12 May 2009

Holy Doubt

The basement of St. Mark’s coffee house was filled with Holy Doubt tonight.

We were reading from Acts, 1 John and John.

But it was John 15:16 that set the Spirit free and the debate poured out and flooded the basement. Here’s the Scripture that set off the debate about prayer, whether it works and why we pray: “...the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.”

This promise of God granting our prayers occurs again and again in the Gospels.

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” - John 15:7

“If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” - John 14:14

And so on. You can look up the others on your own, I’m sure.

One woman spoke of her mother dying of cancer. One man spoke of runaway children not returning. One spoke of fear that doesn't go away. And I could not help but think of my Mother’s suicide. All spoke of prayer and prayers not answered.

Yet, we all still pray though no one thought it quite worked like Jesus promised it would. But what did he promise? Is Jesus a liar? Deluded? Mistaken? No one thought any of those things either. But what then?

I am sure that there are lots of clever explanations for the dichotomy between what Jesus pretty clearly promises on a multitude of occasions, and what He actually appears to deliver. Is it a dichotomy? Were the cancer, suicide, fear, and runaway child God’s will? If not, whose was it?

Still, we pray. We even prayed at the end of BYOB Bible Study. We asked for things to be done, be undone, to happen or not happen.

Did Jesus mean God is a cosmic Santa Claus? That God is just an extra special episode of “I Dream Of Jeannie?”

Or does He only answers prayers that are good for you or accord with his will as 1 John 5:14-15 seems to suggest:

“And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.”

So if I pray what He wants me to pray He'll give me what He wanted to give me in the first place. If so, what's the point? Does this mean when someone asks Him to cure their cancer and He doesn’t, it’s because this is not in accord with His will? That’s just mean. Isn’t it?

So why do we pray anyway? Despite it all?

I think because not praying is unthinkable. Because in praying we seek to understand. Because prayer is hope manifested. And I think that no matter what we pray we are always asking the same thing: show me that I am, am loved, and am safe.

Whether you want your cancer cured or a Mercedes-Benz, it’s really all the same prayer isn’t it?


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