What do you do when you realize prayer doesn’t work?

What do you do when you realize prayer doesn’t work? February 12, 2014
prayer no longer works say something cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
“Say Something” (by nakedpastor)

(I drew a picture of a woman praying in the bathtub because from the women I know it’s one of the best places to cry alone. If you haven’t heard “Say Something” by A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera, then you can experience it here. It’s one of those songs that makes me stop and listen and feel deeply.)

What do we do when you realize prayer no longer works?

  1. Admit it: This is the first thing we have to do when we start suspecting that our prayers are no longer working. It’s one of the hardest things to admit. We have sly ways of getting around this hard truth that are just dressed up forms of denial: God’s ways aren’t our ways; or thank God for unanswered prayer; or you didn’t wait long enough; or you didn’t do it right. The fact is, you prayed for something you really needed and it didn’t work. This is like the thin end of the wedge because once you admit that then the whole concept of a benevolent god is challenged and the whole framework of your faith begins to erode. Scary and sad times!
  2. Embrace it: Simply admitting that prayer doesn’t work isn’t enough. That is only the first step and if you stop there you could get stuck in a kind of spiritual depression. You have to actually embrace it. That is, you embrace the truth that prayer isn’t supposed to “work” like some machined magic trick. We come to the place where we humbly realize we cannot control the universe or bend it to our will. We humbly embrace the fact that there are no magic attitudes, words, postures, mental or verbal or religious gymnastics we can employ to get the universe to do what we want.
  3. Deepen it: Again, admitting it then embracing it isn’t enough. This is only part way down the hole. I believe the world presents itself as a violent and adversarial place and constantly reminds us that life isn’t fair. But I also believe that there is a deeper current at work that is more silent and subversive but stronger, and that is compassion that reveals itself in justice. I think this is what the great people saw and worked with. They saw, beneath the terrible conditions that presented themselves, a necessary and urgent love that, when released and exercised, would manifest a better world for everyone. I believe their “prayers” were aligning themselves with the deeper compassionate purpose that resulted in loving action that changed the world to meet this deeper purpose.

My prayer life has dramatically changed over the years. When someone asks me if I pray, I don’t know whether to say never or always. This is intimately related to my view of God, so I treat this question with great caution and respect. Here’s my answer:

  • I no longer view “God” as up there, out there, in here, beyond or remote. For me, the story of the incarnation describes That Which We Call God, revealed in Jesus, then sent as Spirit, as now among us, in us, as us. All is “That-Which-We-Call-God”.
  • While aware of this overwhelming and overarching reality, I allow all of who I am to emerge… all my sorrows, my failures, my weaknesses, my wants, my joys, my passions, and desires, my longings… everything that I am… all of who and what I am… I allow this to rise within me into my awareness to join with the former awareness of the reality of #1 where these two awarenesses abide together.
  • Mostly these are silent movements, but if there are words or actions, they aren’t for a god but for me… to articulate and express all of who I am, to breathe these into the All that I am one with.
  • I am usually aware of this when I am outside alone. My hiding place. But it happens anywhere anytime, or everywhere all the time. In this way I pray without ceasing because I am all that I am in the All that always is.
I hope this helps some of you through one of the most difficult times in our spiritual journeys… realizing prayer doesn’t work. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • What an idea! It’s scary, but the awesome power of open mindedness is that I can experience your ideas without necessarily letting go of mine. It’s still scary/safe until I’m really ready to jump ship entirely 🙂 Prayer is a topic I’ve been wanting to explore but haven’t. Partly because I’m scared of the answer, and partly because I haven’t found anything that particularly challenges me to look at it differently. This did. Thank you. Book recommendations?

  • Hi Christi: That’s a perfect posture to take… I appreciate it. I would recommend… if you’re coming from a Christian perspective… reading the Christian mystics. There’s some fascinating stuff out there. Perhaps start with Thomas Merton’s later works when he was dabbling in more eastern ideas and philosophies, including Sufi mysticism’s concept of prayer.

  • Thanks David, I will and will let you know what I get from it.

  • SusanRogersStLaurent

    David, yeah…I can’t really trust in a God who rescues anymore. I’m just trying to find him in the middle of the poop right now.

  • A. Humblist

    I view life as a test by God. A test to see if we can keep loving and giving even when things are not going too well for ourselves. I even wrote a little e-book about how I worked my way through some issues in case they might be useful for others on the same journey. There’s some little ‘parables’ in there that came to me in dreams and I find them very useful. Oddly I haven’t had such dreams since writing the book. Spooky! My prayer was to understand, and I believe my prayer was answered. I’ll arrange for it to go on promo tomorrow so you can pick anything out of it you find useful. http://www.amazon.com/Humblist-journey-discovering-message-everyday-ebook/dp/B00BVMAUCE

  • As a woman of deep and complex faith I do not for one moment believe in a God that uses pain and suffering, especially of true innocents as some sort of twisted test of my faith. The pain and suffering of this life is simply life and God is the companion in that dark journey, not the cause of the suffering.

