and the influence of other people. If it is God answering prayer then I have finally figured out who God is . . . I am.

I am sure my critics will take this post as the best proof yet that I never was a Christian. They now have proof that I had a man-powered, man-centered ministry and life. I even said I was God! What they blindly cannot or will not see is that their lives are no different from mine. I am not some special case. I am, in every way, a typical example of a person who devotedly followed after Jesus, and who one day woke up and finally realized that most of what he spent his life doing was predicated upon a fantasy.

All cartoons by David Hayward, the Naked Pastor

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Dear Evangelical, Why Don’t We See Any Miracles in Your Church?

healing
Cartoon by Ryan Kramer

One of the thorniest verses in the Bible for Evangelicals is John 14:12:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

Evangelicals believe that the fourteenth chapter of John is the very words of Jesus. This chapter tells Evangelicals not to have a troubled heart; that 2,000 years ago Jesus ascended back to heaven to prepare a room/mansion in heaven for them. When they die or if the Rapture happens before they die, Evangelicals are promised the keys to a brand new home in the sky. This chapter also tells Evangelicals that Jesus is THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life, proving to Evangelicals the exclusivity of their peculiar version of the Christian gospel.

In verse 14 Jesus says, If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. Ponder these words for a moment. Think about all the prayers Christians have uttered over the centuries, prayers asked in the name of Jesus without nary a response. Think about this verse in light of the current Coronavirus Pandemic. Evangelicals love to say that God answered this or that prayer, but pressed for proof of their supernatural claims, they quickly retreat to the safe confines of faith. (Please see A Few Thoughts on a Lifetime of Praying to the Christian God.)

Let’s do some Bible math:

If ye shall ask any thing in my name, will do it + He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do = a church that should regularly see people raised from the dead and healed; a church that should be able to feed the hungry; a church whose leaders work miracles, including walking on water, turning water into Welch’s grape juice, and healing the deaf, blind, and dumb. Add to this, Jesus also said in Mark 16:15-18:

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

According to Jesus, those who believe in him would cast out devils, speak in unlearned new languages, handle venomous snakes, drink poison and not die, and lay their hands on the sick, miraculously causing them to recover from their illnesses.

Is it not then fair to ask where such Christians are today? Where can a non-believer go to see Christians doing greater works than Jesus? Why are hospital beds not empty, mental hospitals closed down, and world hunger eliminated? Surely if, as the Bible says, Christians are to do works greater than Jesus, we skeptics have the right to say show us.

Most Christian sects come up with elaborate schemes to explain away the normative meaning of these verses. The works of Jesus and the early church were sign gifts, many Evangelicals say, and once the canon of Scripture was completed these sign gifts were no longer necessary. I wonder if Christians who say this ever consider that what they are basically saying is that Jesus was lying in John 15/Mark 16 or that there should no longer be the expectation of  verifiable miracles. (I use the word verifiable to turn away those that want to appeal to all sorts of subjective experiences that they say are proof of God working a m-i-r-a-c-l-e.)

waiting for a miracle
Graphic by David Hayward

In the delusional world inhabited by Pentecostals, snake-handling Baptists, and those who subscribe to CHARISMA magazine, greater works than Jesus are being performed on a regular basis. When asked for verifiable proof of their claims, appeals are made to faith or Christians mutter, I just KNOW that MY GOD is in the miracle-working business. Funny business God is in . . . no advertising or place of business, yet non-Christians are expected to believe the business exists. I know there is a McDonald’s right here, says the Charismatic, because a book I read tells me there is.

Here’s my challenge to Evangelicals. Please pray that God supernaturally heals me from my physical maladies, or that God stops the Coronavirus Pandemic in its tracks. If she does, I will believe and recant every word I’ve ever written about the Bible, God, Jesus, and Christianity. Wouldn’t it be a great testimony to the miraculous power of almighty God and the veracity of the Christian narrative if God healed an atheist like me? Instead of praying for God to kill me, why not pray for God to heal me?  Better yet, forget me. Heal my wife. I’m waiting . . .

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Prayer: Asking and Receiving

asking-and-receiving

Evangelicals believe the words printed in red in the New Testament were uttered by Jesus himself. Thus, in John 14:13, Jesus says to his followers: whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. Jesus’ unambiguous statement makes it clear that whatsoever Christians prayerfully ask in his name, he will do. Awesome, right? Mark 11:24 records Jesus saying: Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. Jesus’ statement in Mark 11:24 is even more extreme. Whatsoever Christians desire and pray for, if they will really, really, really believe that God will give it to them, Jesus will affirmatively and fully answer their prayers. If only this were true, why I might become a Christian again. I have a lot of things that need fixing in my life. I am more than happy to let Jesus take the wheel! But, alas, the Jews buried the steering wheel with Jesus in an undisclosed location, so I am on my own.

