The Promise of Prayer


Prayer should be the intersection between the natural and the supernatural. This is a critical discussion comparing and contrasting the promises of prayer in the bible, our expectations and our observations. I use the first person, using myself, or my former Christian persona as an example.

Here were my presumptions:
- The Bible is the revealed word of God through a collection of mostly anecdotes. The only evidence I have for that is tradition and the belief of the majority of others in my community of believers and also the precautionary principle as demonstrated by Pascals Wager.

- I am told that prayers work by a large community, and have anecdotal evidence to support the claim. Also the anecdotal evidence supports what the Bible says about prayer. The bible says the following about prayer.
A. * 2 Chronicles 7:14 "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."
B. * Psalm 145:18,19 "The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him. He will also hear their cry and save them."
C. * Proverbs 15:8b "…The prayer of the upright is His delight."
D. * Isaiah 45:11 "Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel…ask of Me of things to come concerning My sons; and concerning the work of My hands, you command Me."
E. * Isaiah 65:24 "It shall come to pass that before they call I will answer; and while they are still speaking I will hear."
F. * Jeremiah 33:3 "Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know."
G. * Mark 11:24 "Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them."
H. * John 14:13,14 "And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name I will do it."
I. * John 15:7 "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you."
J. * John 16:23,24 "…Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you…ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full."
K. * Romans 8:26 "Likewise the Spirit also helps our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."
L. * 1 Peter 3:12 "For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to his prayers."
M. * 1 John 5:14,15 "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him."

Anecdotal evidence is regarded as weak and defeasible.

In the list above, of which may not be all inclusive, only A, B, G, H, I, L and M have qualifiers that could justify an unanswered prayer. It would seem that all the bases are covered.
- A. conditions are "humble themselves and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways".
- B. conditions are "He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him".
- G. conditions are "believe that you receive them".
- H. conditions are "whatever you ask in My [Jesus] name", which is an added qualifier, different from the old testament.
- I. conditions are "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you".
- L. conditions are " righteous".
- M. conditions are "according to his will".

I would like to point out that there is no comprehensive list anywhere in the bible that talks about the conditions of prayer. I think that is an oversight that I would not expect if the Holy Spirit was responsible for the text through the ages.

So what is the point of prayer?
I think it is the method that god provided to us to interact with him. It is a point of intersection between the natural and the supernatural. It would seem to be a good place for a test. And if it is meant as the method that god provided to interact with us, I think that I could reasonably expect god to want to participate. Since he knows how we think, he would know that this would give us confidence about our relationship. Relationships are more successful when we know we can trust our partner. And in fact, unless I am remembering wrong, our relationship with Jesus is supposed to be the perfect example of a marriage. Since this is the case we should be able to show that intercessory prayer works. However in at least ten studies, it didn't (Power of Prayer, American Heart Journal). If the testing method is alleged to be faulty, then I think it is the responsibility of Christians to set up a double blind test with the participation of non Christian experts with a protocol that is agreeable to everyone to show that prayers work.

So lets say that Christians set up a test as described above and that out of 1000 studies, some numbers of prayer work. And in the control group, the same thing happens. The results are inconclusive. This seems to be the typical outcome in scientific prayer studies (suspect or not). In the control group, some reasons this could be are the test protocol is invalid or has been compromised, god was skewing the odds for some reason, or that chance is just as effective as prayer. If we assume that god is skewing the odds for the reason that he won't permit us to test him, that would seem to mean that it is impossible to test prayer and the only reliable way of knowing that prayer works is to maintain the sanctity of the intent and look at the personal interaction. We could keep our own prayer log. But in this case, we can expect god would know and once again skew the odds. Therefore we can't use any empirical method to test prayer. But since it seems to work sometimes, it is evidence of a miracle. And the investigation into the odds of how likely it would be to turn out the same way to due to chance is given no thought.

Empirical studies have shown that the following are likely to be true, and sufficient to use as presumptions in research.
- People are naturally terrible at estimating probability.
- People are naturally terrible at perceiving and interpreting probabilistic data.
- People "remember the hits and forget the misses"
- People like stories and are willing to give the teller of the story the benefit of the doubt about the truth of it.
- People are more likely to believe a story if it comes from someone they like.
- People are more likely to believe a story if it is believed by the larger group.
- People will change their evidence based viewpoint if it contradicts the viewpoint of the group.
- People overestimate the degree of belief in others.
- People are more likely to believe a story if it fits with what they already believe or want to believe.
- People are likely to use the precautionary principle as illustrated by Pascals Wager in minimizing risk.

These schemes of reasoning are detailed in the books such as the ones I have read "How We Know What Isn't So" by Thomas Gilovich, and to a smaller degree Daniel OKeefe's "Theories of Persuasion" and Robert Cialdini's "Influence". Cialdinis "six weapons of influence" depend on a couple of them. These are common patterns of reasoning that can be identified and predicted. In fact they are used effectively in Politics and Advertising and they explain the persistence of the existence of the "rumor mill".

There is a concept called "Negative Evidence", "Negative evidence is the absence of evidence that might reasonably be expected to be found were the issue in question true" (Freeley, 113). There is another concept known as "Ockhams Razor". Ockhams Razor states that when given the choice of options for an explanation, the one that is less complicated or depends on less variables is more likely to be correct. Using the data contained in the books listed above and my personal experience with prayer, I think a simpler hypothesis to explain prayer is that it is a myth.

So lets stipulate for a minute that I am an amateur and that reading a few biased books doesn't mean anything with regards to the truth of the lord. With this stipulation in place I would like some expert to explain my recent experience.
My 86 year old grandmother was a model of righteousness in her church community. Without getting into it here, only condition M fits her circumstances, it which case it was gods will that she die a slow, painful and humiliating death from cancer in the face. The intercessory prayer of her church community had no noticeable effect. This is the personal prayer experience of a community of presumably righteous Christians. This is the way I predicted it would happen based on probability. Why not answer the prayers and let her die in her sleep and get around the suffering?

I have no reason to believe in supernatural factors with regards to my prayers or "my walk with god". And I assert that no one else does either. If they do, I'd like to see them because a world with a loving god in it manipulating things for the better is something that I would be interested in.

References:
American Heart Journal. Intercessory Prayer.


"anecdotal evidence."
Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 2007. Answers.com 11 Mar. 2007.

Freeley, Austin J. 1993. Argumentation and Debate: Critical Thinking for Reasoned Decision Making 8th ed. Wadsworth Publishing Company

Cialdini, Robert. 2001. Influence: Science and Practice. Boston. Allyn and Bacon.

Gilovich, Thomas. 1991. How We Know What Isn't So. New York. The Free Press: A division of Macmillan, Inc.

Holy Bible.

"Ockham's razor." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Answers.com 11 Mar. 2007. http://www.answers.com/topic/occam-s-razor

Okeefe, Daniel J. 1990. Persuasion Theory and Research. Newbury Park, California. Sage Publications.

Power of Prayer. New York Times.

36 comments:

Jamie said...

There was a time I would have tried to explain possible reasons for what happened to your grandmother. They were reasons I used to comfort myself when my father died of cancer as well.

But I have discovered my own belief was a tapestry made of loose threads. I've been tugging at them since I was a teenager, and maybe that's what loosened them. But the last few that I've tugged seem to have unraveled the whole tapestry and there is nothing left.

Though it sure has made me learn to enjoy the present!

Truly,
Jamie.

HeIsSailing said...

Condition M, prayer not aligned to the will of God, is the great catch-all for unanswered prayer. Lee has given us a smattering of the promises the Bible makes to the power of prayer, yet there are only 3 places that I can think of off the top of my head where the condition of God's Will is made. Just 3 places in the entire Bible, yet it is cited as the reason for nearly all unanswered prayer. It seems very disproportional to me.