  • Shelley Huston

    Prayer works. Always. The pray-er needs to look for unexpected or unwanted answers. My faith is that in the best of times and the worst of times (usually of my own creation) God is always with me. On my side. Helping me thru whatever I’ve done to myself. Usually. IMO honest prayer is talking with God about what is happening or not happening. Sometimes aloud. Nothing like hearing about your own “problems” in your own voice to create an atmosphere of learning. We can’t really influence God anyhow, can we?

  • Cambro

    Interesting view and enlightening view! I disagree on a few points, though. Firstly, I wouldn’t say there is such a thing as an unanswered prayer. If a prayer goes unanswered then the answer was of the negative variety–“no.” I would agree with the premise that prayer doesn’t work if we stipulated it as “JUST prayer doesn’t work” or “prayer alone does not work.” Prayer also requires simultaneous action from you and possibly others. If I am unemployed and pray to find a job, I still need to fill out my resumes and become as qualified a worker as possible. Prayers involving others becomes messy. If I pray that I’ll be able to make friends, my prayer is not only contingent on God’s answering the prayer but also those around me–namely the people I wish to befriend. If they choose to be harsh towards me and unfriendly then my prayer cannot be answered, no matter how much coaxing God does onto them. And in this way I will disagree with your point that the universe does not bend to you. It absolutely does, but everyone’s will has this altering power. This is why activism is so important. Many people with many wills can leave a real impact on the world, even if there is push back of many other wills. It is important to remember that wills are almost always involved. God is not up on high alone pulling strings to create the occurrences of the world. Every person’s will matters. I find that you (the writer) can agree with this point on the grounds that I am saying we are, indeed, modes of Christ. We are Christ’s body and prayer along with our action leads to answered prayers. As the image of God there is a bit of the divine spark in me, and I can take that divine spark and make it an inferno by emulating Christ to the best of my human ability. This is what true prayer is: the faithful request from God, the active chasing it by yourself, and the will of God being shown in this world not only by miracles, but thro the every day actions of those emulating Christ.

  • Cambro

    This is, I believe, dangerous thinking. We, as humans and especially as westerners (I am assuming you are of the western world, forgive me if I am wrong), see our lives episodically. That is, we see chunks of time. “My middle school years were tough!” “Wow, this week has been a nasty stretch for me!” These are not representations of our lives though–they are mere snapshots of all the moments that make up our lives. We must instead zoom out rather than zoom in on moments and view life as a narrative. God, being an eternal and infinite being, views human lives in this way. He sees the long approach to life. Notice you said “right now.” Who knows where you’ll see God in 20 years and look back at this point of time! Do not allow yourself to be trapped in moments. View God’s faithfulness in the past and look forward with optimism to the future where you can have hope that God will come thro for you. And here is one of the biggest advantages of Christianity: even if this life is terrible and even if this life sucks and you never see things get better, you know that you will be repaid in heaven for your righteous sufferings. Imagine this: there are 2 people–a middle class man who is 5 years away from paying off his student loans, and another man who is homeless. A charitable rich man gives both men the same gift by paying for their educations. To the middle class man that means he is getting his 5 years of loan debt “forgiven.” The homeless man, instead, gets an entirely second chance at life! He gets to go to university and see what can become of himself! Both men received the same gift, but the poorer man felt the blessing all the more. The same can be said for heaven. No matter how terrible this life is, that means all the more reward you will get in heaven. God guarantees blessing in the end for everyone. He is faithful and if you do not see in this world, you will see it all the more in the next.

  • SusanRogersStLaurent

    Yeah, it’s a scary mindset for some to consider, but not for me. Sorry if I don’t buy into that belief system anymore. I quit seeing God as a cosmic candy machine a few years ago, and I don’t see him as one who will reward me if I put the right prayer or belief into the slot. I’ve had people imply that my circumstances would be different if I just had more faith, but I think the faith they were talking about was certainty more than anything.

  • Rob Brockman

    I am grateful that I see God answering prayers all the time. He has never failed to answer anything, in retrospect. But I can say that because of one simple profound truth – Grace. When everything is about Grace, that God would give me things despite the fact that I don’t deserve any of it, then any unanswered prayer (or more likely any not-yet-answered prayer) is nothing I can get worked up about. And Grace is a vast chasm of God that no one can say they have seen the bottom of – it is vast and wide and deep. So when that spoiled child within me, that throws a tantrum and feels neglected, rejected, and defiantly indignant towards God when I don’t seem to get what I want, stands on the edge of that great precipice of Grace – he learns to shut up pretty quickly, and is awed instantly. So it’s all about Grace, that even when I don’t feel God has answered me I see that He never was obligated to answer to begin with – and yet He has…so many, many, many times.

