Tag Archive: Answered Prayer

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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

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, Have You Ever Had Any “Miracles” Happen in Your Life?

miracle working god

Recently, a reader by the name of Jay asked me:

I struggle with my faith often.

But when I think of the times that my life has been spared I can’t /won’t shrug it off to coincidence.

Have you ever had miracles happen in your life? Have you ever or a family or friend come out of situation that could not be explained?

Do you believe in miracles?

I was in the Christian church for fifty years, and I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five of those years. For most of my life, I believed the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God. I believed God heard and answered my prayers, and in some instances miraculously intervened in my life. According to my worldview at the time, God was a supernatural being who supernaturally intervened in my life on a daily basis. He was very much of a hands-on deity. I preached thousands of sermons, believing that the words that I spoke came straight from God himself. God worked in and through me, and, at times, did things I couldn’t even imagine. Miracles, right?

During much of 2007 and 2008, I undertook a painful and thorough examination of my life and beliefs. In November 2008, I concluded that I could no longer in good conscience call myself a Christian. In early 2009, I sent a letter to my family, friends, and former parishioners that detailed my loss of faith. It was not long after, that I began calling myself an atheist.

One area I paid close attention to during the deconversion process was answered prayers and miracles. I claimed that God had answered my prayers countless times and had worked miracles in my life. Could these things withstand rational, skeptical scrutiny? (Please see Prayer: Explaining the UnexplainableDoes Praying for the Sick and Dying Make Any Difference?A Few Thoughts on a Lifetime of Praying to the Christian God) After countless hours spent combing through the minutiae of my life, I concluded that most of the answered prayers and miracles in my life could be explained away solely through human means and intervention. In other words, the prayer-answering, miracle-working God I worshipped most of my life was, in fact, quite fallible and human.

But, Bruce, shouldn’t these unexplainable things be called miracles? Shouldn’t you give God his due for answering one out of a million prayers and throwing a miracle bone or two your way? You know, all praise to Jesus for saving one out of four hundred passengers in a plane crash; for saving a Bible while a tornado destroyed everything else in its path; for healing a cancer patient here and there?

In any other setting, someone with such a miserably low success rate would be fired or kicked off the team. The Christian God, truth be told, is batting well below the Mendoza line — a below .200 baseball average. Instead of praising Jesus for occasionally coming through, perhaps there are a few questions that need to be asked.

First, how can we know for certain something is a miracle? Are we to assume that anything we can’t understand or explain is a miracle? Second, how can we know for certain that what we called miracles were performed by some sort of God? Third, how can we know for certain that the God who worked these miracles was the Christian God? Humans have worshiped countless deities over the centuries. How can anyone know for sure that their God is one true miracle-working God? Set the Bible aside for a moment and try to clear your mind of whatever religious indoctrination clutters your thoughts. Does it sound reasonable to say that the “unexplainable” is best explained by attributing credit to a deity no one has ever seen? Or, does it make more sense to explain what we call miracles by saying, “I don’t know.”

I am comfortable with saying, “I don’t know.” I don’t have to have an explanation for everything that happens in my life. Using the Bible and religious dogma to “explain” such things is a cop-out. It allows people to avoid accounting for the unexplainable by saying, “God did it!” I would say to Jay and others like him who are struggling with their faith: “Carefully examine your life. Examine whether what you call answered prayer or miracles can be explained by or through human means. Once you complete this examination, ask yourself, should I still think of the Christian God as a prayer-answering, miracle-working deity?” I think you will find the answer is NO. Now, this doesn’t mean that you are an atheist. Many people, after such careful self-examination, become deists, believing that there is a creator God of some sort who set everything into motion and then said, “there ya go folks, do with it what you will.”  What you can be certain of is this: the personal God of countless Christians who is involved in their day-to-day lives hearing and answering prayers and working miracles is a myth; that we are each accountable for our own lives, and that humans collectively, according to the humanist ideal, have an obligation to make the world a better place to live.

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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

I Think God is Busy

mark 11 24

I recently watched The Iceman — a film detailing the life of notorious hitman Richard Kuklinski. Kuklinski, played by Michael Shannon, is suspected to have killed over two hundred people between 1946 and 1986.  One scene in the movie details Kuklinski’s murder of porn producer Marty Freeman (played by James Franco).

I am always on the lookout for mentions of religion when watching movies or TV programming. The Iceman has a poignant scene in which the Christian God plays a prominent part. Kuklinski, a lapsed Catholic, drives to where Freeman lives, planning to kill him. Let’s pick up the dialog at the point (38:27) where Freeman realizes Kuklinski plans to whack him.

Freeman calls Josh Rosenthal, the mobster who hired Kuklinski to kill him. Freeman wrongly thinks that they have worked out their differences, thus avoiding the need for Kuklinski to shoot him. Kuklinski takes the phone, has a brief conversation with Rosenthal, and says okay.

Kuklinski pulls out his gun . . .

Freeman: What the fuck’s going on?

Kuklinski: He changed his mind.

Freeman: No, no, no, Rosenthal is my best friend. I would never say anything.

Kuklinski: Not my problem.

Freeman: No, no, no, please God no. Please . . .

Kuklinski: What, you praying?

Freeman: God, please, God, please . . .

Kuklinski: You really believe that? You think God will come down and save you?

Freeman, face buried in a couch, continues to pray and weep . . .

Kuklinski: All right, I’ll give you some time. Pray to God. Tell him to come down and stop me.

Freeman gives Kuklinski an incredulous look and then goes back to praying.

Kuklinski: Our Father,

Freeman starts praying The Lord’s Prayer . . .

Kuklinski: Harder (looks at his watch)

Kuklinski: I’m not feeling nothing.

Long pause as Freeman continues to frantically pray . . .

