Monday, December 05, 2005

God is Dead?

Yes, I realize the question is hardly original, but it is something that I have been thinking about lately. After many years of serious health problems that she was more-or-less born with, a 29-year-old woman in my ex-church died last week. This post is a record of what has been rattling around in my head. It probably made more sense when I thought it than I will be able to convey here, but it's worth a shot.

As I see it, the starting point of this analysis consists of two facts:

1. An entire congregation was praying for Wendy to live. Obviously, I don't have a hard and fast number, but I'd guess that on any day, a minimum of 50 people were praying for her.

2. In spite of that, Wendy is in fact, quite dead.

What can we draw from these two facts? There are many possibilities that have flitted about in my brain, but I will try to keep the list short by only including the more well-formed ones:

1. There is no such person as God and prayer is an exercise in futility.

This is the standard atheist answer and is obviously at odds with the Bible. It is an answer that I am not comfortable with at this point in my life, but it is the direction I find myself heading, largely because it is supported by reality. If you doubt that, read a newspaper.

2. There is a God, but he is impersonal and cares not one wit for the fate of an individual person, or even humanity as a whole.

Here we have a deistic answer, and one I have recently gained a great deal of sympathy for. Again, it has no support in the Christian Bible, but it allows for "purpose" while acknowledging that life is basically a slog through endless shit that ends badly.

3. God "hears" the prayers of humans, but ignores them.

This describes a callous or even malicious God; Gene Roddenberry's Q Continuum from ST-TNG. A being capable of helping, but simply declines to unless it serves its own purposes or amuses it. Interventions are meant less to improve the lot of humanity than to cause tail-chasing. Even a casual reading of the Old Testament would lend support to this view, but by the New Testament, God seems to have converted to Christianity, and become all squishy, other than his back-sliding predicted in Revelation.

4. A faction of the church was praying for Wendy's death, so God was forced to choose which group of prayers got the nod.

Given that in a life-time of church attendance, I have never heard anyone pray for someone's else's death, other than in one extremely rare circumstance involving an elderly, terminally-ill brain cancer patient who died in horrifying pain, I find it unlikely that any individual, not alone the majority of the church, would take this route. I may have lost a lot of respect for church folk over the last few years, but even in my most cynical frame of mind, I can not imagine this to be the case.

5. God "hears" the prayers of humans, but is incapable of complying with some of the requests.

A powerful, yet not all-powerful God certainly seems to be a viable option given reality, but hardly makes sense in view of the doctrine of an omnipotent God. However, I'm not sure that doctrine is all that well-supported anyway. The Bible certainly describes a very powerful being capable of unimaginable feats, but it also describes a being that is talked out of a course of action by a human (Numbers 14:11-20), is sorry for past actions (Genesis 6:5-6), and is not above cheap parlor tricks (Judges 6:37-40). Hardly what one would expect from the omnipotent, omniscient creator of the universe.

6. God "hears" the prayers of humans, but may or may not grant the petitions due to his ability to "see the big picture."

The party line I was raised on. Ask God for whatever you want; if you get it, it's because God is such a great guy and loves you. If you don't get it, God knows that giving you what you want will hurt you. He is still a great guy and loves you. Heads I win, tails you lose. Every church I have been in teaches this. There is only one small problem: it is contradicted by the plain words of scripture that says we can get anything we ask for (Matthew 7:7-11, 18:19, 21:18-22, Mark 11:24, John 14:13-14, 15:7, 15:16, 16:23-24). There are no qualifications on these statements stating God denies requests that don't fit in with some unknowable divine plan. The equation is very simple: if two (or presumably more) agree on a request, or ask in Jesus' name, or ask while "abiding" in Jesus, it will be granted. Period. Full stop. In this particular case, you can't even argue that the church was asking with wrong motives (James 4:2-3): they were praying for a young woman to have a normal life, not for a million dollars to fall from the sky.

So is God dead? Or is he just uncaring or impotent? I managed to type that without my PC catching fire or lightning striking me down. It's not looking good for you, God.

[Five minutes later: I'm still here, God. Are you paying attention?]

[Ten minutes later: I'm getting ready to drive home; everyone else on the road may want to be on the lookout for a Silverado 3500 being chased by lightning bolts....]


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