  • Meghan Ableson

    Thanks for expressing this thought that so many of us are familiar with. Thanks also for helping us ask questions through this process of figuring this all out, without trying to give answers.

  • Wow, reading the comments, we see lots of ways around the “no answer” dilemma. I think this reveals different personality types, different investments and different methods. Even after realizing there is no intervening, loving god, you can still feel your emotions fully, talk to your self, engage the world fully without needing to invent an “overarching reality” or “deeper current” — those are just ways for people to somehow preserve a god, after they just gave up magic prayer. That is OK too, of course, but even that is not needed for a meaningful life. I think it depends on your personality and social needs. Which is another hard truth to admit.

  • m. castleberry

    Referring to thinking, or particular thoughts, as “dangerous” is a way to discourage thinking. In my experience, at least, it has been used in that way.

  • klhayes

    Why do we justify suffering on earth with some eternal reward we have no clue about? How about actively doing what we can to alleviate the suffering people are experiencing now?

  • klhayes

    I am with you Kimberly.

  • Believing the “good news” that God will answer your prayers (and reward you) in an after-life is all well and good. But I have some really good news for you. If you would pray to the great meta-God – the creator of God – then you can get an even bigger and better reward in the much longer and better after-after-life. All you need is faith. Just believe. Don’t follow little provincial Abrahamic Gods that only created the world as the ancients knew it. Think big. 😉

  • Melita G

    I have been through this and am now deeply on the other side.
    Prayer in the church-taught manner does not work, nor was it ever meant to. God structured the world we live in to revolve around our faith. That is, NOT the faith in God doing things for us because we ask with supplication and thanksgiving BUT in believing that He is good and He always desires good things for us. Once this mentality has been established good things will happen BECAUSE of the childlike expection of good things happening even when things go wrong.

    I have personally experienced this in my life. I no longer “pray”. I rarely talk to God at all. When I do it is to realign my thought processes with my core beliefs and the reality mentioned above, which in summary is this: God has sructured the world to revolve around our core belief system. I.e. you create the experiences in your life that reflect your core beliefs as evidenced in your thoughts, speech and actions. This is what the writer of Hebrews meant in 11:1. Faith (belief or disbelief in God’s unwavering goodness and the way in which He has structured the world to work) is the substance (the core reality and truth) of things hoped for (what we want and what we think we will get according to our positive or negative core beliefs and experential knowledge), the evidence of things unseen (our speech and actions that prove our core beliefs). It is also why Jesus said that we need the faith of a child and all things are possible to those who believe.

  • Melita G

    Susan, God DID rescue. He sent Jesus to challange the mindset of the Jews Then, as foretold, they rejected Him so that He could lovingly sacrifice Himself, return from the dead to prove it, and leave His Spirit with all mankind to teach us of what God has already done and unite us in His Love and Goodness. As Cambro pointed out, the poop you’re in is just a small part of your exsistence. Learn to embrace the experience you are in as an essential part of your growth but do not hold on to it. It is just a passing experience as all experiences are. Maturity is when we have learned to flow through each moment without looking back with longing but positive anticipation of what the next may bring.

    This profound conversation is from The Matrix film.

    Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon (your circumstances or experience). That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.

    Neo: What truth?

    Spoon boy: There is no spoon (your circumstances and experiences are not the sum of your reality).

    Neo: There is no spoon? (My circumstances and experiences are not real?)

    Spoon boy: Then you’ll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself. (Our core beliefs are our true reality. Once we change them to a more positive system then our circumstances and experiences will change).

  • A. Humblist

    So are you saying God has limited powers? An all powerful God that can’t be bothered to heal pain is just as bad as a God that causes pain for no reason. I don’t fully understand it myself, but a God that has a purpose and does things for a reason is infinitely more acceptable than a God that just can’t be bothered.

  • SusanRogersStLaurent

    Melita, I understand that the poop is just a small part of my existence, and I understand what Jesus did. The point I was trying to make is that, instead of waiting for God to pull me out of it, it’s better for me if I can find him wherever I am…bad, good, whatever. That’s where I’ve come into a real relationship with him. And I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s fine with my doubts and questions, but followers of his often are not.

  • Josh Jinno

    As a pastor myself here’s what I’ve found:
    What prayer is not: talking to God.

    What prayer is: an awareness and openness to something other.
    “Prayer is the deepest most native impulse of the heart of man.” Thomas Carlyle (atheist)

  • I think our intuitions are wrong: we do not have one consistent self. We don’t understand the complexity of our minds and our relationships. Thus we talk to our other selves. That is pray — talking to our selves because we know we aren’t who are brains tell us we are.