Jamie, I also used to imagine a greater good from God's Will coming out of unanswered prayer. Why is the elderly but devout woman dying such a painful and slow death? Why won't God releive her of her misery somehow, either by healing or quick death? My younger and more naive self would rationalize - perhaps the greater good would come in the younger people looking to her strength in God as an example.

Yeah.

chris said...

I think this is a very important subject, and you've done some good work in exploring it. However, I think there is a fundamental misconception that underlies almost every discussion of prayer I see.

Prayer is not a scientific enterprise. (This is not a cop out.) I'm willing to submit Christianity to scientific test where applicable. The manuscript evidence for the accuracy of the biblical documents, the contemporary claims of 'miracles,' the archaeological evidence for certain claims or inferences in the Bible, etc. But here's the thing we must remember about prayer -- prayer has no causal power.

If you believe in free will (in the libertarian sense), then prayer is no different than my child asking me for a cookie or to come out and play with him. My child shouldn't be trying to figure out how to guarantee results from his requests. There is no guarantee, because I am a free agent. God is also -- God does what God wants, and he sometimes takes our requests into consideration on the matter.

Another illustration -- the family is in the car on the way to dinner. My son says, "Can we please get pizza?" Then, taking his desire into consideration along with other factors, I make a decision. Does this make sense? It is just wrong-headed to ask whether "prayer changes things" or if "prayer is effective." Ultimately, prayer is just being with God, sometimes conversing, and sometimes asking, that's all.

Anonymous said...

Not a whole lot I have to say here. Firstly, the Jewish people themselves certainly knew God wasnt always answering prayers (the Psalmist certainly details his frustration at God, almost shouting "WHERE ARE YOU? HELLO?" But with that said, the early Christians generally knew intecessory prayer was a mystery (Tertullian provides some beautiful writings on this subject). In regards to your grandmother all I will say is this. She was 86 years old, a full life by any standard. I am not for a second diminishing the pain of her loss but many people actually like the idea of dying over a period of time than automatically. It gives them time to say their good-byes, to think on ultimate causes and to contemplate their life. Im sure other's would sooner just let it end in a split second, but many people I have had the oppurtunity to know were transformed as cancer ravaged their bodies. It may seem glib if you interpret what I am saying the wrong way, I am simply proposing that for many people this would not be nearly so bad a prospect, I certainly hope I have a period of time, even if it may well be painful, where I can let my loved ones know that they were cared for.

Lee Randolph said...

hi chris,
I'll bet your interaction with your kids is more verifiable than gods interaction with your kids. Your kids know your are there because of your loving relationship. I can't imagine that you would leave your kids wondering if you love them or not, or if you are there for them or not.

anonymous,
I hope that while you are on your death bed saying goodbye to your loved ones, that you aren't in agonizing pain, relieved only by medication that makes you delirious and soiling your bed linens.

Anonymous said...

Lee said, "I can't imagine that you would leave your kids wondering if you love them or not, or if you are there for them or not."

Uh Lee, that's the whole point of believing - to have the spiritual security that God promised He loved us inspite of suffering and our lack of understanding. I guess giving up one's life and all ulterior motives of power and material gain aren't enough for some people. Faith is based on the hope of a promise. I can't find a single scripture whereby Jesus encouraged angry and prideful demands be made of God.

Lee Randolph said...

anonymous,
you are right. There is no promise whereby jesus encouraged angry and prideful demands be placed on God. As far as I know angry and prideful demands were not part of the premisses. I don't pray anymore. But my family does, and my grandmothers community does, and I used to.

I did not write the bible. I was fine with the 'prayers are praises' concept. I would have nothing to say if it stopped there. I am pointing out that there ARE promises, and I haven't observed them to be true.
What REASONS are there to expect those promises to be fulfilled?
Is the following true?
* John 14:13,14 "And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name I will do it."
Doesn't seem to be unless I am missing something. I am open to correction.

The story of my grandmother is one example, insert your own here. What I observe is that the promises appear to be empty.
What was the last prayer you had answered? And is it possible that it would have turned out that way purely by chance? Be honest now.
Promises about prayers are not the only empty promises. I could bring up another good one, but I'll save it for another topic.
Heres' a prayer promise:
* Isaiah 65:24 "It shall come to pass that before they call I will answer; and while they are still speaking I will hear." I infer from this that since the old lady didn't have a clue that she was going to get hit in the face, it didn't count, or we are not in that time period he was talking about. But god knew that she (presumably) wouldn't want to get hit in the face right? How would you have handled it? If you could have caused that man to just simply forget about it, nothing fancy and little effort for a god, would you have done it?
Are you upset about this ocurrance? I am. I have to say that I feel righteous indignation.
Can you explain to me why an all powerful god wouldn't protect three old ladies at least two of which were christians, when he is supposed to love them so much he knows the number of hairs on their head? If he did this all the time we'd all be none the wiser except that we would not think it was likely that little old ladies would get punched in the face for some reason.
If he kept the promises as I understand them, the world should be a utopia of devoted christians. How could it not be? This would eliminate the trial period on earth and we could just get on with heaven. No need to defend the decision to be okay with letting your neighbors burn in hell.
And if god is skewing my probability baseline as shygetz infers, then I expect this sort of nastiness shouldn't happen.
There is no evidence where there should be. And why should we need to have double standards to understand God? Why not expect faith to be based on reason? Jesus tells us to be "to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves" mat. 10:16. He created logic right? He gave us free will right? The need to make decisions entails from that, right? We have to think, right? What do we think about if faith is all that is needed? Why not just give it all to god? You can't just give it all to god because it doesn't work that way. And millions of Christians like to tell each other "give it all to god" with no REASON but a hope to think its a good strategy.
If your reason for hope comes from the bible, pick up a copy of "The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (Biblical Resource Series) by Mark S. Smith. You might want to dig a little deeper.

Cyrus said...

Chris said...
"Prayer is not a scientific enterprise."
I respectfully diaagree. Sure, some parts of prayer, the metaphysical parts, are not testable. ("...thy kingdom come, thy will be done," etc.) but the physical parts are testable. (...give us this day our daily bread.") In other words, if prayer was effective, then those who pray should be measurably better off than those who don't. A religious person prays that his crops will grow, that his family will be healthy and well fed and that they will be safe when traveling. Are they? Is the Christian any safer than the infidel when traveling? Do his crops grow better than his Muslim neighbor? Is his family any healthier than the Jewish family in the next block? These things are statistically testable and the answer is no, they are not any better off. The religious person is every bit as likely to have ups and downs in his or her life as anyone else, no matter how hard they pray.
Cyrus

Anonymous said...

Hi Lee - thank you for your response. I do not get my hope from the bible - I get it from God. My hopelessness and discouragement comes from the mistreatment from spiritually infected people and all the insensitive and hurtful things that we inflict upon one another. Compassion and faith and eternal values are formed in the face of suffering, not devoid of suffering.

I'm not offended by yours or others' cynicism - on the contrary, you seem innocent compared to me - I feel protective of you guys here.

chris said...

Lee -- I would enjoy interacting with you on the topic, but you haven't really addressed anything I said. I suppose you are saying that because God doesn't respond the way you want him to, that this a failure on his part to affirm his love. Doesn't that strike you as a bit naive? After all, the analogy between God and a father is only an analogy, and breaks down when pressed too hard. You rightly observe that God does not present himself directly to us -- but theologians have put together excellent explanations for this. I take you to be an intelligent, reasonable person -- wouldn't you want to examine such explanations seriously? If you already have, then please share your reactions.

