deus-absconditusI am conflicted. There are things that I wish to be true, but experience and reason seem to dictate otherwise. Christians find in their sacred texts commands to pray with the promise that their prayers are, perhaps with a few conditions, heard and acted upon.  However, if God is sovereign, then a prayer of petition is ineffectual in that one is attempting to convince God act in ways he would not have otherwise; one is futilely attempting to change the implacable mind of God.  On the other hand, if God is not meticulously sovereign, and God does actually act on or is moved by prayer, then we find ourselves in another dilemma.  Suppose we petition God to heal someone of a life-threatening malady, and for the sake of argument, let us assume that God providentially intervened on the behalf of another, and that person was healed. Does it not follow that, without a petition for healing, perhaps God would have allowed the person to suffer, maybe die in absence of prayer? Does God require that someone intervene on another’s behalf before he acts? Further, it seems that prayers have more influence if we gather others to pray for the same thing as if one prayer may sometimes not be sufficient to move God, but perhaps he could be convinced to act if we gather others to ask along with us. Also, does the conceit that God is not actually sovereign, if he is to actually act on prayer, diminish in some way the nature of God? Was he, prior to our supplication, unaware of our need as would be the God of open theology?

Ultimately, over 7 billion people, the current estimated human population of Earth, are going to die in less than ninety years. They will die of, among many things, malaria, cancer, heart disease, accidents, war, murder, suicide, malnutrition, and you and I will be among them. We will continue to experience depression, heartbreak, natural disasters, civil unrest and war, and we all die in the end.

Too, there is the agonizing hiddenness of God, the sense that all our petitions are ultimately lost in the ether, that no one is picking up the phone when we call, often desperately looking for hope, for help.

Yet, without regard to all the aforementioned, I sometimes pray. There are rumors of answered prayer.

“Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted.”

-Paul Tillich


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