Kuklinski: Nothing at all

Kuklinski: Harder

Freeman, exasperated, throws up his hands and says WHAT!? I . . .

Kuklinski: This is your last chance.

Kuklinski stands and moves to where Freeman is praying. Freeman turns his head, lifting his hands . . .

Freeman: No, no, no

Kuklinski: I think God is busy.

And with that Kuklinski kills Freeman with a derringer shot to the heart.

I think God is busy. Does this not reflect the feeling that millions of desperate people will have today as they pray to the Christian God, hoping that he will come to their rescue? Despite their passionate prayers to the God who supposedly holds the universe in the palm of his hand, all they hear is silence. No matter the circumstance or calamity, all Christians hear is a fast beeping sound and a recording that says, please try again later. And so these devoted followers of Jesus continue day after day, month after month, and year after year to pray to their God, thinking that someday he will bring deliverance, healing, or blessing. Yet, in the end, God fails to deliver on what he promised. He fails in every way possible, yet the faithful still hang on, believing, much like people playing the lottery, that their big prayer payout is just around the corner.

I have written a number of posts on prayer and God’s supposed care for Christians:

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

Luck, Fate, or Providence?

The Indifference of God

Don’t Thank God, Thank Me

Prayer: Explaining the Unexplainable

How Many Prayers Does it Take to Stop a Hurricane?

If the Christian God is indeed the sovereign of the universe, a prayer-answering God, and the Father of all who call on his name, he sure is piss-poor at his job. In baseball, there is something called the Mendoza Line. The Mendoza Line, named after a poor-hitting professional baseball player Mario Mendoza, is the line a hitter falls below when his batting average drops below .200. No major league batter wants to drop below the Mendoza line. The Mendoza line is the “offensive threshold below which a player’s presence on a Major League Baseball team cannot be justified, regardless of his defensive abilities. The term is used in other contexts when one is so incompetent in one key skill that other skills cannot compensate for that deficiency.” (Wikipedia)

Think of all the prayers you prayed as a Christian. How many of those prayers did God answer? None of this God answers every prayer: yes, no, later, bullshit. None of this, we won’t know until we get to Heaven how many of our prayers God answered. None of this, God works behinds the scenes, answering prayers without leaving proof of his actions. The Bible presents God as a mighty prayer-answering deity; a God who daily meets the needs of his followers. Yet, when pressed for examples of God miraculously answering their prayers, Christians are left with appealing to God meeting the more mundane needs of their lives. True, earth-shattering answers to prayers are scarce. Be honest, Christians. How many of your supposedly answered prayers can be verifiably attributed to your God? During my deconversion from Christianity, I went back over my fifty years of praying to the Christian God. I prayed tens of thousands of prayers, yet “answers” that couldn’t be explained through circumstance or human instrumentality fit on the fingers of my hands. I concluded that God was batting below the Mendoza line, so much so that I realized that he did not exist. Hanging my belief in his existence on a handful of unexplainable events was not enough for me to cling to my faith. I concluded that we live in a world shaped by randomness, natural forces, and human action — sans God.

In 1 Kings 18, we find the story of the prophet Elijah challenging the prophets of Baal to a God duel. Elijah proposed:

Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel’s table.

….

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. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.

As can be expected, the prophets of Baal lost this God-duel. The Christian God sent fire down from heaven and consumed Elijah’s sacrificial offering. Awesome story, right (besides Elijah murdering all the prophets of Baal)?  Elijah prayed a prayer sixty-three words long. One prayer, sixty-three words was all it took for God to prove his existence and vindicate his prophet by supernaturally turning a water-drenched cow into a burnt roast! Yet, Christians will utter millions of words in prayer to their God today with nary a spark from heaven. What gives?

My favorite part of this story is when Elijah mocks the prophets of Baal, saying:

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.

In modern parlance, Elijah said: Where’s your God, Muslims? He must be on his smartphone talking, in the bathroom taking a shit, on vacation, or taking a nap.

Now, Christians see this story from the perspective that the one true God, the Christian God, the God of the Bible, is indeed a prayer-answering God. Yet, when pressed for similar stories from their own lives, Christians have few tales of the miraculous to share. Perhaps, then, as Evangelicals-turned-atheists have concluded, the Christian God must be on his smartphone talking, in the bathroom taking a shit, on vacation, or taking a nap. In other words, the Christian God doesn’t exist. An argument can perhaps be made for an indifferent deistic God; a deity who set everything in motion and said, there ya go, do with it what you will; a God who has no interest in what is happening on planet earth save helping Tim Tebow become a successful baseball player or telling Granny where her keys are. Christians, then, are left with looking for God in the gaps or life’s minutia. When it comes to lightning-level answered prayers, God is impotent and silent; so much so that surely Christians can’t fault atheists and agnostics when they say, prove your God exists. It is not enough to speak of an ancient man named Jesus being resurrected from the dead. There’s no evidence that such a claim is true. What’s needed is a supernatural resurrection of someone such as Abraham Lincoln or Gandhi. Does not the Bible say, nothing is too hard of God? If Elijah can demand the prophets of Baal put up or shut up, can atheists and other non-Christians not do the same? Hell, I would be happy if God just sent some quail and manna down from Heaven to feed people who are starving or use his miraculous powers to give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. Miraculously curing cancer would be awesome too.

What we are left with, then, absent God actually miraculously answering prayers such as those pleading for God to kill me, is to hope that he will one day take the earplugs out of his ears and actually give a fuck about what is happening on planet earth. Unlike Christians, I am not hopeful that deliverance awaits around the next corner. I have concluded that a prayer-answering God only exists in the hopes of those who believe. Without this hope, of what value is Christian faith? Preachers keep spurring the faithful on, hoping that one day God will come through. That he hasn’t suggests to me that he is a myth.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Does Praying for the Sick and Dying Make Any Difference?

