Mike Cope's blog

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Thoughtful words about prayer from Ed Fudge: A gracEmail subscriber writes: "Recently my dad died at age 62. A month later, my best friend died at age 37, leaving a widow and a three-year-old daughter. Many Christians in many places were praying for both men to survive and to be healed. It seems like God has an appointed day for our deaths. If so, what good does it do to pray?" * * * The question you raise is one of the oldest in recorded human history and also one of the most inexplicable. In a world where evil exists (and death is the ultimate earthly evil because it is both total and final so far as our present bodily existence is concerned), thoughtful people always ask "Why?" For people of faith, the moral question is more serious: "If God is both powerful and good, why does he allow evil?" Your religious questions then follow concerning prayer: "If God answers prayer, why is my prayer unanswered? If my prayer goes unanswered, why bother to pray?" The biblical book of Job (the narrative of which probably fits chronologically somewhere among the Genesis stories) wrestles with these questions but does not provide any clear answers. Job is a godly man who prays every day for his children. Yet God specifically allows the Adversary to destroy Job's children, his personal property and his physical and emotional health. Job's theological friends insist that the solution is simple: God is just, Job has sinned and he is getting what he deserves. Job, who knows that he is pious if not perfect, defends his own innocence before his friends and before God himself and demands an explanation from God. Eventually God responds to Job with an "Enough already!" and silences the devout questioner with a volley of divine questions that say in effect: "I am God and you are not!" Through it all Job hopes in God, asserting a personal faith that God will vindicate him even beyond death, which will never have the final word. This expression of faith brings the larger story full circle and proves the Adversary wrong who, in the prologue to the book, had alleged that Job would renounce all faith in God under the circumstances which then followed. Although the book of Job does not answer the questions that trouble us now, it provides a larger perspective in which we can trust God despite the present darkness. The story of Jesus provides even more context for faith under fire. After publicly proclaiming Jesus to be his "beloved Son," God proceeds to permit Jesus to suffer and die in horrible pain, apparent abandonment and public disgrace. Before the weekend is over, however, God changes forever the way his people view death itself by bringing Jesus back to life in a glorified body belonging to a new and eternal dimension. The faithful Father has vindicated his faithful Son and, by so doing, has demonstrated himself worthy of unwavering trust as the all-powerful and all-loving master over time and eternity. Why pray? Because God invites us to do so and, in ways and for reasons we cannot now comprehend, our prayers sometimes make a difference in what would otherwise happen. Like Job, we trust God in the dark. Because of Jesus, however, a blinding shaft of light has pierced through the darkness, illuminating a path of faith that finally leads to the visible presence of God. ____________________ © 2005 by Edward Fudge. Unlimited permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice. For encouragement and spiritual food any time, visit our multimedia website at http://www.edwardfudge.com/ .

12 Comments:

  • Regarding yesterday's post, I just wanted to let you know that our family is benefitting from Highland's "Go Into All the World" campaign. A family who used to attend our church have returned to Colorado for part of the week to build my son Duncan a wheelchair ramp in the garage. It was so wonderful seeing them at church this morning, and we get the added blessing of humbly accepting their offer of help. I'm not even sure who to thank, but our hearts are so touched by this.

    By Blogger Cindy, at 3/06/2005 12:53:00 PM  

  • mike, i think a play written by one of the theatre faculty members at ACU speaks well to those same questions. the play is called "An Inch of Rope" and it ran during the week of lecutreship this year. the message of the play blessed me and gave me some meat to chew on regarding the problem of evil and the need for prayer.

    By Blogger kentbrantly, at 3/06/2005 02:42:00 PM  

  • In my opinion, preaying is not so much for God's benifit, but for our own.

    God knows our hearts and souls, not needing us to use pretty phrases and pious-sounding lyrics to ask for what we desire and thank God for what (s)he has provided us with.

    However, the act of praying gives us all a moment of (hopefully) quiet reflection, a time to focus on issues that are important to us. It provides us with a heightened sense of connection to the divine being of our choice (This is true for other religions as well), and that nice warm-and-fuzzy feeling we all look for now and again.

    Prayer in and of itself is mildly therapudic, chock-full with all that calm spritual goodness that everyone needs now and again. But not actually needed by God. As I've said, God knows it ALL, so prayer is a rather redundant form of communcation with the Divine.

    By Blogger Your Future World Ruler, The Adversary, at 3/06/2005 03:03:00 PM  

  • I am reminded of a quote from CS Lewis: "Prayer doesn't change God. Prayer changes me."

