I left Evangelicalism mostly because of lies about how God answers prayer and keeps all faithful Christians safe. Those lies clear God of all responsibility for human horrors but still insist He (always “he”) stays in total control of everything.
Dear Thoughtful Pastor: What good is prayer, in a practical sense? When I try to pray for the nation these days, I remember the many people who prayed for their lives during WWII. What use is prayer, at the doors of the gas chamber? If God did not/could not save those innocent lives, He certainly won’t help us now.
[Note: Although I don’t know the questioner personally, we have an acquaintance in common, a young man, brilliant, funny, a husband and father–and in only brief remission from a virulent cancer that will kill him sooner, not later. Our shared despair prompted the question.]
On occasion, I am asked to review a movie, generally one with a faith theme underlying the storyline. This past January, I reviewed a Martin Scorsese film, Silence.
Scorsese based the film on the book, Silence by Shūsaku Endō. It’s a piece of historical fiction detailing the persecution of Roman Catholics in 17th Century Japan.
This exploration of the silence of God in the face of unspeakable horrors inflicted upon God’s people was Endo’s way of working through his faith life.
When Scorsese came upon the book, perhaps 30 years ago, it became his life’s work to produce the movie. For Scorsese as well, this work marks his faith exploration.
This movie ranks with Schindler’s List as the two most painful movies I have ever seen. In both cases, I later read the books. Neither story got easier with the reading.
Both Silence and Schindler’s List stop in its tracks the lie that good humans won’t suffer.
Both strip away surety that right actions and beliefs will bring the results we want.
Both insist we stop lying by our insistence that God always answers prayer.
The Silence story
Plot summary: In the 17th century, two young, idealistic Portuguese priests, Francisco Garrpe and Sebastian Rodriques, set off for Japan to find their mentor, Father Christovao Ferriera. Rumors in Rome suggested that Ferriera, after torture, had “apostatized,” i.e., betrayed his faith.
Despite their unbending assurance that God is on their side, Garrpe and Rodriques discover that the God on their side does not appear to also be on the side of a group of faithful Japanese Christians.
Those Japanese believers face real and unrelenting persecution.
Father Rodriques chronicles the search for Ferriera. One day, three men from the Japanese village that shelters the priests are carried away. The three will face ruthless torture for not revealing the secret presence of those very priests.
Two of the three, eventually killed, are righteous men, leaders of the village in every way.The third, the degraded, drunk, and cowardly Kichijiro, had helped the priests find the villagers. He lives.
I do not believe that God has given us this trial to no purpose. I know that the day will come when we will clearly understand why this persecution with all its sufferings has been bestowed upon us for everything that Our Lord does is for our good. And yet even as I write these words I feel the oppressive weight in my heart of those last stammering words of Kichijiro on the morning of his departure. ‘Why has Deus Sama imposed this suffering upon us?’ And then the resentment in those eyes that he turned upon me. ‘Father,’ he had said, ‘what evil have we done?’
Years of lies about prayer
Many of those who have read my work know I have a long background in the conservative, Evangelical world of Christianity.
But I left. I could no longer deal with a world so enmeshed in lies.
Lies about “absolute truths” that enshrines oppression of women and the sexually different.
Lies that give powerful men leeway to escape accountability about their immoralities as long as the money flowed in.
Lies about the lack of contradictions in a so-called inerrant text, littered with irreconcilable statements.
But mostly lies about how God answers prayers and keeps all faithful Christians safe. Those lies clear God of responsibility for human horrors but still insist He (always “he”) stays in total control of everything. If something bad happens to you, it is because you are bad.
As I write, I think about the young girls the Boko Haram in Nigeria carried away to serve as their sex slaves. Yeah, some have been returned, three years later. A lot more will never be seen again.
God was/is silent.
The epidemic of teen sex slavery in the US boggles the mind. What happens to their prayers for release?
God was/is silent.
It can come closer. I have several life-long friends, faithful servants of God, right now who are facing terrible, frightening scenarios, including a plunge into abject poverty because of irreversible health conditions.
God, where are you? Why must you be silent?
But I still pray. I admit it. I do.
It is my way of loving those whom I cannot physically help at this time.
It’s my way of intentionally entering the Holy Place, accompanied by my tears and my frustration and my despair. I emerge determined to do whatever I can to ease suffering and fight oppression in my otherwise comfortable path.
I pray because I can’t not pray. But God is often silent nonetheless.
[Note: A version of this column is slated to run in the May 26, 2017, edition of the Denton Record-Chronicle. The Thoughtful Pastor, AKA Christy Thomas, welcomes all questions for the column. Although the questioner will not be identified, I do need a name and verifiable contact information in case the newspaper editor has need of it. You may use this link to email questions.