Cyrus -- you are right. The claim, "Christians who pray for their crops will have better harvests" is testable. What I am saying is that such a claim is wrongheaded. Christians should make no such claims, because they are false. Prayer isn't "testable" because it there is no cause-effect relationship to be observed. God acts freely, and prayer doesn't cause him to do anything.

chris said...

I also have a blog post about this subject.

http://nihilfit.blogspot.com/2006/05/impotent-prayers.html

Lee Randolph said...

Hi chris, thank you for the invitation to explore this further. I will look over what you wrote previously and the link you added and respond with my thoughts.
talk to you soon.

Hi cyrus,
thank you for that post, it says what I was trying to say more efficiently!

Lee Randolph said...

Hi all,
If this sounds disjointed, I am sorry because I have been working on it as I have had time cutting and pasting for hours, and now I just want to post it.

Hi anonymous,
Hi Lee - thank you for your response. I do not get my hope from the bible - I get it from God.
How do you get your hope from god?
What I mean is that I get my hope for things because of repeated experience, reliable information, presumptions etc. For example I get my hope that my dogs will still be in the yard when I get home from the facts that I know that I closed the gate and it should still be closed and it is not likely that anything has changed the state of the gate while I am away.

Hi Chris,
I addressed what you said below. I read your blog, but the link you put as a reference didn’t work when I tried it. But honestly if you only want to respond to the following question, I would be okay with that. It seems to me that you are saying that the promises about prayer in the bible that I listed in my article are false.
Is that a fair statement of your viewpoint?

Lee -- I would enjoy interacting with you on the topic, but you haven't really addressed anything I said. I suppose you are saying that because God doesn't respond the way you want him to, that this a failure on his part to affirm his love. Doesn't that strike you as a bit naive?

Please understand that I am using my Grandmothers situation as a representative example the situation is equally applicable to starving babies in Ethiopia. If I was saying “because god doesn’t respond the way I want him to, it is a failure on his part to affirm his love” I would say it was naïve too. But what I am saying is that because god doesn’t respond the way he promised, it is a failure on his part to keep his word and to a lesser degree to affirm his love. Do you trust people that say one thing and do another? I expect more out of a god than I do out of person.

You have to admit that a church community praying to ease the suffering of a dying person or a dying populace is different than asking for something superficial for myself.

Forget for a about me for a minute and consider my claim that prayer is no better than chance. My presumption is that it should be better than chance based on the promises that I extracted from the bible and listed in the article. No one has yet given me any reasons for their refutation of this claim, only rhetoric. Surely no one expects me to change my mind without a reason. And Ironically you seem to agree that prayer is no better than chance.

After all, the analogy between God and a father is only an analogy, and breaks down when pressed too hard. You rightly observe that God does not present himself directly to us -- but theologians have put together excellent explanations for this. I take you to be an intelligent, reasonable person -- wouldn't you want to examine such explanations seriously? If you already have, then please share your reactions.

I have examined them to my satisfaction, but am always open to new information. My reaction is that according to 1 Corinthians 2:14: "But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." Being born again, baptized and saved by the blood, I should have had no need for theologians because the holy spirit should have reveal it to me. Which theological theory should I have ascribed to? When I was saved, baptized, born again and enjoyed the “indwelling of the spirit” I should have understood it, but all I had was cognitive dissonance because things didn’t appear to be the way the bible or my preachers said they are. Evidently the holy spirit didn’t do its job.
I know this is a contested interpretation, but truth should stand up to scrutiny, not generate theology.

Cyrus -- you are right. The claim, "Christians who pray for their crops will have better harvests" is testable. What I am saying is that such a claim is wrongheaded. Christians should make no such claims, because they are false. Prayer isn't "testable" because it there is no cause-effect relationship to be observed. God acts freely, and prayer doesn't cause him to do anything.

Chris, you are right, his promise should cause him to do something. Especially these two:
* Mark 11:24 "Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them."
* John 14:13,14 "And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name I will do it."

prayer has no causal power.

Why do you say that? Is mark 11:24 or john 14:13,14 wrong?

If you believe in free will (in the libertarian sense), then prayer is no different than my child asking me for a cookie or to come out and play with him.

But praying for people stuck in the world trade center or slowly dying in a tsunami or starving children in Ethiopia should be a little more significant (in the moral sense).

My child shouldn't be trying to figure out how to guarantee results from his requests. There is no guarantee, because I am a free agent. God is also --

If you want me to stipulate that you are not obligated to keep your word, I’ll agree.

God does what God wants, and he sometimes takes our requests into consideration on the matter.

* Psalm 145:18,19 "The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him. He will also hear their cry and save them."
I think the psalm is a stronger claim than yours.

Another illustration -- the family is in the car on the way to dinner. My son says, "Can we please get pizza?" Then, taking his desire into consideration along with other factors, I make a decision. Does this make sense?

Of course it makes sense. But your decision is relatively insignificant to your community. It only affects you all in the car. I think there is a lot of difference in the weight of importance between this and easing the suffering of someone on their death bed when a whole church community is petitioning for it. I think that if you saw someone laying on the side of the road next to a car crash you would do something, because you infer from the situation that it is what you would want them to do for or this it is what they want you to do, or it is what they need or you to do and because of an altruistic instinct it is the right thing to do and possibly because you know it would be reasonably expected of you. All of the above are sufficient to cause you to ease their suffering.

It is just wrong-headed to ask whether "prayer changes things" or if "prayer is effective."

Why is it wrong headed? That is your assessment based on what? Do you have any scripture that says that? I suspect you say that because your experience shows you that prayer doesn’t do anything, but the bible says it should. Those kinds of questions should cause you to be uncomfortable, just like it did me.

chris said...

Lee -- Great comments. I hope to get back to you soon.

Anonymous said...

Lee said,"How do you get your hope from god?" and "I get my hope that my dogs will still be in the yard when I get home from the facts that I know that I closed the gate and it will still be closed and it is not likely that anything has changed and the state of the gate while I am away."

Lee, that is amazing!! I am amazed about your dogs staying in your gated yard - my dog is continually escaping whenever the UPS and FEDEX guys open our gate - I have a little escape artist dog!!

In the meantime, you want to know how I get my hope from God - A lot of people (Okay, me once upon a time) are in a habit of practicing idolotry - I used to worship the wooden Jesus - the one who was distant, deaf and mute, persecutes sinners, held a grudge against me, was vague and noncommittal, inconsistant, detached and apparently indifferent and demanded that I hold to the literal translation of scripture (theological/doctrinal gymnastics). When I prayed in His name, I was facing in the wrong direction - I would pray for things He already had promised so I never really experienced the foundation of spiritual security that He promised (has that ever happened to you when you promise you'll do something for someone and they keep badgering you and impugning your word until you wonder if they really ever were listening in the first place? Frustrating!) At any rate, there is a deity that is not demanding, not bloodthirsty, who wants us to prioritize keeping our soul/spirits alive and overcoming, and is inviting us to dinner - He is a loving, embracing father (I realize that actually trusting, believing and valuing that image can be a little difficult for those of us who have experienced father-trauma-confusion). Your stance and logic is consistant with a position of nonbelief - I am offering my perspective of faith. Thanks!

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Anonymous,
Thanks for your response. I appreciate your thoughtful dialogue. I am looking for new information, analyzing what went off course with me. If you don't mind can I ask you for some clarification please? In your response you said (I omitted to avoid redundancy but left enough to give you perspective what I was addressing)

In the meantime, you want to know how I get my hope from God….. (theological/doctrinal gymnastics).
When I prayed in His name, I was facing in the wrong direction - … wonder if they really ever were listening in the first place? Frustrating!)


From that section I presume that you want to say that you have stopped doing that and you have had more success?
Is it fair to say that?