Guest post by ObstacleChick

All the tremendous beauty that exists in the world is juxtaposed against the existence of suffering and pain. Most of us experience some degree of suffering and pain during our lifetime, whether it is illness, injustice, or the death of a loved one. But I believe most people would agree that the most horrific suffering is that endured by a child. Most of us desire to help someone whom we see as inherently innocent such as an infant or child, or an animal, or someone who suffers from mental or physical challenges. While we feel empathy for an older person who has cancer, we generally believe that an older person has had the opportunity to live a good life, to experience some of the beauty in the world, to have long relationships with loved ones. But when we hear of something terrible befalling someone quite young, most of us feel an innate desire to protect and to “fix” the situation affecting the young. Most likely this desire stems from an evolutionary construct to preserve our species by ensuring the survival of the young to reach reproductive viability. Most parents will do almost anything to save their young, even to the point of sacrificing themselves, and even those not directly connected to a child often will go out of their way to save a child in danger.

About 8 months ago, a 7-year-old girl in my town was on vacation with her family when she fell ill. After examination at a local medical facility, she was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), which means that an aggressive, inoperable tumor was growing through her brain stem. Treatment can include radiation and chemotherapy, but surgery is generally impossible due to the invasive nature of the disease. The five-year survival rate is less than 1%, with most patients dying within months of diagnosis. Most patients diagnosed with this disease are children, and DIPG is one of the most devastating pediatric cancers.

People in our town and surrounding communities banded together to raise money for this little girl’s treatment. There were fundraisers conducted at local gyms and restaurants, and many local businesses and individuals donated money for treatment. Students at the local elementary school where she attended and at the middle school and high school where her siblings attended held their own fundraisers. Over $130,000 was raised for this family. Hardly a day would go by without someone posting on social media to pray for this family, to donate to the family, to help in some way. Even celebrities in politics, entertainment, and news media lent their names to support her cause. Yet sadly, eight months after her initial diagnosis, she passed away.

Our community is comprised primarily of people who attend the local Catholic church. Many of my kids’ friends attended CCD and went through their first communions and confirmations like good Catholic children do. Sports schedules in our community are designed around CCD times, and the local Catholic priest is often present at Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies. This little girl’s family were members of the local Catholic church so presumably the priest and congregants were diligent in their prayers for her cure. Yet she still passed away within months of her diagnosis.

Christians are taught to pray to God for help. “Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7-8); “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” John 14:13-14. These verses, in addition to others, make it patently clear that God will grant the requests of those who ask for assistance in Jesus’ name. With all the prayers for this sweet, innocent little girl to be healed of her disease, how is it that she succumbed to the ravages of this terrible illness?

As an agnostic atheist, I believe that there is no god and that prayers will do nothing beyond making the one who is praying feel as if they are acting on behalf of the sick child. From a theoretical standpoint, though, if there is a god, what does it say about him/her that, even though many in the community were praying for this child, he/she allowed this innocent child to suffer and die? Here are some of my thoughts on the matter.

God is a liar: as stated above, there are multiple verses stating that god will grant requests to those who ask in the name of Jesus. Assuming the supplicants are asking in the name of Jesus – and one would assume that at least the Catholic priest would know how to do that properly – then not healing this child shows that god does not grant requests and that his/her promises are empty at best.

God is uncaring: the vast majority of people feel a desire to ease the suffering of those in need, especially the suffering of children. “Heartbroken” is literally how most people feel when they hear of the plight of an innocent child. If even a fallible human (in Christian terms, that is) can feel heartbroken, how then can a supposedly loving, caring god not feel the same and want to take action?

God is not omnipotent: perhaps god is not a liar and is not uncaring, but perhaps he/she is not capable of healing a child from an aggressive disease. Then he/she is not the omnipotent god that Christians tout.

The Christian god is not the “correct” god: here we can postulate that perhaps Christians are praying to the wrong god and that the god does not want to answer prayers that are not directed to him/her correctly (which makes the god a real jerk if you ask me). What if the god is Zeus, and he wants to be recognized as Zeus? What if there are multiple gods and they are debating which, if any, should help the child? The Old Testament states that god is a jealous god, so perhaps whatever god exists really is a jealous god that wants to be addressed in the proper way and that Christians have not approached the real god correctly? Maybe people should pray to each individual god who has ever been recorded throughout history in order to hedge their bets. And perhaps they must pray to an additional god that is yet to be named, praying in proper supplication and repentance for not getting his/her name right and asking for insight. (Personally, this concept makes my head hurt – it would take hours of research to write down every god that has been recorded by humans and then additional hours praying to each individual god – but I suppose if one believes that someone’s life is on the line, that is a small price to pay in order to get it right).

There is sin in the hearts of those praying: some fundamentalist Christians would believe that of the hundreds of people ostensibly praying for this child that there is not even one whose prayers god can or will hear. This seems to go back to either “god is a liar” or “god is uncaring”.

God is just: we hear this a lot from evangelical Christians, but I am not sure how it applies in this situation. Perhaps because the child was born in original sin? But is a 7-year-old at the age of accountability? Perhaps the parents have not approached god correctly or asked for repentance of sins?

God wanted another “angel” in heaven with him: a few people posted this on social media in response to the girl’s death. To me, this just seems like a cop-out and sign of an uncaring god – that god is so selfish that he/she ends a promising life and causes pain and suffering to those who love her because he/she just has to have this particular person in heaven and can’t wait a few decades for nature to run its course.

God took her “home” to prevent something worse that he foresaw happening in the future: another cop-out speculation related to the one above. Bad things happen to people, and theoretically a caring, omniscient, omnipotent god could correct those situations.

