Tag Archive: Prayer Changes Things

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.

How Many Prayers Does it Take to Stop a Hurricane?

hurricane irma prayer 4

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:

hurricane irma prayer 5 hurricane irma prayer 6 hurricane irma prayer 7 hurricane irma prayer 7 hurricane irma prayer 9 hurricane irma prayer hurricane irma prayer 2 hurricane irma prayer 3

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.

Thoughts About Life and Death: God Kills Aspiring Model by Hitting Her With a Train

fredzania thompson

Last week, aspiring model and college student Fredzania Thompson was tragically killed when a train hit her while she was standing too close to the tracks. CBS News reports:

The mother of a 19-year-old Texas woman says her daughter was killed when she was struck by a train while having photos taken of her on the tracks in a bid to launch a modeling career.

Hakamie Stevenson told The Eagle newspaper that her daughter, Fredzania Thompson, attended Blinn College in Bryan, Texas, but wanted to put her education on hold to begin modeling.

Authorities say Thompson was standing between two sets of tracks on March 10 in Navasota when a BNSF Railway train approached.

She moved out of the way of the train but was apparently unaware that a Union Pacific train was coming in the opposite direction on the other tracks and was struck.

In this post, my objective is not to focus on the nature of Thompson’s death as much as the reason given for her demise. Sambreia Glover had this to say about her 20-year-old cousin’s death:

Everyone knew the real Zanie … very free-spirited, just goofy. Everyone loved her. She never met a stranger. She was just very friendly and sweet. it’s tough, but God makes no mistakes. It was just her time, but she will be truly missed.

According to Thompson’s cousin — who is likely an Evangelical Christian — God — who supposedly makes no mistakes — killed Thompson because it was just her time to die. She’ll be missed, Glover said, but hey the Giver and Taker of Life knows what he is doing.

What reason could the Christian God possibly have for killing a bright, energetic 20-year-old girl? Does God assign death dates to every human life at birth? If so, and if, as pro-lifers say, life begins at fertilization, that means God assigns a death date to every aborted fetus. This also means that children who died of cancer did so because it was their time to die. According to many Evangelical pastors, everyone has a divine appointment with death. The Bible seems to be on their side. Hebrews 9:27 says:

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment

This verse can be interpreted several ways. One way is to say that the appointment in question is the death of all humans, not anyone in particular. After everyone is dead and the events of the book of Revelation are fulfilled, everyone will be resurrected so they can stand before God and be judged. Another way this passage is interpreted — the one most commonly used by Evangelical preachers — is that everyone has a set-in-stone death-day. In Thompson’s case, March 10, 2017, was her day to die.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that the notion of everyone having a set-by-God death-date is true. What does this say about God? Think of all the various ways humans die. Think of all the suffering, pain, and agony people go through before drawing their last breaths. Think of all the bizarre ways people die — wrong place, wrong time, BAM! you’re dead! What kind of monster is God with his macabre, psychopathic, torturing-kittens ways of strangling the life out of those whose creation was supposedly his crowning achievement? If death is a divinely ordered necessity, why not let people on their death-day die in their sleep? Surely that would be good not only for the dead people, but also their families. Instead, God — the First Cause of everything, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last — throws people off cliffs, murders them in dark alleys, blows them up in crowded bazaars, drowns them in swimming pools, fries them with lightning, and, as in Thompson’s case, hits them with trains.

Some Evangelicals will argue that God, as creator, can do whatever he wants to do. The Apostle Paul makes this very argument in Romans 9God is the creator, Paul said, and we are the created. How dare we challenge God’s right to do whatever he wants.

Another argument made for God’s chosen methods of human-killing is that the more graphic, violent, and awful the death, the more likely it is that people will pay attention to it. Who wants to watch the Hallmark Channel when you can watch HBO, right? Since heaven or hell awaits everyone and this is determined by whether people are Christian or not, news-worthy deaths are warning signs from God. On Sundays, countless Evangelical pastors use this very approach in their sermons, giving graphic illustrations of people who died horrible, untimely (from a human perspective) deaths. The goal is to scare people into getting saved. I used countless such illustrations, hoping that congregants who consider their frail mortality, soon death, and eternal destiny. Such illustrations in the hands of skilled emotion manipulators usually lead people — with tears streaming down their faces — to put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

Thompson’s cousin also said that “God makes no mistakes.” I wonder if Christians, in light of the Bible, consider whether statements such as this are true. According to the Good Book, God created Adam and Eve. How did that work out? If God is the First Cause, isn’t he responsible for the fall of Adam and Eve into sin? If God knows E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G, he must have known Adam and Eve were going to eat of Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and, according to orthodox Christianity, plunge the entire human race into sin. Think of all the evil, violence, and suffering on display in this world of ours. Evangelicals trace all of these things back to our sinful nature. Surely, it is fair to say that God screwed up big time when creating Adam and Eve as he did. In other words, God made a colossal mistake.

Several thousand years later, humans had procreated themselves into a six-million or so species. Also roaming the earth were fallen angels. These angels were having sex with human women, resulting in the birth of angel-human hybrid children. Bizarre TV show from the SyFy channel? Nope, straight from the Bible, Genesis, chapter six:

And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.