At any rate, there is a deity ...difficult for those of us who have experienced father-trauma-confusion).

My hope about my dogs should be stronger than yours. My dogs would scare the heck out of anyone thinking about opening the gate. They are not mean but big and loud. In any case, you know that there are circumstances that you have no hope of finding your dogs in your yard. These are empirical sources for our degrees of hope.
But what empirical source do you have for your belief that god is really doing what you think he is?

Your stance and logic is consistant with a position of nonbelief - I am offering my perspective of faith. Thanks!

According to wikipedia, Cognitive dissonance is "a psychological term which describes the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time. More precisely, it is the perception of incompatibility between two cognitions, where "cognition" is defined as any element of knowledge, including attitude, emotion, belief, or behavior."

That is what happened to me. I was not comfortable with my belief because it did not match my observations. Since this is the case, how am I ever supposed to sustain a belief in God or Jesus? Does this mean that I am going to go to Hell because what I am being taught does not make sense to me? Should a person with a learning disability be punished?

chris said...

Lee, you wrote:
It seems to me that you are saying that the promises about prayer in the bible that I listed in my article are false.Is that a fair statement of your viewpoint?
This is a penetrating question. Predictably, I will answer "no." I should admit, though, that I share your "cognitive dissonance" when it comes to matters of prayer. I don't understand prayer. I have prayed for things passionately and got squat. But I have also received amazing blessings without even asking. And I have seen prayers answered. (For practical purposes, we'll limit our discussion to petitionary prayer.)

That being said, I still pray, and I believe that in many cases, it makes a difference. How many? That question is unanswerable. We simply don't have access to that information.

So what do I make of the statements in the Bible about prayer? I take them as a whole. You can't isolate the teachings on prayer from one another. There are some blanket statements that I think are important -- such as praying in the name of Jesus (we'll call this condition 'J'). What does that mean? Is it like saying "abra cadabra?" I don't think so. It probably means something like praying what Jesus would pray. Those prayers stand a good chance of being answered in the affirmative. If you ask for something that isn't going to fit into God's plan, he shouldn't give it to you. So how do we know if we have really prayed "in Jesus' name?" We don't. Ever. I think we can believe with some level of confidence, but we can't know. So, no "promise" in the Bible regarding prayer can be considered apart from condition J. If you don't satisfy J, you shouldn't think that God will give you what you ask for.

Ironically you seem to agree that prayer is no better than chance.

I suppose that if believers met condition J 90% of the time, then we should see prayer being "answered" in the affirmative (getting what you ask for) at 90%. But how can we know what percentage of the time J is met? How can we know with respect to an individual believer that J is met? We can't. Thus, there is no way to evaluate the "results" we see. This seems clear to me, but is it making any sense to you?

Being born again, baptized and saved by the blood, I should have had no need for theologians because the holy spirit should have reveal it to me.

Wow. Who taught you that crap? I am familiar with 1Cor. 2:14-15 and 1John 2:27, but you can't take these verses in isolation. You also have to consider passages that talk about teachers being apppointed in the church, and the need for teaching (2Pet. 3:16; Heb. 5:11-14; Eph. 4:11) The Spirit does tell you that you are a child of God (Rom. 8:16), and you don't need anything else but the Spirit to know that.

* Psalm 145:18,19 "The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him. He will also hear their cry and save them."
I think the psalm is a stronger claim than yours.


Here we see a condition similar to J. Same argument applies. Also, this is poetry, not didactic lit.

Why is it wrong headed?[to think prayer has causal power]

Physical objects have causal power. Persons have causal power over their bodies, even though they are essentially non-physical. God has causal power over everything. But those are the only kinds of causes going on. I can't cause God to do anything. Prayer is a request. (Case A)If I was outside, and saw my son hit by a car, and he cried out "help!" I would come and help. But realize this -- his asking did not CAUSE me to get up and help him. In fact I would have done it even if he didn't ask. But I was perfectly free to sit there and do nothing, but that would be ridiculous and morally repugnant. (Case B) When I then take him to the hospital to get stiches, he might ask me (this has actually happened) to make the doctor stop because it hurts. Again, I am free to choose my response. In this case, I do not intervene.

We simply have no way of knowing, in each case, whether it is like Case A or Case B from God's perspective. But God freely chooses how he will act. Our prayers are just requests. This is not to say that our requests make no difference -- I think they do in some cases -- cases where God is not predisposed to go one way or another or where two outcomes are equally good.

I don't pretend to have all the answers. I don't even know what the questions are. Hey, where am I?

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Chris,
I hope you'll check back. I would like to continue this but my internet connection at my house went out and I'm waiting to have it fixed. I copied your response and am going to prepare a reply over the weekend, and when my internet gets fixed I'll upload it.
thanks.
lee

Anonymous said...

Lee, you posed the thought, "Should someone with a learning disability be punished?"

I would ask you to contemplate this: What did you love about God before you relegated Him as an impotent, distant, vague, uncommitted and lying deity who would mislabel intelligent people (learning disability - I don't think so!) and then punish them for cooperating with such lies?

Pride has a way of distorting the image of God so that it feels like he is saying: "I can rescue you from heaven and deliver you into hell."

Lee Randolph said...

Hi anonymous,
what I loved about god was that I thought he was real and I thought I could feel him inside. The more I observed, the more I realized that it didn't add up. I studied more, became an apologist, and then over time my belief just faded away. My deconversion story is still listed in the recent articles section I think. Check it out. In the beginning I was comfortable with it, but the more I studied the bible the less I believed. I don't think i ever said what you claim but If i ever said that God was an "impotent, distant, vague, uncommitted and lying deity" It was a mistake because my viewpoint is and for the past few years that the bible is a collection of near eastern myths established to support the ideology of a group of people that wished to be distinct. Since that is the case God, went from being what the bible says he is to being a myth, a beautiful idea that would be nice if it were true.

Some books I recommend on this subject are:
- The bible unearthed, Israel Finkelstein
- The early history of God, Mark Smith
- A history of God, Karen Armstrong,
- The secret origins of the Bible, Tim Callahan,
- Folklore in the Old Testament, James George Frazer
- Holy writ, Oral lit, Alan Dundes,
- Gospel Fictions, Randel Helms

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Chris,
I hope you weekend is going well. You said previously,

I have prayed for things passionately and got squat. But I have also received amazing blessings without even asking. And I have seen prayers answered. (For practical purposes, we'll limit our discussion to petitionary prayer.)


I do not dispute your experiences, they are yours and I wasn't there. But I do wonder if any of those blessings that you received outside the 'mechanism' of prayer would have worked out that way anyway? For example, how do you know it was divine intervention instead of the way it would have happened naturally?
And I have the same question about the prayers you have seen answered. Is it not possible that they would have turned out that way anyway?

I take them as a whole. You can't isolate the teachings on prayer from one another.

Well you are fortunate to live In the times that you do where you have all the teachings about prayer in a nice neat package. It wasn't always that way. There was a time when some of the teachings of prayer were not even written yet.
According to experts Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman describing the Old Testament "they are the products of a continuous process of composition that stretched over hundreds of years" (The Bible Unearthed, p. 6). I corroborated this on a website I found on Ask.com (www.foundationsforfreedom.net). This must mean that some people were stuck in a period of time between prayer promises and they did not have the benefit of taking them as a whole.
Also, I have to wonder how a Jew in that time period would react to someone telling them that Yaweh would answer any prayer, without qualification, if it were made in the name of Jesus. Jews that knew what the criteria were for the messiah evidently and justifiably (in my opinion) rejected that idea on its face. Much as I suspect that you would if someone came after the fact preaching things that were not consistent with the bible, someone like Joseph Smith or the founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses (I am assuming you are not a Mormon or a Jehovah's witness, but even if you were, I think it is still relevant).