God created the earth and all therein but stays hands-off thereafter: if this is the case, then all the Biblical stories of god directly intervening in the affairs of humans and of the earth just that – stories. If god is actually hands-off, then no sins of action, speech, or thought would be punished and people would be allowed to live as they wish.

Humans cannot understand the mysteries/plans/designs of god: given that we have a Bible that supposedly explains god in all his/her aspects, we should be able to understand god’s capabilities and desires most clearly. The fact that even the most learned pastors and scholars still cannot agree on these basic precepts shows that god is at best a bad communicator. The comment that humans can’t understand god always seemed like a cop-out answer.

There is no god: this seems the most plausible explanation to me. If indeed there existed a benevolent, caring, loving, omniscient, omnipotent deity, then it stands to reason that this deity would feel compelled as humans feel compelled to act on behalf of the weakest and most innocent among us. As such, the deity would step in to heal sick children, to protect children from abuse, to protect them from natural disasters. But this is not what happens. Every day we hear of children who are abused, sometimes to the point of death, children who suffer and die from terrible diseases, children who starve to death, children who are killed in disasters, and children who are murdered. Just read Bruce’s Black Collar Crime series for a myriad concrete examples.

But the majority of humans like to believe that there is a benevolent, caring, loving, omniscient, omnipotent deity who might possibly hear our prayers and act to change things in the world. They can feel like all their prayers actually may accomplish something. While I applaud those who do believe in a powerful deity and who roll up their own sleeves to help their fellow humans, it seems that most religious people would rather rely on their prayers to their deity in the hopes of solving the ills of the world. And that is sad. This girl’s family wrote in her obituary: “Our love and thoughts of you will forever light up our lives as we look forward to being joined with you again in eternity with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the Kingdom of Heaven.” While I do not believe this, who am I to divest others of their hope in an afterlife? May her family find peace in their memories of this beautiful little girl.

Sutherland Springs Massacre: God Answered the Victims Prayers by Allowing Them to be Murdered

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Hans Fiene, pastor of River of Life Lutheran Church in Channahon, Illinois (affiliated with the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, a Fundamentalist sect) believes that the twenty-six Baptists murdered at a Sutherland Springs, Texas church service were killed because God was answering their prayers to be “delivered from evil.”  Writing for the website The FederalistFiene stated:

It’s also an act of profound ignorance [to say that prayer doesn’t work]. For those with little understanding of and less regard for the Christian faith, there may be no greater image of prayer’s futility than Christians being gunned down mid-supplication. But for those familiar with the Bible’s promises concerning prayer and violence, nothing could be further from the truth. When those saints of First Baptist Church were murdered yesterday, God wasn’t ignoring their prayers. He was answering them.

“Deliver us from evil.” Millions of Christians throughout the world pray these words every Sunday morning. While it doesn’t appear that the Lord’s Prayer is formally a part of the worship services at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, I have no doubt that members of that congregation have prayed these words countless times in their lives.

When we pray these words, we are certainly praying that God would deliver us from evil temporally—that is, in this earthly life. Through these words, we are asking God to send his holy angels to guard us from those who would seek to destroy us with knives and bombs and bullets. It may seem, on the surface, that God was refusing to give such protection to his Texan children. But we are also praying that God would deliver us from evil eternally. Through these same words, we are asking God to deliver us out of this evil world and into his heavenly glory, where no violence, persecution, cruelty, or hatred will ever afflict us again.

We also pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God’s will be done. Sometimes, his will is done by allowing temporal evil to be the means through which he delivers us from eternal evil. Despite the best (or, more accurately, the worst) intentions of the wicked against his children, God hoists them on their own petard by using their wickedness to give those children his victory, even as the wicked often mock the prayers of their prey.

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Because of Christ’s saving death and resurrection, death no longer has any power over those who belong to him through faith. So the enemies of the gospel can pour out their murderous rage upon Christians, but all they can truly accomplish is placing us into the arms of our savior.

….

Despite the horror that madman made the saints of First Baptist endure, those who endured it with faith in Christ have received his victory. Although the murderer filled their eyes with terror, God has now filled them with his glory. Although he persecuted them with violence, God seized that violence and has now used it to deliver his faithful into a kingdom of peace. Although this madman brought death to so many, God has used that death to give them the eternal life won for them in the blood of Jesus.

Those who persecute the church and those who mock Christians for trusting in Almighty God rather than Almighty Government may believe that the bloodshed in Texas proves the futility of prayer. But we believers see the shooting in Texas as proof of something far different—proof that Christ has counted us worthy to suffer dishonor for his name and proof that no amount of dishonor, persecution, or violence can stop him from answering our prayer to deliver us from evil.

Fiene takes umbrage at people suggesting that these deaths are a poignant reminder of the fact that God does not answer prayer. I have no doubt that those who had time to pray before the gunman mowed them down prayed. I am sure they prayed for the Almighty to protect them and keep them from harm. From a rational perspective, it is clear that the Christian God did not hear their prayers, or he did hear them and chose to do nothing. Either way, twenty-six people died. Fiene, providing yet another example of how irrational Christians can be, rejects the obvious and says that the people killed in Sutherland Springs died because God WAS answering their prayers — deliver us from evil. That’s right, God let or commanded the murders to happen because he decided to answer prayers in a way that only a bat-shit crazy preacher could think up. Instead of admitting that God, once again, failed to come through for his children, Fiene cooked up an explanation that I am sure even some Christians will think is crazy. (Please read The Indifference of God )

Lurking under Fiene’s argument is the belief that the God is sovereign over his creation; that everything that happens is according to the will of God; that nothing happens that is not decreed by God; that everything that happens is controlled, orchestrated, and managed by God. The gunman, then, was just a tool used by God to execute his will at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The people who died? Their numbers were up. The Bible states that everyone has an appointed time of death; that God is in control of whether we live or die; that there is nothing we can do lengthen or lessen our time among the living. If the living want to blame someone for the gunman’s murderous rampage, the blame solely rests on the shoulders of Hans Fiene’s God. (Please read Is God Sovereign and Does Everything Happen for a Reason?)

