My favorite room in the entire hospital is the chapel. For a thousand reasons, many I’m sure you can guess or innately understand, I bathe myself in the serenity of the chapel as often as I can.
I was raised a Protestant Evangelical Christian (only recently learned this loong definitive categorization of my religion). People from my walk of faith believe in prayer. It’s a big deal. My mom is a self-entitled “prayer warrior” (the ‘war’ is with Satan and his demonic hosts). Her mother before her is regarded by all in the family also as a prayer warrior…but Yoda-level. My mom remains at Skywalker speed thus far.
My own place in this spiritual maelstrom is decidedly less interesting or remarkable. My problem is that I can’t figure out what I think prayer even does. C.S. Lewis said that prayer doesn’t change God…it changes us. But there are clear examples in the Bible where the faithful prayed to God in a clear attempt to change His mind. There are examples where human devotion and prayer did in fact change God’s mind.
Aside from the fact that I can’t figure out what prayer does, I still do it all the time. Daily. Through words whispered in the dancing light of our hospital’s chapel or written contemplatively in my journal. So, I must think it does something. What I do NOT believe is that is cures a kid of diabetes. So, in reading about a couple from my neck of the woods that recently let their kid die of ketoacidosis because they didn’t want traditional medical care, and instead only wanted to pray for her, I find myself angry at them. I can’t relate to them or find much validity in their thinking. Read the sad article here.
But my position isn’t very theologically very sound, is it? I pray regularly, but if my daughter needs insulin, I wouldn’t dream of treating her with mere chants in a chapel. Yet I suppose that if I really believed in the power of prayer, I would have the faith of this girl’s parents; believing that her death is God’s will and for some greater good that I can’t see.
Frankly, I’ll never believe that, even if it means I don’t believe in prayer. Or God. I’ll fight to save my kids with prayer, and insulin, and radiation, and hyperbaric chambers if I have to. The great conundrum in the arguments for God’s existence is that the definition of him is incompatible with the world around us. The commonest definition of God is a being that is all-powerful, all-loving, and all-knowing. But when a beautiful 11-year old girl dies because her parents are on their knees begging God to save her instead of simply giving her insulin, at least one of those three elements of God’s being seem like they must be impossible. Either God didn’t know what was happening, didn’t care, or couldn’t do anything to stop it. The problem of evil is the Christian apologist’s greatest stumbling block. Evil like this – and endless other examples – is frankly impossible for believers to explain. Mixed up in all this are the brambles of free choice – i.e., if there’s a deer in the road, do you pray about it or hit the brakes?
And that’s just it…I believe the prayer should be mixed with insulin. Neither should be separated; it took God-given brains to discover exogenous insulin in the first place. I know there’s evil in the world, and that it contradicts the definition of the God I believe in. I can’t explain this logical fallacy. But prayer and action frequently disarm suffering, sometimes in surprising ways…and I can’t explain this either.