Thus, there is no way to evaluate the "results" we see. This seems clear to me, but is it making any sense to you?

It makes sense to me viewing it from your perspective, but I don't accept some of your premises, so I have doubts about your conclusion.

Wow. Who taught you that crap?

maybe I got it on my own, in distress because I didn't know who to believe, maybe I got it from a preacher trying to make me feel better because I didn't know who to believe, in any case, I ask you, how do you know who to believe? I assume you don't trust the teaching that you should handle snakes, and I can see why, but in less dramatic topics such as baptism, who do you believe? Forget baptism for a minute, do you agree with the teachings of the pope? Do you agree with Billy Graham? I think I can find teachings from both of them that don't agree with each other. And I think I can find teachings between popes that don't agree, and I think I can find teachings between renowned protestant ministers that don't agree. It seems to me that if there is a Holy Spirit, it should accept the responsibility and sort this out in the way that I interpret 1 Cor. 2:14,15 to say it could. In my mind it is logically the only resolution to this problem.

While this topic is not so much about prayer, but more about the problem of suffering I will reply that
In your analogy about your son, I say you would be compelled to act because of your love for him. And I say that you wouldn't intervene with the stitches because in the big picture, it is necessary and easy to understand, that the pain from the stitches are necessary to enable the healing process. In the case of an Ethiopian baby, that is born, cannot get enough milk from his mothers emaciated breast and dies for any number of reasons not hearing the gospel, or getting the chance to accept Jesus, who is compelled to act? I am, but I am not supernatural. I can donate money, or go over there as an agent, but that’s it. I have my kids to think about, my house to think about, presumably so do you. These are our responsibilities and we take them on with passion tending them to the best of our mortal ability. Would you say that I am not even justified, or am wasting my money in donating to Ethiopian children if God will let them die like that? If I base my actions on what I observe over there, it would seem to me that it would be a logical conclusion.

The premises that depend on the mystery of Gods will are the types of premises I reject, here's why and here is where prayer fits in to the problem of suffering. For the moment I will stipulate that scripture is the revealed word of God. God made us in his Image, right? Who knows what that means but it must mean something or it wouldn’t be there. All the scripture must mean something or else none of it would be there. I think we can at least say that in some respects we are similar to God. One way that seems reasonable to me is in the department of compassion, and another is in the department of taking care of things whether they are children or sheep. I base this on the analogies that are contained in the bible. Since that is the case I don't think that any interpretation that contradicts this analogy are valid. Inferring that there is one standard for us and another for god with relation to how we should treat each other seems to me to contradict scripture and undermine the claims of gods character. If it is the case that there is a double standard, how do we know if we are doing gods will with no standard and no feedback (prayer, miracles)?

If I do not recognize the feedback when it should be apparent, please point it out to me. If you can point it out to me then I have to ask you, why don't you go to the newspapers and get them to publish it for the whole world to see so that spiritually challenged people like me can be comfortable with Christianity? Imagine if all Christians (75 - 85% of the United States, 30% of the World) did that, it could potentially be over 2 billion (2005 World Almanac, p. 734) instances of miracles what an overpowering and potentially irresistible witness that would be. If it is something supernatural it should hold up to scrutiny, and it would Glorify God which is what it is supposed to do isn't it?

Do the math, lets say that only 1 in ten Christians are able to make the same claim you did. That would still be 200,000,000 people. That is equal to two thirds of the population of the United States. That’s still a lot of miracles.

This is why I say that if miracles / prayers were true, then we would be able to document them or at least detect them.

Try this, for the next year, ask every Christian that you meet if they can make the same claim as you and keep track of the percentage, then next year at this time lets look at it again and see what you have.

I know you don't have all the answers, neither do I, but typically a calm discussion helps find them. I appreciate your participation.

References
Holy Bible,
2005 World Almanac
Finkelstein, Israel and Silberman. Neil Asher. The Bible Unearthed.
www.foundationsforfreedom.net

Anonymous said...

Lee I used to relegate love to a feeling inside. But it is much deeper and richer than that. Faith and love has to do with trust - trusting in a promise. The trust comes from knowing the character and motive of the one making the promise and that He is faithful above our faith. If people lose faith due to lack of understanding and sensitivity towards God's timing and grace then they ought to find comfort in the Book of Revelation that promises a wholesale intervention on the part of God.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi anonymous,
You said
Faith and love has to do with trust - trusting in a promise. The trust comes from knowing the character and motive of the one making the promise and that He is faithful above our faith.

After spending a lot of time getting into the nitty gritty about where the bible came from, I am convinced that it is a collection of myths and folklore. As far as I can tell the ones making the promises were poets and priests etc.

If people lose faith due to lack of understanding and sensitivity towards God's timing and grace

What is there to understand? The Bible is very much internally inconsistent. In this whole discourse no one has given me anything substantive to look at. No one has shown me any explanation for prayers being no better than chance other than Chris saying something like, in effect because of Gods will, prayer is less effective than chance and telling me that I am not justified in holding god to his word. That doesn’t give me a warm fuzzy. In any case I don’t find that viewpoint supported by the passages related to prayer in scripture.

then they ought to find comfort in the Book of Revelation that promises a wholesale intervention on the part of God.

Which interpretation of the Book of Revelation are you talking about? I buy into the interpretation that is a metaphorical account of life as a Christian between 68-96 under Nero and Domitian with the expectation that Nero was coming back as the Anti-christ.

At Wikipedia, there are a lot of non-authoritative links to info about some of the aspects of the Apocalypse of John.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Revelation
and here’s another one.
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/revelation.html

Anonymous said...

Lee, I've already been a somewhat religious person, an atheist, and now a believer. I call myself a believer because most of the time, people really don't trust and believe God's words. I used to complain and indict God based on biblical inconsistancies, never realizing that my distrust and suspicion were not an act of love towards Him. I prided myself on trying to be a tolerant person, but in truth, I would often fall into being condescending and arrogant (although I would never admitted to that). It wasn't until I gave God a break the same way I did others, that He opened my eyes and heart towards loving the truth. I had throughout my life been so indoctrinated into pretense to cover my fallibilities and inner evils, that I never knew how God desired me to be free instead of punishing or rejecting me. When I read the Old Testament now, I read it with the knowledge that these people were ushering in their own and the world's savior. for instance, the commandment in the Old Testament to keep the Sabbath Day appears to be a case of mankind doing something to please God but according to Jesus, God intended that as a day of rest for us as a protective measure against overworking and getting caught up unhealthy work habits. I think that's an example of the loving truth. Try loving God and then revisit scripture - you may discover that the inconsistancies in the written word are very consistant with the truth of the way that people relay stories. But the underlying truth of God is still revealed there - that He is a supernatural deity who is here to help us not the other way around. Learning to love Him will help you to understand what sort of "help" is constructive towards setting us free from the destructiveness of our own spiritual infections. I am no longer deceived and am not intimidated by the queries or the doubt of cynics or sophisticates. A million books could be written disputing the witness of Jesus, but it would never harden my heart again. I am grateful for my period of atheism - it helped set me free from religious pride. Lee, you demonstrate such a great heart and mind - I really have enjoyed talking with you here on the internet - thanks for your thoughtful exchange!

Lee Randolph said...

Hi anonymous,
Thank your for the kind words, I enjoy talking with you as well.

When you say A million books could be written disputing the witness of Jesus, but it would never harden my heart again that sounds a bit closed minded. I don’t expect you are that way in other aspects of your life so I wonder why you would take that viewpoint about your belief. I think it can be shown that keeping your mind open to new information and revising your point of view accordingly is reasonable and necessary.