    That is what I found by not being a pastor.

  • I’m not sure, Sabio, what “not being a pastor” has to do with what you’ve discovered, because there are tons of pastors who wouldn’t disagree with you. In fact, me AS a pastor discovered much of what you said there to be true… sometimes. Nothing is permanent. Including what we believe to be true.

  • Ah, I was saying just that. I don’t think saying “as a Pastor myself…” adds anything to the discussion. Not greater insight about God, gods, self, others.

    I was just sharing that “openness to something other” still not be anything spooky, comforting or pastoral.

  • Shaun G. Lynch

    This is one of the best, most ADULT discussions of prayer that I’ve read in a long time.

    Too many people have “faith” that is rooted in a primary-school-level understanding of a relationship with a god who is little more than a stalkerish Santa Claus with a pronounced mean streak. This is the god that proselytizing atheists like Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher reject, and with good reason! I’m an active Catholic (I head my parish’s lay pastoral team), and I don’t believe in that god either.

    David’s description of prayer and, by implication, the nature of God as a constant, loving companion makes infinitely more sense to me. And I’ve long advocated praying by listening and doing, rather than simply by speaking or asking (and, all too frequently, by childish babbling).

  • @ Shaun,
    If I am understanding correctly, you moved away from a God which, with supplication, that intervenes materially in the world. Is that correct? No you believe God is a “constant, loving companion”?

    I know what companions are. Well, I know the normal use of the word. But we have cold hard statistics showing severe depression and other mental illness in believers. So I can’t see how “constant” works. Instead, this god you imagine sounds more impotent than real, human friends.

    But maybe I am misunderstanding your progressive view of God.

  • Shaun G. Lynch

    I think that adult faith has to move beyond belief in a god who “does things,” and towards faith in God who is simply present.

    Personally, I am becoming increasingly comfortable with faith in God as a presence that gives me the grace to glimpse the meaning of our existence and to discern healthy courses of behaviour and of relationship with others and with the universe.

  • Shaun G. Lynch

    Sabio, I don’t understand your reference to mental illness. Can you expand on that?

  • Josh Jinno

    My comment “as a pastor” has more to do with the fact that I find I am more likely to be deluded than others, not as a statement of authority. Sorry if it came across as such.

    I’ve also found that “other” generally means other people, their needs and my relationships with them, not necessarily “other” in a metaphysical sense.

  • @ A. Humbilist<

    Since Allah, Yahweh, Jesus, Amida and all the other gods prayed to for miracles have been shown not to work in the material realm, interventionist theists have to make up the excuses like David listed in his post.

    Or, like the progressivists, retreat to their god being a psychological comfort and inspiring agent. Yet demographics show believers suffer equally to non-believers (not to mention wrong-believers). So that god does not appear out their either.

    So, yes, their gods have limited powers — in fact, non-existent.

  • Thanx, Josh. Great comment — we are on the same page.
    What Christian sect are you a Pastor of? If I may ask. Curious if another non-believer pastor is hiding, or if it is one of the new “progressivist” flavors. Also, do have to be careful to use more vague language to imply an all powerful loving being out there so as to not offend believers in your congregation?

  • Oh, sorry, Shaun — sure.
    If your God is a constant loving companion, why do so many mentally ill people who are believers have severe depression — my goodness, with the creator of the universe CONSTANTLY being your loving companion (sounds like heaven), what is with the depression? And epidemiology shows us that believers suffer equal to nonbelievers.

    Now, maybe when you are comforting yourself and/or feel good, you call that “God”, but as millions of believers who do not find comfort (horrible illnesses, disasters, mental illness, poverty, loss) and certainly not constantly. Or would you say they just need to believe stronger?

    Below you spelled out more your belief:

    “God as a presence that gives me the grace to glimpse the meaning of our existence and to discern healthy courses of behaviour and of relationship with others and with the universe.”

    So your god gives you special knowledge. Because we have not evidence of that. Believers act about the same as non-believers. Talkin’ to a god in your head does not appear to change things physically (the external magic) or internally (mental health).

    I hope that was clearer.

  • Shaun G. Lynch

    Who said anything about God being there to make people feel good? Being comforted doesn’t necessarily mean you feel good. It may simply mean that you don’t feel alone in your distress.

    If you have a friend who is dying of incurable cancer, there is probably nothing you can do to relieve their physical suffering, nor perhaps even to make them feel psychologically “better,” but your presence and concern may still provide them with a degree of comfort.

    If you are in a state of suffering, faith in the presence of God may help you to able to say “I’m okay with this,” or “I can endure this.”