While Christian apologists have all sorts of arguments they use to get around the implications of believing God is sovereign, the fact remains that if God is the first cause, the creator, the ruler of all things, then he is culpable for what happens on planet earth. I give Fiene credit for at least admitting as much.

As atheists, we know that God doesn’t answer prayer. He can’t because he doesn’t exist. Most of the Sutherland Springs victims likely prayed before succumbing to a hail of bullets. Their prayers for deliverance and safety did not help them. God was blind, deaf, and indifferent, as are all the Gods created by human hands. Perhaps the God of Christianity is very much like Baal, spoken of by Elijah in 1 Kings 18:27:

And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he [Baal] 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.

Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, suggesting that their God’s inaction was due to him being busy talking to someone, taking a shit, being on vacation, or sleeping. This passage equally applies to the Christian God, who for the past two thousand years has been AWOL. Billions of prayers to God are uttered each day, yet they go unanswered — save God helping Granny find her keys or helping a Christian NFL quarterback score the game-winning touchdown. While twenty-six Baptists being murdered is no small thing, their deaths pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of people who die each day because of war, gun violence, starvation, and disease. Where God is needed most, he is nowhere to be found. Only in the alternate universe inhabited by the Hans Fiens of the world can it be said that God is hearing and answering prayers.

What is needed now is sympathy for the victims and families whose lives were shredded and destroyed. Fuck the clergy with their empty clichés and religious platitudes. Let them live with their delusions while rational, thoughtful Americans band together to tackle the immoral gun lobby and gun violence. How much more blood must be spilled before we realize that GUNS GUNS GUNS GUNS are the problem, and the ONLY solution is strict, enforceable Federal gun control laws. How much more blood must be spilled before we do something to fix our broken mental health system. When will we realize that the U.S. military trains men and women to kill; that some soldiers can’t turn off the violence once they return home; that PTSD among veterans is an ignored and increasing epidemic.

There is much we could do to put an end to gun violence IF we will but do so. Or, we could just keep on doing nothing — you know, praying.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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How Many Prayers Does it Take to Stop a Hurricane?

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Evangelicals fall into three camps when it comes to the recent spate of hurricanes, tropical storms, and flooding. One camp says these weather events are retribution from God over homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, or _________________ (fill in blank with latest “sin” Evangelicals are offended by). The second camp sees these events as tests of their faith; that God is ready and willing to perform miraculous works if they will but storm the throne room of Heaven with their prayers. A smattering of Evangelicals, deeply immersed in the teachings of John Calvin, believe that God is the divine weatherman; that recent weather events are manufactured and controlled by God — according to his sovereign — often secret —  purpose and plan. I recently wrote a post on this third camp titled, Hurricane Harvey: Where is God When the Flood Waters Rise?.

Today, I want to write about the second camp: Evangelicals who see hurricanes, flooding, and other cataclysmic events as tests of their faith; that God desires to hear and answer their prayers, if and when enough Christians, in one accord, pray for him to come to their rescue. Presently, social media is flooded with hurricane levels of praying. Some of these praying Evangelicals believe that since Hurricane Irma was not as bad as weathermen thought it would be, this is proof that God heard and answered their prayers.

Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist, recently wrote a post titled These People Think Their Prayers Had an Impact on Hurricane Irma. Hemant shared social media screen shots to illustrate his post:

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These Christians, along with countless other praying believers, think that their prayers reached a certain numerical threshold upon which God answered their prayers; that if they will only keep praying and encourage other people to pray, the sheer number of their prayers will reach the “stop hurricane in its tracks” level. Evidently, God is a busy man. If Christians want him to stop what he is doing and answer their prayers, there better be a lot of praying going on. This is the Evangelical version of the government petition website established by President Barack Obama. If a petition reached a signature threshold, the government would respond to the petition. So it is with God and prayers.

The number of prayers required for God to answer must be quite high. I am certain that tens of millions of devout, Jesus-loving, church-going, sin-hating Evangelicals prayed for God to turn aside hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Based on damage reports coming out of Texas, it is evident that Evangelicals must not have prayed enough prayers for God to stop his vacation early and deliver Houstonians and other Texans from Harvey’s murderous rampage. However, according to the aforementioned praying Christians, the “you are a winner” level was met and God reduced Irma from a category 5 storm to a category 2. Evidently, not enough Christians prayed, so God refused to stop Irma in her tracks. God did — thanks to his tender mercies, love, and kindness —  however, turn down the wind, lessening the carnage wrought upon Florida. Or so Christians say, anyway.

A friend of mine on Facebook by the name of Bonnie has several Christian friends who resolutely and infallibly believe that the prayers of God’s chosen ones led to a better storm outcome in Florida than in Texas. Trying to point out the absurdity of their comments falls on deaf ears. No amount of skepticism, reason, and science moves them. These prayer warriors know what they know, and facts will not move them off the notion that prayer can and does change things. They are certain that God not only listens to their prayers, but he also, when so inclined, answers them.