It seems to me that your viewpoint is based on the presumption that the supernatural exists? I’d like to know what convinced you that there are supernatural causes for events in the world.

What reason do you have to presume a supernatural cause when a natural cause is usually more likely? I think that rather than concluding that something is evidence of God, it might be more prudent to see if it is evidence of something else first. Then when you’ve run through all the possibilities, attribute it to God. I’ve noticed that in some people, God is at the end of a short list.

… I used to complain and indict God based on biblical inconsistancies,
I think inconsistencies are a symptom of not being of divine revelation

It wasn't until I gave God a break the same way I did others, that He opened my eyes and heart towards loving the truth.
I can understand your perspective, but it IS YOUR perspective, but it may not be someone else’s. Our perceptions are flawed with respect to the way the world really is. For example, we can’t hear or see all the possible spectrums in the respective frequency ranges, and your brain filters information so you can concentrate on a task. You feel emotions in response to stimulus, and you can think yourself into hypertension. There may be a natural cognitive explanation for your change in attitude.

I had throughout my life been so indoctrinated into pretense to cover my fallibilities and inner evils, that I never knew how God desired me to be free instead of punishing or rejecting me.
Unless I missed something, punishment and rejection is a very real proposition in the new testament. I concede that if you are doing all the things you are supposed to, logically you should not have to worry about yourself, but you would have to worry about your neighbor.

When I read the Old Testament now, I read it with the knowledge that these people were ushering in their own and the world's savior.
Their idea of a savior was very different from how Jesus was described. In fact the very people that allegedly had Jesus crucified were the descendents of the authors of the Old Testament. How they didn’t recognize a messiah that they had been teaching and preaching about and expecting for thousands of years is beyond my comprehension ;-) . Seriously, I think the religions and cults of the day wanted to capitalize on the Jewish reputation for morality and cooked up a messiah that fit their culture and advocated it and it worked. Syncretism is a characteristic process that happens within religions and mythologies. When it was picked up by a Roman Emporer and it became the religion of the superpower, it really became irresistible to a large number of people whether by volition or by force.

for instance, the commandment in the Old Testament to keep the Sabbath Day appears to be a case of mankind doing something to please God but according to Jesus, God intended that as a day of rest for us as a protective measure against overworking and getting caught up unhealthy work habits.
I think that's an example of the loving truth.

I think it is more like common sense. I think that I could have come up with that idea on my own and I don’t think anyone would consider me the superior intellect in the universe for doing so.

… that the inconsistancies in the written word are very consistant with the truth of the way that people relay stories.
Yes I agree, but that fact doesn’t make any of it true. There can be three versions of Hansel and Gretel, but it is still a fairy tale.

But the underlying truth of God is still revealed there - that He is a supernatural deity who is here to help us not the other way around.
In my opinion you are a little too easy with the qualifications of truth. If you consider your faith to be the truth, and faith is not based on evidence, then your idea of truth is not based on evidence and is inconsistent with a commonly accepted definition of truth. I think that if you used that kind of reasoning at work or if you hired a doctor or lawyer that used that kind of reasoning your chances of a successful outcome would not be very good. The definition below doesn’t say anything about validity, but it was just a quick lookup to make a point.

truth (trūth)
n., pl. truths (trūTHz, trūths).
1. Conformity to fact or actuality.
2. A statement proven to be or accepted as true.
3. Sincerity; integrity.
4. Fidelity to an original or standard.
5.
a. Reality; actuality.
b. often Truth That which is considered to be the supreme reality and to have the ultimate meaning and value of existence.
faith (fāth)
n.
1. Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
2. Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. See synonyms at belief, trust.
3. Loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance: keeping faith with one's supporters.
4. often Faith Christianity. The theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God's will.
5. The body of dogma of a religion: the Muslim faith.
6. A set of principles or beliefs.

Learning to love Him will help you to understand what sort of "help" is constructive towards setting us free from the destructiveness of our own spiritual infections.
From my perspective, and I say this with love, that disregarding facts and reason will prevent you from finding truth. I am confident that if I said that sentence to you in the context of discussing a car repair, or a problem at work, you would agree with me, but I’m not so sure you will in this context.

References:
"truth." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Answers.com 21 Mar. 2007. http://www.answers.com/topic/truth

"faith." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Answers.com 21 Mar. 2007. http://www.answers.com/topic/faith

Anonymous said...

Hi again Lee! Lee, what if what you perceive as my "closed mindedness" brought me to "whole mindedness"? What if my faith caused me to see and understand myself and others and be more compassionate? What if the truth that God wanted us to know about was how to value and love others?

About honoring the common sense of scripture: What if we were able to acknowledge the common sense of managing our work weeks, but instead of acting upon that, we turned and started working 70 hour weeks? (That is reportedly an increasing trend.) What if we could see and acknowledge the wisdom of honoring parents or not provoking children, but instead, we turned and started mistreating our families and divorcing? (ah, another trend!). Well, you get the picture! The gospel is not about strict adherance to a moral or legal code or even common sense.

God's path is narrow because He loves everyone and we don't. I could show you so much in Jesus's words that are prophetic/comparative statements but many people translate them as literal because they treat scripture the same way they treat others - in a superficial and bankrupt relationship. Most (including myself) don't try to seek to understand, care of devote themselves to truly loving.

In a different vein, I used to read the verse about Jesus not coming to condemn, but I never believed it - I never understood that in order to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven you have to allow yourself to be adopted. God doesn't condemn. People do that.

At any rate, Lee, you are simply the best ever! Thanks once again!

chris said...

Lee -- I wrote a nice long comment on Sunday but lost it when my computer locked up. I'll try to get a new one done soon. Maybe even tonight.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi anonymous,
Thanks again for the kind words, it really is a pleasure talking with someone like you. Before I get started I just want to say that below, when I say things like “I don’t see the benefit of a God” This comes from the perspective that I don’t believe in the supernatural because I have never seen any evidence for it, therefore I don’t believe in God, so its not that I think that there should be some profit associated with god, but I do wonder why someone would need the ideal to justify what I am addressing.

Hi again Lee! Lee, what if what you perceive as my "closed mindedness" brought me to "whole mindedness"? … What if the truth that God wanted us to know about was how to value and love others?
I am assuming you want to say that your belief brought you to whole mindedness, understand yourself and others, etc. I don’t see the point in arguing with success, but I don’t see why it would take a God to bring all that out in you. And personally I think you are too hard on yourself by not realizing that you made a change in you. You should be proud and pat yourself on the back.

About honoring the common sense of scripture: …..The gospel is not about strict adherance to a moral or legal code or even common sense.
I’m not sure I follow, but speaking on what I think you meant, I acknowledge that people know what the right thing to do is and they still do the opposite, however, I also know that Christians do the same thing, so I don’t see the benefit of a God in that situation.

God's path is narrow because He loves everyone and we don't. ….Most (including myself) don't try to seek to understand, care of devote themselves to truly loving.
Again, I say this is true of everyone, including Christians, and unless I misunderstood, you said it too, so I don’t see what a God gets you. If you are saying that God/Jesus wants this from us and we don’t deliver, well that would be true in any case, with the same result. A Christian that accomplishes it, good on them, but there are examples in the other 70% (worldwide) of non-Christians that can say the same thing. They can say they’ve accomplished it and they didn’t give a thought to Jesus.

In a different vein, I used to read the verse about Jesus not coming to condemn, but I never believed it … God doesn't condemn. People do that.
You are right, of course, that people do that but I have to disagree that god doesn’t condemn. I don’t see that viewpoint supported by scripture or any church I ever went to. If that were true, what is the purpose of hell and where did it come from?

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Chris,
I was afraid you got bored!
I look forward to your input.

Anonymous said...