    Your reference to depression suggests a misunderstanding of both theology and mental illness. A person who is clinically depressed doesn’t just feel bad (or sad, or stressed or unhappy), a state in which we all find ourselves from time to time. It’s not a case where the suffering individual just needs to “cheer up.” In that regard, mental illness is no different than physical illness; it usually requires expert treatment. Simply believing in or praying to God is as unlikely to make a difference as watching a marathon of The Big Bang Theory (or whatever else might happen to make you happy).

    The phrase “thy will be done” in the Our Father addresses this. It says, in essence, whatever gets thrown at me, positive or negative, is what it is, and I’ll deal with it as it comes. What I see God providing is the strength of character required to endure the bad, and the openness of spirit required to appreciate and be thankful for whatever gifts one receives.

  • Cecilia Davidson

    Your response can be reworded as “a non-answer is an answer to my prayer. Therefore prayer works.”
    I’m not sure that supplication works that way.

  • @Shaun,

    When a Christian overdoses or lies in front of a train or blows their head off with a shotgun, does that mean that the always-present and loving companion of God took a break and they were alone long enough to kill themselves. BTW, these were all real friends of mine. They felt alone. You are wrong. Their God left them alone.

    So, would you say, “They must not have had enough faith.” But is it faith or presence — you can’t have it both ways buddy. These are sounding just like the excuses for God that David laid out well.

    They weren’t “okay with this” and did not feel “I can endure this” — why? Because there is not always present constant loving companion — though it may be a pretty thought. Best to make real friends and seek concrete help and realize things can be horrible — no miracles are coming.

    As for the rest of your hogwash at the end of your comment, I don’t know where to begin.

  • Cecilia Davidson

    I think Rabbi David Hartman had it close to right – perhaps, if we want to grasp why our times of great distress aren’t being answered with some kind of explanation or comfort, we need to understand that (a) prayer doesn’t work and (2) God might be limited.

    That second one isn’t an answer anyone wants to consider. Maybe the clever, careful wording that “God acts as us” might be a better way. God only works as far as we are willing.

  • Shaun G. Lynch

    Sorry, Sabio, I thought we were engaging in a respectful, intelligent discussion, but now I see that you are just another atheist troll with a chip on his shoulder, prowling Christian blogs in order to insult people he considers to be delusional and stupid. I don’t have time for such childishness.

  • Well, hopefully it is clear that an always present, all-caring personal God can’t be the fact unless it is totally impotent.

    Nice try on “chip on his shoulder”, “prowling”, “troll” and more. Go for personal attacks when intellectual ones fail. Keep demonstrating that wonderful internal guide you are privileged to.

  • Mark

    You could be right. Or not. There may be a heaven. Or not. But I agree with David. If there is a God, it is a God which doesn’t answer prayer. I tried to believe that God answered prayer, and that sometimes the answer is just “no,” but the answers are just too random. God saved the Hebrews from the Egyptians, but for some reason wanted to punish them later, so God hardened their hearts against Jesus? How does that make any sense when the other side of our mouths is screaming “free will”? And God was OK with setting up the Jews for all the abuse and pogroms that followed? It is all just too random. I don’t see how anyone can read Harold Kushner’s “When Bad Things Happen To Good People,” and still believe in a God who grants favors.

  • Josh Jinno

    I’m American Baptist, with a small aging congregation. I don’t think I’d characterize myself as either progressive nor non-believer, although I’m sure others would. I’m just a guy wrestling with his faith and trying to be conscientious about leading others who want to do the same. I do it in the realm of the familiar to some extent; but that “familiar” sometimes feels pretty distant.

  • Mark

    Have you read Harold Kushner’s book, “When Bad Things Happen To Good People”?

  • Thanx for sharing Josh. Sounds like a tough line to tow.

  • No, but it’s on my list now 🙂

  • Guys. Where’s the grace here? I was really enjoying this conversation!

  • I’m really sorry about your friends. That sucks and I have no answers. I was really enjoying this conversation though. You had to know that choosing to call another person’s thoughts “hogwash” was going to kill the really good vibe you had going here! Maybe next time you can go a bit easier? For me? Thanks 🙂

  • Excellent thought. Your explanation of God feels spot on to me.

  • I don’t think there are any problems that can be solved by sacrificing a human virgin on a torture instrument.


  • > the biggest advantages of Christianity…even if this life sucks and you never see things get better, you know that you will be repaid in heaven

    That’s a huge disadvantage. People who are fooled by that magical fantasy story do not value the single planet we humans inhabit.

    “Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects…his citizenship is in heaven…old inhibitions to the exploitation of nature crumbled.”