I learned long ago that people who believe in supernatural magic — a God-man who lives in heaven and is capable of hearing millions of prayers at the same time, will, on rare occasions answer Christian prayers — cannot be reached with reason, facts, and logic. Convinced that they can manipulate the material world though uttering words to the ceiling or saying silent words in their minds, these worshipers of the one true God are impervious to arguments and data that challenge their worldview. These believers in the prayer-answering God will continue to pray because it is the only way they can make sense of the world. They want to and must believe that their lives have meaning and purpose; that the Christian God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives; that this God is their Father and he is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Using the recent carnage in Texas and Florida as a focal point, ask yourselves, is God acting like a loving, caring Father? Is God acting in ways that would lead people to think that he is your BFF? Some readers might ask, How can we know what God can and can’t do or what God did or didn’t do during the recent weather events? This question, from an Evangelical perspective, is quite easy to answer. God is the Creator, the first-cause of EVERYTHING. The Christian God is all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful. He is the sovereign Lord over the heavens and the earth. Nothing happens that is not according to his divine purpose and plan. Whether he actively decrees things or passively allows them to happen, God is in full control of what happens. He has the absolute power to stop or change events such as hurricanes Harvey and Irma. If people are maimed and killed, it is because God commanded it or allowed it to happen. The thoughts and ways of this God — Jesus is his name — are above ours, and as the Apostle Paul stated in the book of Romans, we are not to question what he does or doesn’t do. In other words, God is always right, regardless whether a hurricane kills zero people or three thousand. Simply put, God is God, shut the hell up.

I am grateful that Irma turned out not to be as deadly and destructive as it could have been. The weather is an unpredictable beast. Weathermen trained in meteorological science and predictive methodology do what they can to warn us when bad weather is headed our way. Sometimes, they miss the mark; other times they are spot on. Either way, prudent people pay attention to weather reports. I am always amused at Evangelical hypocrisy when it comes to “trusting” God during severe weather events. If God is as caring and powerful as Christians say he is, then why don’t praying believers hunker down and pray out the storm? Surely the God who promised to never leave or forsake Christians would be right there with them as the winds blow and the flood water rise. While a handful of Evangelicals will foolishly put their God to the test, most of them wisely and prudently flee to safer and higher ground. Their behavior in times of calamity reveals that Evangelicals talk and pray a good line, but when push comes to hurricane, they will do all they can to keep from being killed. When forced to ride out severe weather, many Christians will make sure their pantries are stocked, water bottles are filled, and that they have the necessary supplies to successfully weather whatever comes their way. Again, why not trust God to meet their every need — as Elijah did at Brook Cherith when God sent ravens daily to bring the prophet bread and meat (I Kings 17)?

Try as they might to paint themselves as benighted beings who live on some sort of supernatural plane of existence, Christians are, in every way, quite human. Much like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines they condemn and deem sinful vermin, Evangelicals like houses, lands, and property, love their families, and they want, to quote the venerable Spock, to Live Long and Prosper. Doing so requires, not prayer, but human decision and action. Nothing fails like prayer, and all the anecdotal stories in the world won’t change this fact. Prayers might provide comfort to those inclined to believe that God exists, but I suspect, for many Christians, praying is an exercise they know is futile and changes nothing. They pray because the Bible commands them to and their upbringing demands it, but deep down they doubt the value and efficacy of praying.

Quote of the Day: Nothing Fails Like Prayer by Valerie Tarico

valerie-taricoArguing that an invisible god works inexplicable magic producing undetectable effects is the theological equivalent of a desperate child saying that the Tooth Fairy ate her homework. No parent or teacher or scientist can prove she didn’t. That said, it’s important to remember that humanity’s interest in prayer stems from a desire to get what we need and want. Actions of supernatural beings that have no discernable impact on actual lives are, from a human standpoint, simply irrelevant. Prayer persists because people believe that prayer affects this physical world and their own lives.

In the mind of atheist neuroscientist Sam Harris, prayer apologists had cut themselves too much slack long before they began arguing that prayer is uniquely exempt from the scientific method. He says that even before the double blind randomized trials we had a mountain of evidence that prayer requests don’t work, and Christians have tacitly adapted to what they know but won’t admit: “Get a billion Christians to pray for a single amputee. Get them to pray that God regrow that missing limb. This happens to salamanders every day, presumably without prayer; this is within the capacity of God. I find it interesting that people of faith only tend to pray for conditions that are self-limiting.”

A God Should Do Better; So Should We

God the Almighty shouldn’t operate at the margins of statistical significance. He shouldn’t be most evident when the evidence itself is of the poorest quality, fading into invisibility as the light of scientific rigor becomes brighter. He shouldn’t need defenders who are willing to tie their reputations to expensive research that they then dismiss as irrelevant when results are disappointing. God shouldn’t need defenders who engage in rabbit hole reasoning, who insist that he moves in our world and in our lives, but only as long as we aren’t looking; or who insist that despite all evidence to the contrary bad is actually good because it must be good, because by definition God is good and he’s in charge.

Since the year 2000, the U.S. government has spent over $2 million on prayer studies without producing any result that is remotely congruent with the bold claims made by the authors of the New Testament. And yet those bold claims are a reasonable set of assertions to make about an all-powerful and all-loving, interventionist deity.

Our ancestors put forward their best set of hypotheses about how the world works, who is in charge, and how we can get what we need.  They did so without the benefits of enlightenment philosophy or the methods and discoveries of science, without the global flow of information and the freedom to debate ideas. They had no way of knowing that their hypotheses would fail when examined in the light of modern knowledge and analytic capacity. But at least they knew not to simply accept and repeat whatever their ancestors had said 2,000 years earlier. Maybe we could try living up to that bar.

— Valerie Tarico, Alternet, What the Bible Says about Prayer Versus Reality, November 21, 2016

Did Prayers to the Evangelical God Deliver the Presidency to Donald Trump?