Lee, Jesus doesn't identify His followers as Christian, Catholic, Fundamentalist, etc. etc. He calls them believers. Remember the part where He says He does not know those who think it is God's aim to have people try and earn His love by asserting their own idea of moral/spiritual superiority over other people (this lifestyle would be inconsistant with one who believed they were rescued by God as a loving compassionate act). Those who use their religion to engage in pridefulness (territorial mindsets that cause people to obey and conform to man's ideal in order to build human heirarchy instead of faith) still are involved with the world, not belief.

Even though I know God loves all people, I have to be honest and admit my lack of faith in approaching some - I have learned not to throw stones, but instead, admit to my own smallness. In doing this, I have grown to know that God doesn't punish me for being small or honest (mustard seed faith) or put ill-fitting expectations on me in my smallness(like people can do) but I am growing spiritually from this low vantage point.

Hell is a way of life that I cooperated with for quite some time - I helped construct it but it is good to be set free from it.

I hope Chris isn't getting bored either - and I apologize for getting so lengthy! Hope your dogs are doing great!

Lee Randolph said...

Hi anonymous,

Lee, Jesus doesn't identify His followers as Christian, …. still are involved with the world, not belief.
That is a really nice way to look at it. That never occurred to me. It seems that you have individualized your ‘Christianity’ (for lack of a better word) a little bit. How does your belief compare to others that you have had experience with?

My dogs are doing good, thanks for asking!

Anonymous said...

Hi Lee! Thanks once again for your kindness in your responses - I really value that! Also, I'm glad your dogs are okay - I was reading more about the IAMS pet food incidences and felt grieved for the pet owners that lost their companions due to that.

You had asked how my faith compared to others that I had experienced. I feel I have already travelled off topic here and I could give a lengthy discourse on this but will try to put my experience into words - to me, my faith is a "way" of living and practicing trust-based freedom and love rather than my natural instincts of survival amidst otherwise distressful circumstances.

Faith isn't about putting up a facade - it isn't the practice of pretending to be morally or spiritually superior in order to gain acceptance, power or approval - as I believer, I am relieved of these pursuits. Faith isn't about giving the appearance of a perfectly happy, problem free existance. It is embracing God's permission slip to be fully human
and fully loved, shortcomings and all. Faith is knowing that God has removed the veil of shame and stigma off our heartfelt need for love and provides fully for it. Faith is the practice of approaching suffering with truth and love and allowing pain to shape me for eternal neverending life. I don't always look for finite solutions, but am at peace in the midst of uncertainties. Faith is also learning to actually value God's love and be rooted in a foundation of spiritual security. We can hear "Jesus loves you" all day long and believe those words, but unless they are truly valuable to us, and respond in turn with love towards Him, they will have no impact - other pursuits will begin to govern our lives. So, for me, faith is the practical, everyday application of Jesus's words and actually learning to value and love Him in return. I trust Him and a few others with my weaknesses. Instead of criticizing or condemning others, I learn to take ownership of my small level and sometimes, lack of faith - the most difficult and painful confession for me to come to was that I had no influence with some people that I really wanted to be in relationship with. Although a very painful truth, it has brought me more life and reedom from engaging in perpetual power struggles. But more than that, when I turned away from power pursuits, I had something of value to turn towards!

I have posted as "anonymous" here, but I bet you would be able to recognize my writings elsewhere amidst other anonymous postings:-) At least I hope that is the case. That is the same way it should be with hearing God's voice over the all din and chatter of those who would seek to squeeze us as round pegs into square holes. God sets us free to live and love as He created us to be. It's hard to understand sometimes, I know!

Whew! Another lengthy post! I've probably exhausted this topic for now, Lee. Chris may have abandoned this thread, I'm not sure. God bless you, Chris! I hope it's not too provocative to say, but God bless you too, Lee for your kindnesses! Thanks!

Lee Randolph said...

Hi anonymous,
We probably have beat this horse to death.
You can say "god bless you" to me anytime you want to. I appreciate the sentiment.
I'll say good luck and I hope to talk to you again.

chris said...

Wait, the horse! She breathes! Quick, hand me that 2x4!

This could be long, so go to the bathroom now. Then get a cup of coffee (or a beer) and kick back.

Lee -- So, I'm finally getting to respond. I haven't read everything you and anonymous have said since the other week, but hopefully I won't be redundant.

Is it not possible that they would have turned out that way anyway?

Yes. But there's no way to know the difference.

There was a time when some of the teachings of prayer were not even written yet. . . Also, I have to wonder how a Jew in that time period would react to someone telling them that Yaweh would answer any prayer, without qualification, if it were made in the name of Jesus.

Well of course I wouldn't claim anything as ridiculous as 'ancient Hebrews should've prayed in Jesus' name.' Praying in Jesus name is no different than praying in Yahweh's name. It is praying according to God's will. This is taught throughout the Hebrew and Christian Bibles.

So what about "taking all the teachings as a whole?" Could the ancient Hebrews have done this? Well, sure. Take what ever you have, as a whole. But let me paint a different picture.

Many Christians want a formula for prayer. This is a need for control. But prayer is the antithesis of control. It is non-control. The only way to learn to pray is . . . to pray. The teachings in the Bible are merely guidelines, boundaries. They are not necessary and sufficient conditions. If I want to learn how to better converse and relate to my wife, should I ask her, "just tell me the rules, just tell the formula so I can get it right and get what I want?" The most fertile source of instruction on prayer is not the epistles or even the gospels or the Torah -- it is the Psalms. We learn experientially, existentially. God's "promises" are not false. They are just not meant to be formulas. A demand for formulas just reveals our desire to control God.

how do you know who to believe?
Wow. That's a BIG question. A monumentally significant one. There are a couple ways to go here. If you know that you just don't have the time or capacity to really study the Bible as a scholar (i.e., graduate level), then you are going to have to pick someone and trust them. But they won't get everything right. In fact, that's a good way to pick a teacher. If the teacher displays humility and admits that he may not get it right all the time, then he's probably closer to the truth. What you want is an honest truth-seeker, not a dogmatist. You can have faith and still be open to error. Also, I would emphasize the need for education. Peter is very clear that some teachings in the Bible are hard to understand, and can be distorted by the untaught and unstable. (2Pet.3:16)

Personally, I went through much of the same confusion as you. This is common to thinking evangelicals. We have no authority, so everything is splintered. But once we see a flaw in our favorite teacher, we look for a new teacher. But then he has a flaw. Then the next one, etc. Lesson: no teacher can give you what you want, because God simply hasn't made it available. We can't answer all the questions with systematic perfection. Some theologians have suggested that this is due to the ineffability of God. We can only approach him, we cannot grasp him completely. We can make true statements about him, but not exhaustively so. I am very grateful for the work theologians have done -- we have come a long way in the last 4,000 years or so in understanding God.


The other way to go is to become a scholar and find the answers yourself. What you'll find is that the other scholars were mostly right, but you'll have the satisfaction of understanding how they got their answers and whether they were justified.

Would you say that I am not even justified, or am wasting my money in donating to Ethiopian children if God will let them die like that?

Absolutely not. I dont' totally understand what you're getting at here. I feel the same frustration and grief when I think of the suffering children in the world. What can I do? I am limited. Why doesn't God do something in a particular case? I don't know. Maybe there is some greater good that cannot be had without that pain. Maybe. The atheist would have to show that it is impossible that there is some greater good that outweighs that pain. That doesn't seem plausible to me.

So I so what I can. Do I do enough? Probably not.

If it is the case that there is a double standard, how do we know if we are doing gods will with no standard and no feedback (prayer, miracles)?

