Saturday, January 28, 2012

About Prayer Chains and Prayer Requests

What's all this, someone recently asked me, about prayer and prayer requests?  Will God be more inclined to heal a sick child if someone prays for him than if nobody does?  Or isn't God going to do His will in any case, with or without prayer?  And what's this thing we so often hear said to someone in trouble:  "Hundreds of people are praying for you?"  What's the whole idea behind prayer chains; is it a massive lobbying effort, like getting as many signatures as possible on a petition?  And how is it that even when hundreds or thousands of people are devoutly praying for the health of some small child, the kid dies anyway?  Is that God's will, that we had all been praying must be done?  The whole thing seems to make very little sense.

I don't have many answers and will welcome input from anyone who can add a new perspective to these issues.  But I think I do have some items to offer as contributions toward the answer(s).

The first thing, perhaps, is, we do not know God's will.  It seems to us it would be better if a sick child lived, but perhaps, in ways we cannot see, it is not the best, even for the child himself.  Maybe being taken straight into the armns of God will be better for him than living a life of horrible  suffering, or - what is so hard to imagine when beholding an infant - a life of horrible sin that would grieve us all.   Perhaps your brother's death was better for him and his whole family than the wrenching, searing, years-long divorce battle and custody fight God knew would have happened in another few years, had he lived.  Or maybe your aunt's dropping dead of a heart attack was better than dying of the cancer she had been about to develop.  We simply do not know even what is best for anybody, and we need to be humble enough to acknowledge this; that is why the bottom line, in all our prayers, is "Thy will be done."

Yes, God is going to do His will in any case.  But such is His love for us, that He wants us to participate in the doing of it.  He wants to glorify all of us by allowing us to share in His Life, in all His doings,  and to have that as the center of communion with one another.  Prayer requests and prayer chains are about Christian communion, and especially about solidarity with the suffering among us.  They are not about lobbying God, but about union with God and with one another.

So if God is going to do His will in any case, does that mean some innocent baby's misery and grotesque suffering was God's will?  No, that was the work of the devil.  That's evil at work, and not our all-loving God.

But God is still allowing this horror, isn't He?  Why?

Yes, He is.   And has been letting terrible things happen since the fall of Adam and Eve.  And we don't know why.  We do not know why.  Period.  We can speculate as to whether it involves chastisement to bring us to repentance or challenges to help us grow, or lessons in courage or faith or perseverance or practice in charity or resisting temptation or whatever.  Sometimes a wise spiritual father or mother can discern these things for us in our own lives.  But bottom line is, we either have faith or we don't.  Faith in this context means trust that whatever the reason(s) may be, they are, despite all appearances, kind, compassionate reasons of the good God Who loves us better than we love ourselves and is infinitely wiser.  In this warped world, "God writes straight with crooked lines." 

And the basis for our hope, ultimately, is the death and resurrection of God-in-the Flesh.  What could have been more immoral, more unjust, more obscene, than an innocent Man murdered by crucifixion?  What greater victory could the devil ever have claimed than deicide?  And this, despite every prayer from the disciples and from His mother?  And in fact, despite His own, "If possible, let this cup pass from me!"

But God did let the catastrophe happen.  And in and through it He did many wonderful things for us (type "Why Did Jesus Die?" in the search box, top right of this blog).  Not that He needed this monstrous sin for the doing of His workl He never requires there to be evil for the sake of the greater good.  But He saw fit to work through this crime, for whatever reason, perhaps because WE needed it to be that way.

And then He brought victory out of it.  He didn't do away entirely with the devil and all his mignons, not yet, and we do not know why not yet.  But the promise that He shall destroy them entirely, in His own good time, whenever He knows is best, that promise is in what He did do in His resurrection:  He took away satan's main weapon against us.  He took away death and the fear of death.  He showed Himself stronger than death and suffering and wickedness.  That's what assures us that ultimately, He will consummate His victory and shall "wipe away the tears from every cheek," and reveal that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all things, in a hidden sense, always were well.  We were always in His care, and we shall be able to see that everything that ever happened to us was for our good, and shall be able to give thanks in all things.

We either have faith in God, trust Him, or we don't.  If we do, then we pray.