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Shortly after Donald Trump was named the winner of the 2016 presidential election, scores of Evangelicals came to this site looking for Jeremiah Johnson’s prophecy about Trump, one that stated that he would become president. Johnson “prophetically” farted and now Evangelicals are stopping by to let me know how sweet it smells. Sadly, it is impossible to reason with people who believe God speaks through prophets, telling us what will happen in the future. It does not matter to them that these prophets are wrong most of the time and, according to the Bible, should be stoned to death. Looking for confirmation of their political, social, and religious beliefs, Evangelicals scour the internet searching for God sightings.

These are the same people who believe that, thanks to their prayers, the Christian God interceded in the presidential election, making sure that the racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, pussy-grabbing orange-skinned Trump was elected. What evidence do they have for this? None. Much as in the case when Evangelicals pray over lost keys and God leads them to the exact place they left their keys, there is no evidence answered prayers were instrumental in the election. White Evangelicals voted and this is one of the reasons, come January, that the New York Clampetts will take up residence in the White House.

If God answered Evangelical prayers for a Trump presidency, what does this say about the master Puppeteer? It says that the Evangelical God thinks that the behaviors and policies espoused by Christian Donald Trump and his traveling troop of imbeciles are copacetic. This means that the Evangelical God is fine with demeaning and sexually assaulting women, deporting millions of hardworking undocumented workers, torturing prisoners, and raining death upon the heads of helpless civilians who live in countries that “baby” Christian Trump deems to be anti-American.

If it is God who put Donald Trump in the White House, then surely it is fair to hold God accountable for the deeds of HIS presidential choice. If Evangelicals want me to believe that there is a God in the heavenlies whom they have on speed dial, then I am going to hold that same God accountable for what happens on Donald Trump’s watch.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Don’t Call 911, PRAY! by Adalis Shuttlesworth

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After I had my daughter Camila everything changed. I was overjoyed, overwhelmed and very scared. I was almost certain I would screw something up so I welcomed the Mommy Fear with open arms. My careless, free spirit soon became a very irritable, worrisome one. What changed?

Yes, I had a kid but there was something more. I started to remember all the negative things people would say. “Get ready for NO sleep”, “This will be the hardest thing you’ll do, but it’ll be worth it”, “You’re traveling with a baby?! Good Luck!”

I began to dwell on the terrible “hardships” I was about to endure and the thought of having to be responsible for a child 24/7 almost paralyzed me with fear. I put up with the fear and things began to materialize. One night, Camila had an allergic reaction to some bananas and was hardly breathing. Jonathan quickly whisked her up from the bed and began to pray. It wasn’t more than five minutes after he had prayed that Camila began to breathe normally. It was as though nothing had happened.

Did I stay by Jonathan [Evangelist Jonathan Shuttlesworth] believing in faith for our daughter? HECK NO. I was outside calling 911. It was then that I realized my faith in God needed a major tune up. Instead of resting in the peace of God knowing His promises belong to me and my children, I totally freaked out.  I allowed that Mommy Fear to fester because I thought it was normal. I read articles about the so-called “healthy fears” in parenting. The truth is, the devil will creep in wherever he’s allowed. I opened the door to fear for my child and soon, it began to trickle into everything I did. My mind began to think about worst case scenarios. I could hardly sleep. I thought to be responsible meant being in fear. I was seriously wrong.

You can blame it on hormonal imbalances but deep down, the root is fear. The Bible has commanded us several times not to fear. We are not exempted as mothers. In fact, we should have stronger faith! Fear is a trait that can be easily picked up by your kids. The way you walk, talk, and act, are all affected by fear. Stop that cycle today!

Matthew 6 is one my favorite scriptures because God instructs us to not worry about a single thing. It also says in verse 33 “ Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Seek God for guidance. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in the way you should go. Don’t allow for that fear to take control of you a minute longer. You can be a parent and not fear. Don’t open the door to the devil. If you open that door a tiny little bit the devil will kick that thing open on your face. You’ll have a broken nose and a ton of problems. Keep it shut by staying in God’s Word. Anoint your children daily, not out of fear but in faith knowing God’s Word will prevail.

— Adalis Shuttlesworth, Revival Today, The Mommy Fear, November 3, 2016

Your God is Not Here

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Last night I watched the movie Dark Places. Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel with the same name, Dark Places tells the story of 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 states:

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 the sacrifice, 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!”

barbara ehrenreich god quote 2

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 seems 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 makes 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 all people had a roof over their head, clothes on their back, shoes in their feet, and an iPhone 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, and kindness and hatred, heartache, and loss. I ask, where is God? As I type this I am watching ESPN. They are running clips of notable athletes, coaches, and reporters whose lives have been touched by cancer. I cry every time I hear cancer-stricken Jim Valvano’s  ESPY speech:

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Cancer-ridden Stuart Scott’s ESPY speech elicits the same emotional response:

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Today, I heard the story of a sports reporter who lost his daughter and son-in-law to cancer — both in their 30s. I wept as I pondered this man’s heart-wrenching pain. And then I said, 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 illness and disease. My health problems started 15 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:

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There is no God that 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.

Prayer: Explaining the Unexplainable

unaswered prayer

Over the course of 50 years in the Christian church, I prayed many prayers — tens of thousands of prayers, to be exact. I publicly testified before fellow Christians that God had answered my prayers.  I had experiences that, at the time, defied explanation. Everywhere I looked, I saw God. When I deconverted, one of the first things I did was give a careful accounting of the prayers I uttered and what God’s response to them. (Please see  A Few Thoughts on a Lifetime of Praying to the Christian God) I concluded:

  • The overwhelming majority of my prayers went unanswered.
  • Those few prayers that I considered answered by God were, in fact, answered, not by God, but by and through human instrumentation.