I think the charges of "double standard" are hasty. Think of it as a 'scope of knowledge' problem. Consider this thought experiment: Andy happens across two homeless men downtown, Bill and Carl. They both ask for money to buy a meal. Joe only has enough to feed one. He listens to their stories, and gives the money to Bill, who has a wife and two kids to feed. Did he do the right thing? Yes. Then Bill and Carl find another fellow, Dave. They both ask Dave for money. Dave has met Bill before, and knows his story is a lie. He gives the money to Carl. Did he do the right thing? Yes. It also happens that Andy was watching, and believes Dave was unjust in his choice. Now bump up the complexity to infinty, and you have some idea of what a God might be dealing with in making moral decisions.

This is why I say that if miracles / prayers were true, then we would be able to document them or at least detect them. Try this, for the next year, ask every Christian that you meet if they can make the same claim as you and keep track of the percentage, then next year at this time lets look at it again and see what you have.

I think this might be an interesting project. The only problem is, how to you confirm people's stories? Sally says that she found a great parking space right after praying. Does that count? Joe says that his mom's cancer went into remission after he prayed. Does that count? It seems an atheist would be unconvinced by such examples.

Lee, as long as you look at prayer in this 'formula' paradigm of causal spirituality, then it will always seem frustrating and fallacious. The best way to learn about pray is to pray. But remember, going down a list of requests is such a minor part of prayer. It's about being with your heavenly father. Opening your heart to him. If your heart is open, then what happens after that is up to God. But you have to be listening (sometimes you have to sit quietly for an extended period to quiet your mind). I think there is more to seeking God than this, but if you do this honestly, and God never responds in any way, then -- I guess I don't blame you for being an atheist.

The bottom line is -- I probably have as many questions as you, if not more. Somehow, I've reached a place where I have enough peace to explore them within the context of trust. How did I reach that place? I don't know.

I don't think I addressed all your points. Maybe we could start a new thread. This has been great. Thanks again.

Chris

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Chris,
I will read this and get back to you.
I'm a new contributor here, and my contributions are going to be centered around miracles, prayer and bible as folklore with some informal logic thrown in for good measure.
We can keep this thread going or you can wait till I say something 'crazy' again! ;-)

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Chris
Is it not possible that they would have turned out that way anyway?

Yes. But there's no way to know the difference.


Well then, it doesn't mean anything to say that god answers prayer or that he gives you what you need without asking.


L:There was a time when some of the teachings ... qualification, if it were made in the name of Jesus.

C: Well of course I wouldn't claim anything ...throughout the Hebrew and Christian Bibles.


My point here was not about jesus but about (paraphrasing) 'whatever you ask for you shall be given because it glorifies god'. This would be unacceptable, and in fact, I think it was or it would have been a dramatic change in the rules that gave an unfair advantage to anyone in Jesus time. But as we can see, it wasn't true anyway, or you wouldn't be trying to explain prayer to me.

So what about "taking all the teachings as a whole?" ...A demand for formulas just reveals our desire to control God.

Are you saying that I can't take god at his word, I have to read between the lines, get a little experience, see what works or what doesn't, and roll with it? I don't remember seeing that anywhere in the scripture, this sounds like theology to me, and when I say theology, I mean "rationalization to figure out a way around what the bible says and what life is really like". I'll dig up some 'psalms' that turned up in the library of ugarit that were written for other gods, that turned up in the bible and write an article about it later.

L: how do you know who to believe?
C: Wow. That's a BIG question. A monumentally significant one. ...teachings in the Bible are hard to understand, and can be distorted by the untaught and unstable. (2Pet.3:16)

Personally, I went through much of the same confusion as you...we have come a long way in the last 4,000 years or so in understanding God.


The other way to go is to become a scholar ...they got their answers and whether they were justified.


This introduces so much uncertainty into the equation that it is no wonder that christianity is only accepted by 30% or so of the world. I say that if Christianity were valid, it would be irresistable and there should be no apostates. I say that in any other endeavor this would be a terrible strategy, not likely to be successful, and in fact, I think the results demonstrate that.

Would you say that I am not even justified, or am wasting my money in donating to Ethiopian children if God will let them die like that?

Absolutely not. I dont' totally understand what you're getting at here. ...That doesn't seem plausible to me. So I so what I can. Do I do enough? Probably not.


What I'm getting at here is the problem of suffering, my example was an instance of needless suffering. It is needless because the baby has no hope of being saved, at least in an 'accepting jesus' way. And you should know that there is controversy among theologians about where this baby would theoretically end up. I would conclude that since this is the situation, this is how it is intended to be, then I should let it go. If we say that it is a test of my compassion, then there is a lot of 'human sacrifice' going on in an attempt to get people to accept christ because some of them die, and in fact, this doesn't make me want to turn to christ. It causes me to feel righteous indignation.

If it is the case that there is a double standard, how do we know if we are doing gods will with no standard and no feedback (prayer, miracles)?

I think the charges of "double standard" are hasty. Think of it as a 'scope of knowledge' problem. ...what a God might be dealing with in making moral decisions.


I don't think your analogy is valid because you are omitting one character who knows thier hearts. I don't see how god needs to make any decisions on the fly if he already knows everything. He should not be surprised by anything, or have to decide on anything except in an instance of creation. After the initial creation, everything should be started and it should go as intended, unless you want to dispute that and get into the paradoxes of 'all powerful, all knowing, Free Will etc.' I see your phrase 'scope of knowledge' as a euphemism for 'double standard' and I think it is 'special pleading' to say that we have one set of moral standards and god has another. In effect we should do as he says and not as he does.

This is why I say that if miracles / prayers were true, ...then next year at this time lets look at it again and see what you have.

I think this might be an interesting project. ...It seems an atheist would be unconvinced by such examples.


If thats all there is then I think that is pretty weak for a god. If he is going to do anything, why would he do things that are so 'unglorifying', so unmiraculous? It glorifies him to a small group or individual, but the rest of us are skeptical. Again that looks like a poor strategy. I would think that it should be easy to find a miracle if it really exists. Just imagine on 9/11, if a cloud of smoke came down and anounced "I am the Great I Am!", caught the people jumping to their deaths, wrapped up those towers, put out the fire and let it get caught on camera by the worlds news agencies. Imagine instead of pictures of people falling like teardrops out of the world trade center we had pictures of people floating down like feathers. Wouldn't that be glorious? I think it would be, I think I would be very convinced and fall prostrate on the ground. I am going to start a 'miracle watch' project. Maybe you can help me.

Lee, as long as you look at prayer in this 'formula' paradigm of causal spirituality, ... -- I guess I don't blame you for being an atheist.

You seem to be assuming that i've never been on my knees in tears wondering what the heck is going on. I have spent hours in silent prayer and meditation. My Mom too was very religious before she killed herself. My preacher said she went to hell, her preacher said she didn't. Where did she go Chris? During prayer is when I realized that I was praying to 'Lady Luck'. Imagine being in prayer and having the thought pop into your head that it all depends on luck. I could argue that this was a revelation from god, but I am sure you wouldn't think so, but I don't see how you could dispute it. I know it didn't come from god because, he's not there. You should accept it if a christian comes up to you and says that "god told me that prayer all depends on luck". How are you going to dispute it? The same bible verses that I quoted in my article? Or from teachings of teachers, from whom it is not clear where they get thier understanding? Many of them contradict each other. Why? Because they are using a manual that is poorly written. It is poorly written because it was written by many people, through many ages, in little pieces, and put together into an easy to handle package.

I don't think I addressed all your points. Maybe we could start a new thread. This has been great. Thanks again.

I thank you for your participation, I am have thoroughly enjoyed this. It is a pleasure to correspond with a person like you.

I'll do another thread on this subject. I see it as a weakness in the 'infrastructure'.