Note carefully what the Bible says: And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart…. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth. This sure sounds like it is saying that God is admitting that he made a mistake in creating humans, and that the only way to fix his mistake was to kill everyone (save Noah and his family, eight in number) and start over.

The most humorous part of this story is that after God flushed the earth and started over, the first thing that Noah and his sons did was commit some sort of sexual sin (Genesis 9:19-24). Poor God, he can’t seem to get it right. He should have killed Noah’s family too.

Evangelicals are fond of saying, PRAYER CHANGES THINGS! Implied in this statement is that through prayer God can be moved to act on their behalf. Need something from God? PRAY! Need a job, home, money, car, a wife? PRAY! Need deliverance from alcohol, heroin, or porn? PRAY! Pray long and hard enough, the thinking goes, and God will come through for you, giving you that which you ask for. God, then, is some sort of divine vending machine. Keep putting quarters in the slot and pulling the handle, and God will sooner or later drop a package of Peanut M&Ms from Heaven.

If prayer can indeed change things, wouldn’t this mean that God changing his mind about a matter is him admitting that his first plan of action/inaction was wrong? If God is perfect, the same yesterday, today, and forever, doesn’t the very act of answering prayers say that God is NOT any these things?

If God is all that Evangelicals say he is, shouldn’t we expect God to get it right each and every time? What does it say about a supposedly all-knowing, all-powerful God that he is neither? What it should say to anyone who is paying attention is that this God is a figment of human imagination. People desperately want to believe that there is some sort of higher power controlling the universe. They also want to believe that their life matters to God and has meaning and purpose. Life isn’t worth living, Christians say, if these things are not true.

Of course, the mere existence of atheists, agnostics, pagans, humanists, and countless other non-Christians, suggests otherwise. Earthly, godless life can be and is filled with wonder, meaning, and purpose. Evangelicals may not be able to wrap their minds around this fact, but that doesn’t mean it is not true. Millions and millions of people live in the present, acknowledging that death lurks around the next corner. Today, tomorrow, or 50 years from now, death — the great equalizer — will claim us all. The difference, of course, is that unbelievers know that to some degree they can control when and even how they die. Yes, genetics, environment, and luck play a big part, but we are NOT passive players in the drama called life.

Every day, all of us make decisions based on the evidence at hand and probabilities. Living on Earth is both wonderful and dangerous. Having lived for almost 60 years, I can say that I am lucky to be alive. Forty-five years ago, 15-year-old Bruce was walking home from the YMCA one evening with his friends when a stopped train blocked his path home. After 10 or so minutes, the daredevil boy with flaming orange hair decided he had enough and started to climb underneath the train. My friends laughed and cheered me on, but none of them was willing to following me across the tracks to the other side. Perhaps their reason for not doing so was the train lurching forward as I made it halfway to the other side. My friends’ laughs and cheers turned into screams, fearing that the train was going to crush me or cut off my legs. Fortunately, I safely made it to the other side. (And astoundingly, I waited until the tracks were clear so my friends could praise me for my bravado, forgetting that my reason for doing this was to save time.)

The story of Fredzania Thompson’s tragic death and my story of keeping my legs for another day have much in common. Both of us foolishly thought that it was okay to play on train tracks. Both of us, filled with youthful life, had no thoughts of death. Thompson just wanted a picture, and I just wanted to get home. Thompson’s roll of the dice resulted in her death, mine became a story to tell forty-five years later. The difference between the two stories? Luck. I could just as easily have been killed or turned into a legless example of youthful stupidly.

At the time, I thanked God for saving me from the train, but now I know that I was one lucky boy. Had my life ended that night, none of what I have experienced since them would have happened. Surviving many such experiences has taught me the importance of carefully considering possible outcomes. Not that I still don’t make stupid decisions. I do, and perhaps one day I will die, the result of one stupid decision too many. (Please see Death by Duck: The Photograph that Almost Killed Me.)

I certainly empathize with Thompson’s family. Her death came way too soon, long before it should have. She should have had a full life ahead of her, including a modeling career and perhaps a husband and family. So much potential, snuffed out in an instant because of a thoughtless choice to have her photograph taken on busy railroad tracks. God is not to blame (or credit), because he doesn’t exist. The blame squarely rests on Thompson, and to some degree, the photographer — who should have assessed the risk involved in taking the photograph. All of us know that train tracks are dangerous, yet every year hundreds of Americans are killed by trains. We KNOW, yet we allow the thrill of the moment or lateness to override our thinking, resulting in death and serious injury. One thing is for certain, future Thompsons will be warned about the danger that railroad tracks present to them. This is how we survive as a species. Not by attributing everything to God, but by learning from our ignorant, foolish, ill-advised decisions. Much of life and death rests with us. If we want to live long, fulfilling lives, we must learn to assess danger, weigh probabilities, and act accordingly. We still might end up dead, but it won’t be because we threw caution to the wind and put ourselves in harm’s way.