9.10.2017

Schrödinger's Future - Prayer and Hurricane Irma

Kyle Roberts (Unsystematic Theology,) recently shared a question posed to him about Hurricane Irma. "Should we pray for God's protection from hurricanes?" Or, should we just pray for strength and comfort during and after the disaster?

Roberts says he used to pray for God to change history, but he rarely does so anymore. It seems highly manipulative that God would withhold his loving care and refuse to redirect the storm, (restore mutated cancer cells, or dissolve the plaques that cause dementia for that matter,) unless people can muster up enough faith to respond.
I agree that this kind of manipulation would be entirely unworthy of God. And to bash one's self or others against the rocks of a request that cannot possibly be granted seems cruel and a surefire way to ultimately kill any belief in God. When my first wife died during the birth of our son - I was approached by some friends who asked if they could pray with me for God to restore her to life. I did not tell them that immediately after her death I had been approached by organ donation people who asked my permission to release pieces of her to the. As hard as it was, minutes after her death, I agreed that my wife would have wanted this because she had a heart like Jesus. Now I was faced with this implied accusation that if I didn't go along with this prayer - it would signal a lack of faith and a betrayal of my wife, whom Jesus WANTED to heal. I can't express the pain that this caused me. So I just want to say - I know where Roberts is coming from. C.S. Lewis' comment "Prayer does't change God, it changes me" is very reasonable. But in my heart of hearts I long for someone more powerful. I long for a protector. That is why I need a slightly different answer. At least I think it is - you tell me.
 
I think, if we are intended to follow the model of faithfulness presented in the Bible, there is a place for intercession. There are plenty of examples of people of faith interceeding for others and for their own situations.
  • Sometimes we see prayer being effective, like when Abraham prays for Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-33) or like when Moses prays for Rebellious Israelites (Exodus 32:9-14).
  • Sometimes it's ineffective, like when David prays for the life of his unborn child (2 Samuel 12:14-31)
The authors of Bible urge us to interceed for others through prayer though (Phil 4:6, 1 Peter 5:7). And James even tells us that the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective (James 5:16).
 
In our daily lives it is not usually as clear as it is in the Bible - whether our prayer has really made a difference. I've had times where I believed prayers have been answered miraculously, I've also had several more times where my specific requests have not. Most of the time however, if I am honest, prayer usually just get's me through the moment. I release the situation into the hands of A God, whom I am convinced is loving, and stop worrying about something that, in all honesty is behind my direct control - and never look back.

 
But that brings me to an important caveat. The church is being severely criticised these days for statements like "I'll pray for you." and "Our prayers are with you." And rightfully so I think. Haven't many of us made asking God to intervene a substitute for stepping in and intervening where we are able. That isn't an expression of Biblical faith. In the Bible faith is always expressed alongside action. If our actions are not aligned with our prayer, our intercession ceases to be an act of faith and becomes a faithfless act. We are right to be judged for it.
  • Did God answer that prayer - or would the person have gotten better anyway?
  • Did God refuse to answer - or is he asking me to rely on the sufficeincy of his grace?
Outside of the Bible - these questions are rarely answered. But if we don't live in a deterministic universe - and if the future is left partially unsettled - then I would say that the future is kind of like Schrödinger's thought experiement with the cat in the box. Until we look inside and determine whether the cat is alive or dead / or what the future is like, possibilities remain open. Prayer is being open to possibilities. It's not an either/or situation of whether prayer changes the future or us. Our intercession changes the future BY changing us. As we commit our concerns with God we leave an existence of unbelief and uncertainty and enter an existence of faith and possibility. Through prayer we enter the future as people of faith - and whether the cat turns out to be alive or dead - the reality we experience is that God was with us. It is surely a different future than it would have been if we had not prayed.

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