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Tag: Answered Prayer

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

Prayer: Explaining the Unexplainable

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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.

Bruce Gerencser