Once in a while you see a story and you have a hard time deciding if it’s funny or sad. Such is the case with Gabriela Brandão’s grandmother in Brazil.
Gabriela’s grandmother had spent years praying to “St. Anthony,” only to be informed by her granddaughter that she hadn’t been praying to St. Anthony at all. Instead, she had spent those years praying to a toy figure of Elrond from Lord of the Rings. Gabriela posted the picture of the toy grandma had been praying to on Facebook, as can be seen here on the right.
Gabriela thought it was funny, and apparently the internet agreed.
But me? Well, I think for me it invited a deeper question and struck me as far more sad than funny.
Theological arguments or positions aside, this woman spent untold years of her life praying to a toy. As a Christian, I’m grieved over that.
This story, funny, sad, or however else you look at it, invites an old question: Should Christians pray to “Saints”?
It’s true that this practice is commonplace within two major streams of Christianity (Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox), which also means that by the numbers, the majority of Christians world-wide pray to Saints. It’s also true that this practice emerged in the earlier part of Christianity– around the 3rd century.
However, this doesn’t mean that this practice is good, right, or true.
In fact, a bunch of crazy stuff got introduced into Christianity around that same time period (for example, Christians were pacifists until this period). And as far as the Christian majority, that’s irrelevant as well– it’s entirely possible for the majority to be wrong.
As I process the question of praying to Saints, my question shifts from “Should you?” to “Why would you even want to?”
First, there is no biblical precedence for praying to “Saints.” There’s not even a precedence for separating people into categories of Saints vs. Non-saints– biblically speaking, believers are both sinners and saints at the same time, on equal ground with everyone who has ever believed. Furthermore, it’s important to remember when we talk about praying to Saints we’re essentially talking about praying to dead people, and the closest biblical reference we have to that is an outright prohibition of having anything to do with that kind of stuff.
Second, as Christians we are followers of Jesus, and Jesus taught his disciples how to pray– we pray to God, and pray in the name of Jesus who is the only mediator (1 Tim 2:5). If Jesus taught us to pray directly to God, why would we pray to dead people instead? Dead people don’t answer our prayers. Dead people don’t guide our hearts and steps. It’s only God who does that, meaning even if you could pray to a Saint, why would you even want to? It would be like passing up the opportunity to dial the oval office directly in exchange for calling some guy you used to know in D.C.
The ultimate reason people pray to dead people is simply because of tradition. And I’m sorry, but tradition doesn’t carry any authority– sometimes, traditions can be outright wrong and toxic.
So here’s the run down: the Bible says not to talk to dead people. The Bible refers to all believers as Saints. Jesus said that we are to pray directly to God. And Paul reminds us that Jesus is our only go-between between ourselves and God.
Saint-praying theology teaches one the exact opposite on all those points: It’s okay to talk to dead people. “Saints” are a special category of human. Jesus didn’t really mean that in an exclusive sense. Yes, Paul said that, but dead people can intercede for us too.
Tradition or not, majority or not, praying to Saints isn’t just a practice lacking biblical justification– it doesn’t even make sense. Let’s say everything about this theology were true– it still wouldn’t make sense (functionally) for anyone who believes they can pray directly to God. There’s simply no need to do it, even if one could do it.
I mean, let’s be blunt: any theology that can trick you into praying to a plastic figurine from a movie has some serious issues.
This is precisely what we see in this tragic story of the woman who spent years praying to a plastic toy from a movie. She could have spent all that time praying to God, just like Jesus instructed his followers to do. But because she was taught to follow superstitious tradition instead of Jesus, she literally became an idol worshipper without even realizing it.
And to me, there’s nothing funny about that.