    ~Lynn White Jr. (1967) The Historic Roots of our Ecological Crisis. Science. Vol. 155 no. 3767, pp. 1203-1207. http://www.zbi.ee/~kalevi/lwhite.htm

  • Cambro

    You should have read my other comment. I view prayer and activism as 2 folds of the same activity. Alleviating suffering right now is the true mission of Christianity, NOT piling as many souls as we can into heaven. You have confused the issues I am addressing. I am not referencing all suffering, but note I said righteous suffering. When you suffer for being pious a real problem for most religions is exploited. If you can’t get rewards for doing good an unjust system is created. While the good people genuinely care about doing right more than the rewards, that does nothing for the still broken system. An afterlife that is able to pay dividends for righteous suffering is a tool only few religions have. And it is because we have this power that we can be willed into activism. Go and live with the poor! Feed those in need and tend to the sick! Because there is no need to think about a reward base here–there is only your activity to make the world you live in right now better. A Christian has the faith that we, on our own end, will be paid for it later. My thinking promotes activism, it does not promote laziness or contentness of the world’s current condition.

  • Prayer may not work, but p r e t t y does. Thanks for calming these fellows.

  • Cambro

    You’ve made a faulty assumption in your premises. You first stated “there may be a heaven, or not.” Then you stated “if there is a God, he does not answer prayer.” You cannot make the assumption that if there is a God he does not answer prayer without also making an assumption about heaven. Why? Because the blessing from prayers may not be answered in this life, but the next. Remember what I said: we are falling into the trap of episodic thinking. We are looking at snapshots of terrible happenings instead of peering at the narrative. It is the snapshots that matter but the overall story. I’m not sure if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, but it is a great example. Repeatedly the heroes fail. Repeatedly Frodo fails. At the end Frodo can’t dispose of the ring but the ring is destroyed on an accident by Golum, another character who repeatedly got it wrong. So despite all the failures, the narrative story was one of success.

    Take another example: a soldier loses his legs because of an IED. Terrible story, terrible happening. But eventually he struggles thro therapy, gets prosthetic legs and runs marathons with them, inspiring many lives and showcasing himself as a story of triumph. A terrible occurrence is essential to his narrative, yet the narrative is an overall grand tale. This is how we must look at life. Any zoomed in, one occurrence of failed prayer is not stable enough to refute the long extended possible blessings despite any negative mishap. I also suggest you read my earlier comment about prayer and activism.

  • Cambro

    I never mentioned God as a “cosmic candy machine” nor did I reference that faith (as in, “intellectual belief”) had anything to do with answered prayer. I never stated God is one to grant wishes nor even is he one to grant individual prayers. I am asserting an overall blessing (thus my assertion that we think episodically yet need to think in a narrative view) is what God intends. I have no problem granting that God does not answer all prayers. But the acceptance that “God does not answer all prayers” in no way entails “God does not answer any prayers.” Nor does it imply that God does not intend goodness or blessing for people.

  • Cambro

    That’s quite the generalization. If you look at further studies that does not wish to make wide-sweeping points, I think you will find the “indifference to the feelings of natural objects” is actually much more common of Christian evangelicals (NOT Christians overall) and among these evangelicals it is also only the Young Earth Creationists who are indifferent to nature. That, certainly, is a claim you can make, but you’re overall generalization is false. You’ve only found a fault in a fraction of Christianity.

    Furthermore, note how I stated the blessing of heaven: I in no way said this world does not matter. I said heaven is the advantage of solving the problem of righteous suffering. Christianity is not a rewards based religion (look at Job, read the sermon on the mount–“Blessed are the mourners”) and thus heaven as a final reward cannot be the central point of Christianity. Christianity, instead, is about mending the world around us. I mean this in both the moral sense AND the environmental sense. Christianity is about being Christ’s representatives and thus healers of the earth until his return. The function of heaven, then, is much smaller than you presumed. The function of heaven is that when you suffer for being or doing pious things, your suffering isn’t for nothing. You can be sure you will be repaid for goodness. Note, again, this is NOT about heaven being a pure reward. The blessing of heaven, instead, should remove inhibitions of doing good things like sacrificing to care for the poor and tend to the sick and needy. Remember Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is already here on earth. We have already begun the kingdom and it is the Christians job to take care of the earth in every meaning of that term until Christ’s return.

  • Shaun G. Lynch

    Every single word written by Rabbi Kushner is worth reading (well, at least every single word in the books of his that I have read, and I have several of them).

    His book on the 23rd psalm, The Lord is My Shepherd, (ISBN 978-1400033355) is also excellent. He writes a chapter on each line of the psalm, breaking down its message in detail. What’s nice is he does so in a very accessible way; it doesn’t read like a theology text.

  • > If you look at further studies

    Pray tell.

    > Christ’s return

    That bus is not coming to the station. Better start walking.