Decades ago, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) evangelist John R. Rice wrote a book titled, Prayer: Asking and Receiving. Rice, the long-time editor of the Sword of the Lord newspaper, believed that “getting” what you wanted from God was as simple as praying and asking God to deliver. Granted, Rice, and others who followed in his footsteps, had all sorts of explanations for “why” God failed to come through, but these Fundamentalist men of God sincerely believed that getting what they needed in their ministries and personal lives was but a prayer away. Rice believed that the primary hindrance to answered prayer was “sin.” He advocated praying for forgiveness as soon as you became aware that a behavior or action was sin. “Keep your sin lists short,” Rice said.  The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: Pray without ceasing. Rice believed that Christians should always be in a spirit of prayer, ever-ready to shoot a prayer up to God. In Asking and Receiving, Rice wrote:

The normal Christian life is a life of regular, daily answer to prayer. In the model prayer, Jesus taught His disciples to pray daily for bread, and expect to get it, and to ask daily for forgiveness, for deliverance from the evil one, and for other needs, and daily to get the answers they sought.

For many years, IFB churches, parachurch ministries, and education institutions grew numerically and financially. In the minds of many IFB Christians, this proved Rice’s contention that prayer was believers asking and God delivering. Today, the vast majority of these churches, ministries, and schools are shells of what they once were. Many of them have closed their doors. What are we to make of their precipitous decline? Did Rice’s prayer formula no longer work? Or, perhaps, it never did work, and answered prayers came from and through human instrumentality, not God.

In the 1980s, I pastored a rapidly growing IFB congregation. Starting with 16 people, in four years the church grew to 200. I thought, at the time, that God had answered my prayers. I pleaded with God to save the lost, stir the saints, and cause Somerset Baptist Church to be a lighthouse in the community. And for five or six years, it seemed God was coming through every time I asked him to do so. Not that I was ever satisfied. I remember Rice saying, “It is not wrong to have a small church — for a while.” I attended numerous IFB preacher’s conferences and Sword of the Lord conferences in the 1970s and 1980s. The theme was always the same: building large churches for the glory of God. I was never, ever happy with the numbers. I took it personally when people skipped church. How dare they miss out on what Bruce — uh, I mean God — was doing at Somerset Baptist. I would learn, over time, that it wasn’t God that “blessed” my ministry, it was me and a handful of dedicated volunteers. One day, I looked behind the vending machine IFB preachers called God, and I noticed it was unplugged. Prayer wasn’t asking and receiving. At best, it was asking, asking, and asking, and then acting accordingly. I found that it was humans, not God, who answered prayers; that I was asking “self” for this or that, and “self” gave me what I asked for.

Rice went to his grave believing: “According to the Bible, a genuine answer to prayer is getting what you ask for.” If he had any doubts, he never uttered them in public. While John 14:13 and Mark 11:24 are clear – that if Christians ask, they will receive – evidence on the ground is clear: God doesn’t answer prayer. Either God can’t answer prayer because he doesn’t exist, or Christians live such sinful lives that their God has turned a deaf ear to their petitions. My money is on the former.

The next time an Evangelical says to you, THE BIBLE SAYS __________, ask him about John 14:13 and Mark 11:24. Do your own version of THE BIBLE SAYS __________. Ask him if Jesus meant what he said in these verses. The answer that comes next will likely prove to be long on obfuscation and theological gymnastics and short on, The B-i-b-l-e, yes that’s the book for me. I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-i-b-l-e. BIBLE!

How did your pastors and churches handle verses such as John 14:13 and Mark 11:24? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Prayer Warriors

prayer

A guest post by ObstacleChick

There are a lot of people from my Evangelical past with whom I am connected on social media. A few of them never post anything at all that is religious. It is clear that some folks left Evangelicalism for a more progressive, inclusive Christianity. But there are quite a few who are still deeply rooted in Evangelical churches and beliefs. The majority of those who are still deeply rooted in Evangelicalism are also politically conservative. Not only are some of these folks posting about hell, but they are also supporting gun ownership, anti-immigration sentiment, and anti-abortion stances. Sometimes when I can’t take it anymore, I unfollow people.

