I regularly pass a sign in front of a local church that says “Our God answers prayer.” I must admit, it gets the intended response from me. I look and think “Hmmm, answers prayers, eh?”
So, there’s no doubt, as a piece of marketing the sign does its job. But are we really supposed to take this seriously? Does its author really believe that God – according to their own theology, the creator of the entire universe of billions and billions of stars – that this God answers the petty little, often self-centered and conflicting prayers of middle class residents of Waterloo?
“Ah ha,” the zealous Christian will say “That’s the miracle of it. God is so big and we’re so small, and yet He cares!”
But if you believe that, you’ve been conned. Even if we accept the mystery behind God caring about selfish things like the ups and downs of your love life, or helping you get the kids to soccer on time, but, at the same time, being good with an untold number of rapes taking place in India every month, or watching a quarter million totally innocent men, women and children drown in a tsunami… there’s a huge problem with this scenario.
The mystery about this is that so many otherwise fairly rational people would actually believe such an idea makes moral sense. Even if we accept that this is intellectually conceivable, it seems morally reprehensible to think this could possibly be a God-approved state of affairs!
But let’s grant, for the moment, that you actually believe your God answers prayers… that you are not just mouthing a platitude that no one really believes. What exactly does this mean?
Christians trying to prove their sincerity are fond of saying stuff like this. It’s the stuff of evangelical TV programs like 100 Huntley Street. They use appeals to the supernatural (answered prayers, miracles, healing) in order to wow gullible followers, solidify their attachment to “the ministry” and part with their money. How else could these outfits mount huge international outreach programs, or build large elaborate facilities to further promote their message?
Do I believe the use of techniques like this are manipulative and ultimately insincere? Yes I do.
But let’s look past (for the moment) the marketing, the hype and the shysters. Let’s just ask what kind of prayers actually get answered? And let’s not accept fudge for an answer. If a true believer (I assume that’s a prerequisite) prays for a cure for their child’s cancer, will that prayer be answered? If they pray for a raise at work will they get it as a result of that prayer?
Or how about this: if they ask God to help them shoot 79 in tomorrow’s golf game, or win an Olympic gold medal at the next Olympics, will those prayers be answered?
Are prayers accompanied by lighted candles more likely to be answered? Is God more impressed when, say, a thousand people pray for something than if just 500, or 200 do? Do prayers sent from the prayer tower at Oral Roberts University have a higher success rate than ordinary prayers, and if so, what do you think the reason is? Do they get to God faster, or is there less interference up there, or are prayer towers and other dedicated prayer facilities special “holy” places with unique (magical?) powers?