Friday, August 14, 2009

What's the Point of Prayer?

SKEPTIC: A Wisconsin man and his wife were recently convicted of second-degree reckless homicide in the death of their 11-year-old daughter. When the girl, who suffered from undiagnosed diabetes, couldn't walk, talk, eat, or drink, the parents didn't take her to the hospital. They just stood around and prayed for her, believing that God would heal her. When she stopped breathing, someone finally called 911, but it was too late. What is your opinion of this case? Do you think the verdict (and a possible 25-year prison sentence) is justified?

PREACHER: The couple were obviously misguided and did what seemed right in their own eyes. I think that they failed to understand that God is Lord of everything and uses the medical proffession to heal, too. Reputable faith healers that I know of encourage the ones they pray for to also get medical help. I am reminded of one of the temptations that Jesus faced when the Devil tempted Him to jump off the pinacle of the temple. The Devil even quoted Scripture to Him, but He answered that you should not tempt the Lord your God. I really wonder what the underlining motive was for this couple to choose to not seek medical help. It could have been just to save money since medicine is so expensive these days. Was there an underlining mistrust of doctors? The Bible does teach to pray for the sick, but the apostle Paul prayed for healing of his "thorn in the flesh" and never got it, so doctor Luke was with him most of his journeys. It think the verdict is a bit harsh, but it should stand.

SKEPTIC: To me, this case is a good example of the danger of believing in prayer. If you believe that God will perform miracles or somehow change the laws of nature to accommodate your wishes, you're setting yourself up for a big fall. But on the other hand, why shouldn't the father rely on prayer? Doesn't the Bible say that God is able to do all things for those who believe in him? Is God not powerful enough to cure a small girl of her diabetes? Why should God need helpers in the form of doctors?

And what exactly is the deal with religious faith healers like Oral Roberts and others who claim to be able to heal folks of just about any physical malady through faith only? Are they for real or are they frauds? (I'm gonna go with the latter.)

To me, praying is just basically just the manifestation of the power of suggestion. And sometimes it even works. But it's just the power of your mind and not some mystical communication with the creator of the universe.

PREACHER: You have two assumptions that you can't prove. One, you assume that the Creator of this universe doesn't really exist. And, if He did, He would have to be one who would always be accommodating to the wishes of men. God listens to us, but has a mind of His own that doesn't always jibe with our thoughts whether we believe in Him or not. He may also choose to do things that seem cruel to us in our limited understanding. Two, you assume there has to be a dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical. Interestingly, that was the same mistake that the father of the girl made. He assumed that God (the spiritual) would not want him to use the work of doctors (the physical) who were also created by God to do His will.

SKEPTIC: Well, Christians have certainly done a good job at putting God in a win-win situation: If you pray for someone to get better, for example, and he does get better, it's an answer to prayer and proves how great God is. But if the person gets worse or maybe even dies, it's because God has a greater plan, or there's a reason for everything he does, or it's all beyond our "limited understanding." Win-win for the Big Guy. But here's the key point: You said that God has "a mind of his own." So if God's gonna do what God wants to do, no matter what, then there really is no point in praying, is there? God's already made up his mind.

As to your point that I can't prove that God doesn't exist, you're right - just as you can't prove that he does exist. Of course, normally, the burden of proof falls on the shoulders of the person making an extraordinary claim, doesn't it?

PREACHER: Since God is the creator and the Lord of the universe, He doesn't need to play games (win-win situation etc.) with us. He already knows about everything. Jesus even said that He knew our requests before we asked. So,what is the purpose of prayer anyway? It is more to develop our relationship with Him than to get something from Him. That relationship is so fulfilling and wonderful that even if all the people in the world had it, it would still be extraordinary. Since the majority of people who have ever lived on this planet believe in some kind of diety, simple belief in God is just ordinary. Unbelief should be labeled sub-ordinary. The burden of proof falls on the shoulders of the person taking the greatest risk.

SKEPTIC: Of course God doesn't need to play games. I'm sure he's got better things to do. My point was that Christians are very good at justifying whatever happens in regard to God and prayer in order to put God in the best possible light. Of course, what they're really doing is just making excuses for God when things don't go their way or don't make any sense.

In regard to your contention that "the burden of proof falls on the shoulders of the person taking the greatest risk," that sounds suspiciously like something you just made up. And I find it interesting that you're willing to enlist the rest of the world to your side in their belief in a deity, but then you turn around and say to those other religions, "Sorry, but you all believe in the WRONG God and are going to Hell." In reality, though, as you can see from this pie chart, the number of "nonreligious" people in the world represent a pretty sizable chunk and, indeed, is rapidly growing larger.


  1. God desires that we live by faith. Hebrews 11:6 says that faith is what pleases Him. If there was a clearly documented miracle of healing from God, then we wouldn't need to "faith it" anymore. A lot of doctors are Christians who pray to God to guide them in the medical healing that they do. The father of the girl made a big mistake by decided he didn't need their help.

  2. Prayer in schools is stirring up controversy at right now!

  3. Yesterday I was completely drained and exhausted. It was as if the life force had been sucked right out of me. Today I discovered that someone had been praying for me all day (no doubt to save my soul since I advocate for gay-rights and universal health care - both!). When I discovered the correlation between my exhaustian and someone praying for me I wrote this:

    The Power of Prayer
    August 19, 2009

    I believe in the power of prayer.
    If you wish to pray for me
    Feel free to pray for my well being
    …but please only specify “whatever that is for me”
    Feel free to pray for my happiness
    …specifying only “whatever that is for me”
    But please do not pray that I will become like you
    Believe like you or worship like you unless that is my choice
    I believe in a global humanity
    Blessed by the rich cornucopia of diversity
    Comprised of beings of all colors, races, creeds, religions
    Genders, and gender preferences.
    Your prayers for my conformity only hurt me
    …and drain my individualism and my energy
    If you pray for me with an agenda…Please don’t.
    I believe in the power of prayer
    And I pray for a more noble, caring, compassionate
    And tolerant humanity that rejoices
    In blessing all the inhabitants of this most
    Sacred Earth

  4. I have wondered about the point of prayer as well.

    If I have a cold, is God really going to circumvent the natural order of nature just because I find it inconvienient or uncomfortable? I doubt it.

    So what does that mean? God is not in the business of granting my every wish. Which is good news if somebody really hates me and wants me to die a cruel death.

    I have to admit, Christianity does seem to have convienient answers to some of these tricky question

  5. The burden of proof is on nobody. Nobody is burdened to give you the truth.
    Try treating all humans claims of wht they've seen EQUALLY, then we'll talk, O atheists.

    I'm skeptical of skeptics, because they give certain arguements more patience than others, and usually for all the wrong reasons.


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