    By Blogger Blogging by Tina, at 3/06/2005 06:48:00 PM  

  • I agree that prayer has transformative power on the person who prays. But I am wary to go so far as to say that prayer is solely for the benefit of the one who prays and does not involve God at all. My concern is twofold. First of all, by focusing only on issues we're concerned about and using prayer as time for personal reflection, we have placed the emphasis on ourselves rather than on God. Even if God knows our hearts, we are still in relationship with him and ought to share our needs and concerns with him (as well as our confession, praise, and thanksgiving) through prayer. A healthy relationship is not so one-sided.

    Secondly, if we believe that prayer is only for our benefit, that God already has everything mapped out and we are just following along, we lose the important component of free will in our faith. One of the hardest parts about Christianity is reconciling the omniscient power of God and our freedom to choose. It seems that God can be swayed by the prayers of the faithful. In Exodus 33:3, God tells the Israelites he will not go with them, but after Moses speaks to God (vs. 12 and following) God changes his mind and decides to go with the Israelites. So either God lied to the Israelites and had planned to go with them from the beginning, or Moses's prayer impacted God in such a way that he changed his mind. A similar thing happens in Exodus 4:24-26 when the Lord tries to kill Moses, but Moses's wife intercedes for Moses and the Lord leaves Moses alone. (See also Mark 9:29)

    With all this said, I too struggle with the problem of pain--why does God sometimes answer our prayers with "no?" It doesn't seem fair or right. I think it's significant, though, that, even in the midst of great struggle and pain, when we don't understand and we want answers, it is to God that we pray and to him that we continue to return, even if he responds to our prayers in ways we do not like or want or understand. In the garden, Jesus prays, "May this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will but as you will." And the cup is not taken from him. But Jesus does not lose faith. He continues to cry out to God in his pain, even as he dies on the cross.

    By Blogger jocelyn, at 3/06/2005 08:08:00 PM  

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    By Blogger jocelyn, at 3/06/2005 08:09:00 PM  

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    By Blogger jocelyn, at 3/06/2005 08:10:00 PM  

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    By Blogger jocelyn, at 3/06/2005 08:13:00 PM  

  • somehow i went from not being able to post at all to posting 4 times at once...oops!

    By Blogger jocelyn, at 3/06/2005 08:16:00 PM  

  • I think your family would sure know a lot more about praying in the midst of pain than me. In my nearly twenty years of life, I'm just now beginning to experience true pain and learn what it means to trust God in the midst of that. I thank God for you, such a faithful leader to help guide our church through this difficult time. You guys have always been such an example to me about trusting God in the middle of heartache. Tell your wife that I love her...I told her this morning, but I want her to know again. Love you, too.

    By Blogger Heather A, at 3/06/2005 11:09:00 PM  

  • Interesting thoughts on this. I really think the Church does a disservice in assuming that God is, at all times, personally involved in each of our Earthly lives. If that's the case, God must take some sort of responsibilty for the evil/tragedy/dissasster that occurs.

    Herein lies the problem: if you or I pass by a person in danger (life is being threatened, etc.), we are expected to aid the one in danger. The value of human life is held universally (evidence of a Creator, I believe). There is even legislation in the US that punishes those that ignore the endangered. That being said, why is it that God seemingly exists (often times) outside of the values that he breathed into Creation. Why does God get a pass on his own rules?

    One may say, "Well, he's God. He plays by a different set of rules." I guess I could buy that, but I think such an answer is more a result of laziness than experience and deep contemplative thought. If we are created in the image of God, and we value life because God does (and God created us to), why does God not value life like we do?

    I completely agree in God's existence and sovereignty, however, isn't it naive to think that God picks and chooses where to get involved? Is that fair? And if it is fair. and we're created in God's image, why don't we think it's fair, too?

    Why do we have to pray for our friends to heal? If God's so involved, why didn't he just keep the 18-wheeler from running over my friend in the first place?

    By Blogger nashvillekid, at 3/06/2005 11:28:00 PM  

  • Everyone asks Job's questions at some point in her/his life. God's answer was that we can't understand the answers.

    I think God views death as part of life; something He built into it as an opportunity to draw us closer to him in this life so we'll be with Him in the next. Something we will pray and agonize with Him about, just as Jesus did in the garden.

    Adversary, I agree with jocelyn: God didn't view it as redundant that His Son prayed three times, sweating blood. He heard a desperate cry for help ... and sent angels to strengthen. Those prayers weren't for the benefit of the disciples - they were asleep. They were to help Jesus have the strength to do what He knew He had to do.

    And asking why, even now, will never change the fact that it had to be done.

    By Blogger Keith Brenton, at 3/07/2005 05:12:00 AM  

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