  • Shaun G. Lynch

    It’s too bad Sabio chose to go negative (his calling me “buddy” really rubbed me the wrong way), but I’ll try to explain where I was going with my thinking on his points.

    That someone in difficulty fails to perceive God’s presence, or chooses to ignore it, is not God’s fault. And, in the case of mental illness, it is likely not the individual’s fault either. In fact, the use of the word “fault” in this context is itself inappropriate.

    God has been so anthropomorphized over the ages that we now find ourselves unable to perceive him as anything other than a bearded puppeteer in the clouds, even when we know that can’t be an appropriate image. Even using the pronoun “him” (or “her”) is wrong, but it seems equally wrong to refer to God as “it!”

    To my way of thinking, when it comes to the nature of God, we have to be willing to employ the most important 3-word sentence in the sciences: “we don’t know.” We can, however, be pretty sure about a whole host of things that God is NOT, and that includes the idea that he is some kind of cosmic babysitter.

    My favorite modern parable in that regard is the story of the guy who, when police arrived at his door to warn him of an impending flood, said he’d remain in his home because he had faith that God would protect him. He subsequently refused help from rescuers in a boat and in a helicopter. When he finally drowned and found himself before God he asked “Why didn’t you protect me?” God responded, “I sent you police officers, a rescue boat and even a helicopter! What were you expecting?”

    The point isn’t that God himself actively sent those rescuers. The point is that all that is not evil is a manifestation of God. The most important gift we are given by God is the ability to find and embrace those manifestations of His presence, and to subsequently use that knowledge to become agents of His presence ourselves. If we choose not to do so, that’s on us, not on Him.

  • Shaun G. Lynch

    You make some excellent points, Cambro, but I think you’re on a fool’s errand if you think your analysis will have any impact on fundamentalist atheists whose minds are just as closed as those of religious fundamentalists.

    You’re right, of course, that a properly Christian perspective sees humans as stewards of the earth, not as exploiters. Protection of the environment is, without question, a duty for any devout Christian. That hasn’t always been our understanding of our role, of course, but it certainly is today, at least for most mainstream Christian denominations.

    I do take issue with some of what you say about heaven, however. I fear that an over-emphasis on an eternal carrot-on-a-stick may have the unfortunate effect of suggesting that “good” behaviour on earth can only be motivated by the promise of extrinsic reward after death. I think a deeper interpretation of the Christian message would encourage us to seek intrinsic satisfaction in moral action. From a Christian perspective, the ability to find that intrinsic value is itself a gift of the Holy Spirit, but belief in that specific construct is in no way essential to its realization.

    I find equally tiresome the prattling of simplistic Christians who cling desperately to a childish and scientifically untenable belief in divine magic, and the self-righteous pronouncements of absolute certainty by a New Atheist movement that has nothing to offer but criticism and contempt for those who maintain any kind of theistic faith. Everyone would benefit from embracing a certain measure uncertainty, and with it an equal measure of humility.

    There is a great deal more to prayer than asking for magical solutions from the bearded old man in the clouds, and people of mature faith understand that.

  • SusanRogersStLaurent

    I understand the point you’re making, Cambro, and I didn’t say you called God a cosmic candy machine. It’s been my experience during my whole life as a churchgoer and believer that many people do see him that way and believe that, if you just pray the right prayer with the right amount of faith, God will give you what you ask for; that if you’re experiencing hard times, sickness, or suffering, you have to figure out what caused it and repent, etc. These same type of people claim favor when good things like parking spaces or promotions happen to them or others, but are often silent in the face of suffering.

    It may seem awful to you, but when I stopped looking at God as an awesome, powerful being who seemed to be sitting on his thumbs, it brought me a lot of peace. I know he’s good and I know he loves me. Beyond that, I’m not sure.

  • SusanRogersStLaurent

    Do you ever get a little frustrated with the “We are his hands and feet” business, though…you know, putting all of the responsibility on us? When I took a good look at that, I had to let the omnipotent God go. If I hadn’t, it would’ve made him seem like an a-hole, that he was capable of intervening and wasn’t.

    Why aren’t we talking about this stuff at church?!

  • Shaun G. Lynch

    I get what you’re saying, but I’m okay with the notion of God being is a constant companion rather than an intervening agent acting on his own whims. The god of the Old Testament does have a proclivity for behaving like an a-hole, and I had a harder time with that notion than I have with God as a perpetual benign presence.

    It does mean that I can’t ask for “stuff,” because that’s absurd given what God is. On the other hand, it allows me to hear God speaking to me, as opposed to me babbling at Him, and I find that’s a much better deal all around.

    And, for the record, I believe that we ARE in “church” here. We are, after all, gathered in Jesus’s name (more or less).

