The first issues (this and this)
raised by this site involve the most personal aspect of a believer’s life: the area of prayer. So the question that first has to be asked is, “What is prayer?” For the sake of argument, I will define prayer thusly: “a spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession”, the rest of the definition can be found here.
As a general admission on my part, prayer is probably one of the most misunderstood and abused topics of religious discussion, but the bible is littered with prayers: prayers of hope, prayers of victory, prayers for victory, prayers for justice, prayers for wisdom, etc. But from the first “proof” this is a sample prayer that the creator of the site proposes that a person prays:
“Dear God, almighty, all-powerful, all-loving creator of the universe, we pray to you to cure every case of cancer on this planet tonight. We pray in faith, knowing you will bless us as you describe in Matthew 7:7, Matthew 17:20, Matthew 21:21, Mark 11:24, John 14:12-14, Matthew 18:19 and James 5:15-16. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.”
Now, what is wrong with that prayer? Well, at first glance, nothing. But it’s s fishy, and here’s why: it is a presumptive prayer. “What is it presuming?” you might ask. It is presuming that God doesn’t have a reason for cancer to be in a person’s body. Cancer is a terrible thing, it affects millions around the globe, of all ages and races; cancer doesn’t discriminate. But let’s keep something in mind, something the believer realizes: sickness and disease are evidences of the fall of man into sin. Cancer is probably the best analogy for sin there is: it is pervasive and can be deadly if left untreated or can be deadly, just like sin. A person can appear healthy one minute, and the next the reality of “the big C” can render even the most robust individual to a weak pile of bones. The prayer is asking God to remove something that is meant to remind people of their finite and vulnerable nature, something that we need to be reminded of quite often if we’re honest, as well as being ignorant of the promise made by God to rescue His people from their corrupted state through the resurrection of Christ.
Now, no prayer is complete without a reference to scripture, but this person’s ignorance of scripture is evident in his choice of passages. Of course, all of these do contain some reference to prayer, but they refer to a specific type of prayer, in a specific context. Let’s take Matthew 7:7 for instance.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (ESV)”
Pretty straight forward, but what is it in reference to? Well, this is actually an argument for generosity. Verse 7 of Matthew 7 begins an argument for being kind to someone. God gives to his people generously, giving them what they need, so His people should likewise be generous, which is why this particular passage ends with the “Golden Rule”:
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (7:12 ESV).”
Every passage that is given is given out of its context (Matthew 18:19 is about church discipline; what does that have to do with healing). But what about James 5:15-16, it specifically says, “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick.” True, but even it has a context, it is centered around someone who is suffering for the faith. Both of the Greek words rendered as “sick” could mean that, but they also mean “weary in labor”. The person is instructed to call out to his Christian brothers for encouragement, and they are to come alongside and help their brother or sister who is in need. Context, exegesis people!
Now, as to the second proof, which quotes studies related to the “effectiveness of prayers related to healing” (a paraphrase more than a quote) and the lack of results in healing could be called baseless. Indeed, the studies show no correlative results between prayer and healing. I could testify to this myself. I was hurt several years ago. I pretty much lost use of my right hand due to an accident at work. I was constantly in pain. I went through weeks of therapy, had numerous people praying for healing, and nothing. I shifted my requests for healing, to prayers for acceptance because the orthopedist had concluded that even with surgery there were no guarantees that I would stop hurting or be able to use my hand again. Almost 6 months later, after going through a disability certification and beginning to look into job retraining, something happened that I would not have expected in a million years.
About a month prior, with the help of my sons, we had rearranged our bedroom. Our bed was turned so that as I was lying on my back my right hand was away from my wife. After the rearrangement, my right hand was toward my wife. Sleeping soundly on this night, I was suddenly awakened. My wife, who was sound asleep had hold of my right wrist, the wrist that was injured, immovable, painful, and was grasping both the ulna and radius just bellow where they meet at the wrist, pulling them apart while shaking my hand like a rag doll. When I finally got free from her grasp, and stopped crying from the pain of such a violent experience, I found that I could move my wrist and the pain that had occupied my waking hours for months was slowly fading. Now, I’m not up to 100% by any stretch of the imagination, even after two years, but I can use my hand and was able to go back to my job.
Now, you might say, “That’s a neat story, but what does it have to do with whether of not prayer works?” Good question. In the months that I was out of work, there was an issue that arose at our church. Those months that I wasn’t working, I was in the libraries and used book stores acquiring knowledge and resources to encourage our church’s leaders and to be a voice of reason in a cacophony of dissent and disparagement, which was something I could not have done had I been working. It was not until the issue had been settled, when I began to accept my situation and began to look into doing other things, like writing this blog, that a measure of healing came that allowed me to go back to doing what I love and be able to branch out.
The closing argument about prayer that the writer puts forward,
God does exist, but he never answers prayers. Unfortunately, God is defined by the Bible to be a prayer-answering being. The contradiction between the reality of God and the definition of God proves that God is imaginary.”
essentially fails because it falsely assumes that the sole reason for God’s existence is to merely answer prayers. God is not a wish-fulfillment device. God is a person, more than that he has not remained distant, for God, in the Person of His Son condescended and took on flesh to live the life we could never live, die the death we deserved, and be raised as a promise to all those who will hear His voice and repent of their sins, that they too can become sons and daughters of God. The only “god” that is imaginary is the straw man in these arguments that just got burned up.