I was left with a few experiences that I couldn’t rationally explain. One story comes to mind and I will share it here. One night, Harold Miller, a member of the church I was pastoring at the time, and I were driving down Route 22 east of Sego, Ohio on our way to touch base with a family who recently visited the church. As we neared Fultonham, a small community which sat on a ridge above Route 22, I noticed a car barreling down the hill towards the highway. Having no time to stop or change direction, I screamed at Harold, warning him of the impending crash, and prepared to be broadsided. Yet, at the moment the crash should have occurred nothing happened. Both of us thought God had lifted the car above ours, safely protecting us from serious injury or death.

Did God actually pick the car up so it would avoid hitting us? Of course not. Is this really a beyond rational explanation event? Not really. Perhaps my perception was wrong. Perhaps the car wasn’t traveling as fast as I thought it was. While this story is difficult to explain, like some of the contradictions in the Bible, there are reasonable explanations for what happened.

As a Christian, I was taught that God answering prayer was a simple matter of me praying and God hearing and answering my petition. I believed that God answered every prayer one of three ways. God said:

  • Yes, and what I was praying for came to pass
  • No, and what I was praying for did not come to pass
  • Not now, and what I was praying for was added to my long-term begging God list

But Bruce, the Evangelical says, I have prayed prayers that I KNOW God answered! How do you KNOW God answered your prayers? Just because Christians utter petitions that subsequently come to pass doesn’t mean that it is God answering prayers. If Christians could ever divorce themselves from faith and look at things from a skeptical and rational perspective, I think they would find out that most God-answered prayers are anything but.

Virtually every answered prayer can be attributed to human instrumentality or luck (right place, right time). Year ago, I often prayed for God to bless me financially. As a young father with two children, money was always tight. One night, my father-in-law and I  were traveling on a rural Licking County road on our way to visit a church member. While driving down the road we came upon a box. I immediately stopped and got out of the car to investigate. In the box were numerous recently skinned fur pelts. I quickly scooped up the box and we took the pelts to a nearby taxidermist. While I do not remember the exact amount of money we received, it was substantial. See? God answered my prayer!

Polly is a shift coördinator for a local manufacturing concern. She has worked there for 17 years.  During her tenure, she has never missed a day of work. Not one. Polly is a diligent worker, a great example of the Puritan work ethic.  Her work reviews are always at the top of the scale, reflecting Polly’s value to the company. In the years that the company has given raises, Polly has always received the maximum allowable raise.

When we were Christians, we both would pray that she would receive a good raise, and sure enough “God” answered our prayers. But, was it really God who answered our prayers and orchestrated Polly’s raises? Or are her raises attributable to Polly’s perfect attendance and work ethic? Shouldn’t credit be given to whom credit is due? It is Polly, not God, who did the work necessary to warrant a raise. How about now? Neither of us prays, and even if we did it is likely that God’s prayer hot line to our house has been disconnected. Since Polly’s deconversion in 2008, the monetary amount of her raises have increased significantly. Couldn’t it just as easily be argued that becoming a nonbeliever and not praying resulted in these raises?

Christians will often point to the testimonies of those who were saved as proof for God answering prayer. You know the drill. Sister Lena is a member of First Baptist Church in Godland, Ohio. She’s been a member of the church for 50 years. Lena’s husband Bob is not a Christian. Every week, Lena and the church pray for Bob’s salvation. Week in, week out, the church prays that the bloodhound of heaven, the Holy Spirit, will track down Bob and save his soul. And sure enough, one day, after 40 years of praying, Bob is saved.  God answered Lena’s prayer, right? (Lost in the discussion will be the question of WHY God waited so long to save Bob.)

Years ago (everything is years ago now), when I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, the church took to praying for the father of one of the church members. This man was a violent, oft-cursing heathen. We prayed, prayed, and prayed for this man, to no avail. Several times I went to his home and shared the gospel with him. Every time, he said, no thanks preacher, I have no need of God.

The man eventually came down with throat cancer. Surgeons removed parts of his esophagus, mouth glands, and vocal cords. He was unable to speak. A short time later he had a small stroke. The church continued to pray for this man, and one night I decided to share the gospel with him one more time. And this time, the man started crying, and when I asked him if he would like to be saved, he gutterally said YES! I led him to Jesus, and from the time forward he would occasionally attend church with his wife and grown children.  I vividly remember him crying every time he heard me preach (no jokes about my preaching bringing people to tears). I attributed his tears to his thankfulness for God saving him. Was his glorious conversion the answer to our prayers?

Not likely. I am more inclined to think that his conversion was the result of him facing, for the first time, his mortality. Having been raised in a culture where God is frequently called on in times of trouble, this man, having had radical cancer surgery and a stroke, likely wanted to make sure his house was in order before he died. But, what about the tears? Perhaps they were tears of regret. There’s nothing like a brush with death to focus our attention on how we have lived our lives. Perhaps he regretted his meanness. Perhaps he regretted treating his wife and children like slaves. Who hasn’t shed tears over past regrets, right?

After his “glorious” new birth, this man began displaying bizarre behavior. He began spending exorbitant amounts of money at auctions and yard sales, often bringing home junk of little value. When I couple this behavior with his getting saved, I am more inclined to think that his stroke altered his mind. Anyone who has been around stroke patients knows that behavioral changes are not uncommon.

A changed life is not proof for the existence of God or God answering prayer. A careful examination of salvation testimonies always reveal some sort of human influence. Transformed lives can always be traced back, to some degree or the other, to the work of the individual or others. While these transformations make for great stories of the supernatural power of God, they are, in every way, quite earthy.

I readily admit that there are mysteries which are, at this present moment, beyond explanation.  However, is God the answer for every unexplained mystery? Or is it better for us to admit that we don’t know and to continue probing, prodding, and asking questions until we do? Regardless, these mysteries are so few that suggesting that they are evidence for the Christian God is laughable. From my perspective, there is no evidence for the existence of personal, hands-on God of the Christian Bible.