  • Cambro

    It is not the “awfulness” or discomfort I get from an idea of a God who doesn’t answer prayer, I am having an issue with you upon rational. You are juggling between 2 extremes: Either there is divine retribution (good people get good things, bad people get bad things) OR God does not answer prayer at all. That’s a false dichotomy and furthermore unbiblical. I am aware that there are many people who take the Joel Olstein Gospel to heart where blessing and curse coincide with God’s favor of you. But this hasn’t been a problem in the Bible since the time of Daniel! Job was written to shoot down the idea of divine retribution and the writer of Ecclesiastes pointed out all its problems while also offering solutions to the problem of justice if divine retribution is not true (which he emphatically shows is not true). His answer is this: Through being virtuous (righteous, pious, whatever you may wish to say here) because of a fear and respect in God despite the curses that may follow from it you are bypassing any issue of faith in prayer or faith in a God that loves you. The writer of Ecclesiastes urges the reader to engage in turning our will into the will of God’s not for rewards but simply out of love and respect for Him. Not only is this the only way to jump over issues of righteous suffering, but it is also, the writer asserts, the only way for our lives not to be “meaningless.”

    But here is my true problem with your claim. I had said “dangerous thinking” before but that appeared to be a hotword to others. I am not saying “dangerous thinking” as in “we should not think about that!” But rather I am stating that it is nearly impossible to hold a view that God does not answer prayers that does not also lead to a view that states that God is not active in this universe. And a God not active in this universe goes against everything Christianity has to say. It speaks against the very witness of Christ, God come to the universe!

    I suppose there is a Christian view that could go like this: God does not answer prayers. He loves you but He will not bend the universe in anyone’s favor. He is leading the universe in one direction and that direction is completely abstracted from any individual’s wellbeing. But because he loves you, he sent Jesus to die for everyone so all may be redeemed. This was God’s first and last personal act for anyone in the universe.

    Now here are my qualms with that plausible view: Firstly, you have to accept that God does nothing for one individual but yet he sent Christ as compatible viewpoints. It may be true, but it would take some work to prove it.
    Secondly, to hold this view you also have to dismiss every act that appears like answered prayer as great luck and coincidence. That seems to lean against the ideas plausibility.
    And thirdly, if you hold this view I don’t see it as changing my way of life at all (which is also the Job and Ecclesiastes way of life). If you think God loves you but he has no active part in the universe for you, you live by faith simply because you love God and you expect no reward. That is exactly what these writers were saying to do in any case! And if this view I’ve proposed and my actual view lead to the same practice, it is much easier to take my more plausible view and seemingly more Christian view that God does have an active role in this universe thro witness of Christ.

    If you have another way around these problems I’d love to hear them. I just feel abstracting God from prayer has too many consequences for a Christian to accept. You’re much better off accepting that not all prayers are answered and some are.

  • Cambro


    Not really a study, but here is just one of dozens of examples of Christians discussing the issue and leaning towards a care for the earthly life despite their held Christianity. It really isn’t hard to find if you do a bit of searching.

  • Sure, I applaud it, and I bet among those kind of christians that skepticism about a magical heaven is rampant, and can be discussed without ostracism. Also, what kind of christian correlates to those who don’t want to care for the creation?

  • Thanks Shaun. I’ve loved that story since I first heard it as well, though only recently have really begun to understand it as it relates to my own life.
    I’ve always felt that, as the cliche goes, God helps those who help themselves, but that kind of independence was frowned upon growing up as a lack of faith to wait on God. Untangling ingrained thoughts vs my own thoughts has been quite the process but I love being able to talk things out and see different perspective here.
    And for the record, you chose to go negative as well 🙂

  • SusanRogersStLaurent

    I don’t feel the need to take your “more plausible view” because I’m at peace with mine…and yours. If that’s working for you, that’s great.

  • Shaun G. Lynch

    At the risk of sounding childish, he was mean to me first 🙂

    Here’s an interesting article I just read on the psychology of internet trolls: http://bit.ly/1kHnMg9

  • Gun Nordström

    I agree with you that David´s description of the state we should allow us to be in when we pray, is deep and clear. When we realize that ALL THERE IS, is “That-Which-We-Call-God”, we realize that we are all parttakers in that, which we also call the Universum. Somewhere in the Old Testament it´s written: “When you pray you shall be in a state where you see your wishes as already fulfilled”. We need not take any trouble for finding out how the universe will fulfil our wishes but we must of course respond to needed actions being offered us on the way until we in due time will be experiencing the wanted result coming true. When people living closed to nature (like indians) wanted rain for the growth of their maizefields, they stood concentrated on feeling the smell of fresh rainwater and seeing the maizecobs swaying in the wind. They were already one with the wanted result. And thus they were confident of the outcome of their “prayer”.