Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Prayers, Answered and Not

I saw this on Facebook, posted by an atheist group, and in a simple and pungent way it hammers at one of our basic issues as Christians. We believe in an all powerful God. We believe that we can bring our supplications to Him in prayer, and that sometimes those prayers are answered in the affirmative.

But why, if we at times attribute the finding of some household item or a victory at a sporting event to prayer, do so many bad things, so many things that people doubtless pray about, happen? Even assuming similarity of scale, if one person is miraculously healed of cancer, why do a hundred others follow the natural course and die?

The answer, simple yet maddening to the mind which wants to know all, is that by worshiping an all powerful God we necessarily admit (as creatures neither all knowing nor all powerful) that we don't understand all that God does. In a world of suffering, we at least have Christ's example of prayer before us.

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.”


Anna said...

I think what many Christians want to shy away from, and atheists never confront, is that the people in the first to panels are the answer to the prayer of the third.

Josephene said...


I believe what you write, Darwin, being an orthodox Catholic and trying to place everything in His Hands. But, my gut reaction, in trying to understand the atheist's question or the cries of that child, is "that's not good enough." It's not solacing, is it, to say "We can't always understand" to such a child. Is there no more to say? I am genuinely asking.

Darwin said...


I agree that simply saying "We can't always understand" is not, in itself, at all solacing. And really, if I didn't think it was a challenging question, I wouldn't have posted it. I guess I'd put forward a couple of answers.

- Part of the way that God solves this problem is by creating all the rest of us. While it's not in the power of any one of us to end hunger, it is true that famine is, in the modern world, invariably the result of war and corruption -- not actual lack of food. We have food, but not in the right places. And while we may not be in a position to stop those who are using hunger as a weapon (or accepting it as a side effect) in their quest for power, we can each do our part to try to feed the hungry. After I posted this I looked at the blog for a moment and then felt compelled to go over to one Catholic relief agencies that I've donated to in the past and give them money. I realized I couldn't post a picture of a starving person without trying to do some small thing to feed those who are suffering. I'm sure I don't do that often enough, but whenever any of us does so it helps, and we are the tools that God creates.

- While I would never say that I've drunk deeply of suffering in this life, for which I'm thankful, when our family or people we love have suffered fear or loss it has always seemed like "something" to me that we, as Christians, believe that there is someone who does understand what is going on, even if we don't. And that each person is precious to God and meant to live with him forever in heaven.

- Following from that, if saying "We can't always understand" is unsatisfying, it seems to me that saying, "Eh. That sucks, but what can you expect. There's no God, nothing means anything, and you're just one of billions of fresh-bots whose only mark will be some decay and fleeting memories once you're gone," strikes me as far less satisfying.

mary said...

Darwin and Josephene,

I struggle with these issues every day. Thank you for having the guts to talk about them.

Enbrethiliel said...


Had you not said so, I wouldn't have guessed that this had been posted by an atheist. As you point out, it embodies a very deep Christian mystery.

Em said...

I read this blog through the feed, and as such rarely comment, but I was struck at the use of that particular crucifixion depiction at the bottom of the post. During my studies in college, I took several art history courses (required for all art majors) and we touched on this piece more than once. Apparently, it was created for (and may still reside in, though I'm fuzzy on the facts) a hospital, or perhaps it was an asylum, for the ill and gravely injured. Regardless, it always struck me that such a borderline-grotesque image was intended for such a place; that it communicated not despair, but hope. Similarly, I am quite touched to see this picture pop up again, in direct relation to the subject of suffering.

Being a recent graduate, I have little to spare monetarily for the relief of those in far greater need than I. But I try to remember them in prayer often, and to offer the actions of my day for them, which is the best thing, I think, that I could do.

Darwin said...


I believe it was a hospital for those with skin diseases -- something which tended to result in becoming an outcast in Medieval society.

And in the painting, Christ does appear to have skin lesions all over him.

Josephene said...

Thank you, Darwin, for your thoughts and extended reflections. I agree with you, that embracing someone with God's word of hope in the midst of his despair is the best and only word of comfort that lasts and strengthens. It's just bloody hard to know children suffer. I wish I could adopt them all (we currently sponsor three children). Thank you for your goodness through Christ. Peace.

Belfry Bat said...

Jesus said this to test them, for he himself knew what he was about to do...

This is going to sound wrong --- indeed it already does, to me, but I can't shake the thought from my head; there must be at least two billion people closer to that starved child than any of us commenting here; there are certainly half a billion with food to spare on the same continent; there are certainly a hundred folk within a day's drive of him who are rich and fat on the spoils of war and arbitrage. If it is in any measure my responsibility to feed these starved children, that is a telling measure of those billions' failures. I totally agree that the sort of evil depicted above is a calamity and a scandal; but it's not as though there is no-one responsible, and with much greater power for good.

What the last frame in that caricature makes clear, if anything, is that there are some horribly negligent neighbors in the world. But surely, they are free? If they weren't free, they could never be saints. And that is no fault of God's, but His perfect gift of our natures.

Tausign said...

It's not important who posted the banner. What is important is who sees it and how they respond. Come Holy Spirit...