All the Christians that I know believe in the power of prayer. They are convinced that their deity wants to hear from them and wants to help them with their issues, provided of course that the person praying is “right with God” and that whatever the person is asking is within God’s will. I don’t know any Christians who would state with certainty that they are “right with God” or that they know conclusively what is God’s will, but they certainly do throw their prayers out there in case all the right circumstances converge to produce the desired outcome. It’s a little like playing the lottery, except with the lottery someone will actually receive a payout at some point.

As someone who no longer believes in deities or the power of prayer, it is interesting to me to see what Christians post on social media when they are seeking a desired outcome to a situation. Some will post a cryptic notice to their “prayer warrior” friends that there is a situation requiring prayer. Inevitably, dozens of people will respond “praying,” while some include heart or praying hands emoticons. Others will post a specific event for which they would like their friends to pray, typically something to do with illness or financial/employment situation. The posts regarding cancer or terminal illness are the most heartbreaking for me to read, as the person posting often will state that they are putting their loved one’s well-being (or their own well-being as the case may be) in the hands of their deity. All of them do seek the best medical care that they can find or afford, so at least they are aware that physical treatments are necessary to treat disease. However, they ask for prayers for “getting an appointment soon,” “getting treatment right away,” “seeing the best doctor,” and so forth. Picking up the phone and talking with someone who can actually make that happen for you might be a better option than talking to an invisible deity and asking all your friends to talk to an invisible deity.

I feel for those who are reaching out for prayers. They are afraid, concerned, sometimes grasping with their last hope that their deity will show favor and perform a miracle to rectify the situation. Yet I just cannot bring myself to say that I am “praying.” I have not prayed in many years, even before I acknowledged that I was an atheist and no longer believed in any deities. I believe that if I say I am praying that it is a lie even though it is an expected response that might make the person feel better.

What prompted this post is seeing a series of posts from Evangelical Christians over the past few months regarding illness and death. A friend’s mother died after deciding to discontinue chemotherapy as her cancer had progressed too far. Another friend’s father died after years of cancer and remission; he was a pastor, which goes to show that the Evangelical deity does not favor his mouthpieces when it comes to cancer. Yet another person posted that her husband was experiencing unexplained blindness for which doctors, after several months of tests, have not found the root cause. My sister-in-law’s year-old grand-niece suffered a seizure, and doctors could find nothing long-term wrong with her. Another friend just posted yesterday that his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and is starting radiation therapy today. And the most heartbreaking of all is a friend whose husband had surgery for a glioblastoma, was sent to Duke Medical Center to be evaluated for an experimental program, and the day before the appointment, was rushed to Duke where doctors performed emergency brain surgery to alleviate swelling where a new faster-growing glioblastoma has taken root. It took several days for the family to secure transport back home to Georgia so he could begin radiation treatment.

All of these people asked for prayers, and they received hundreds of responses such as “praying” or “praying for you,” or longer versions that include some sort of Bible verse and “praying,” or a long-winded monologue “lifting you up in the name of our Lord and Healer Jesus Christ.” Very few people actually offered something useful in return.

What I did notice was that hardly anyone who posted responded to those who commented “praying,” but everyone responded to my comments which usually involved saying that I hoped their medical team could find out what was wrong or made some other comment that had nothing to do with Jesus or prayer. My comments gave them the opportunity to express their thankfulness for their medical teams and to explain what had been accomplished so far. My goal when commenting was to show empathy, and I suppose that was also a goal of those who responded that they were “praying.” The difference is that I know and accept that there is very little actionable that I can accomplish to help these people with their issues while those who pray think they are doing something important and useful by appealing to their supposedly omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity. If the person does show improvement or recovery, the deity is thanked and held responsible for the “great things he has done.” Sometimes the medical team is thanked, but they are typically an afterthought in the process. And if the outcome is not favorable, then it is attributed to “God’s will, praise His name, glory hallelujah.”

In closing, I would like to mention the way a nonreligious friend is posting on social media about her husband’s bout with a brain tumor. They were on vacation in Italy when he collapsed. Hospital tests showed he had a brain tumor that required immediate surgery. When he returned to the US, he started radiation and physical therapy. All of her posts have been pictures of her husband with his medical team, with physical therapists, with friends and family who have visited, with many thanks for these professionals, family, and friends who are working with him. Not once did she mention a deity or ask for prayers.

If you are nonreligious, how do you deal with people asking you to pray for them regarding an issue? Do you tell them you are praying, or do you do as I do and mention how you are thinking of them and hope they have good resources? I would be interested to hear other ways that might convey empathy.

Bruce Gerencser