Author Topic: Hollowing out the promises of God: an article on prayer  (Read 176 times)

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Offline clip11

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Re: Hollowing out the promises of God: an article on prayer
« Reply #1 on: July 04, 2018, 11:35:56 AM »
well, the promises of this god fail, and we know that if the promises are true, then none of the Christians who frequent here are really Christians.   it seems that these Christians fail meet the requirements too. 
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Offline albeto

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Re: Hollowing out the promises of God: an article on prayer
« Reply #2 on: July 04, 2018, 07:40:35 PM »
Great article. A snippet (bold mine):

Quote
While the Christian tradition teaches us to tell ourselves over and over again that “God cannot forsake us,” it also teaches us that experiencing God’s faithfulness could mean enduring the most horrific things imaginable, which makes the promise never to forsake us an empty promise.  Think about it:  You’ve been invited to follow a man who was tortured and killed, and you are told that you may very well be led “like a lamb to the slaughter” yourself, either metaphorically or even physically.  There is no suffering so terrible that you can be sure God will keep you from it.  Even the passage which says that nothing can separate you from the love of God goes on to list a number of awful things which, if you get what he’s saying, you may very well have to endure:  persecution, famine, nakedness, even the sword.  But if none of these things represents God forsaking you, what exactly would God forsaking you look like?  Can you even envision what that would entail?  And if you can’t, what does that tell you?

I’d really like for you to mull that over a while.  When you make high-sounding proclamations like “God will never forsake you” it behooves you to unpack what that even means.  Is it a completely hollow promise?  Does it refer to a null set of possibilities?  If all the awful things we can imagine can conceivably fall under the heading of “God remaining faithful,” then what exactly would God not remaining faithful look like? Isn’t this embracing a teaching which is ultimately empty and misleading? I would argue that when you tell people that “God loves you” and “God will never forsake you,” you are making a completely unfalsifiable claim.  Unless I am mistaken, there is no scenario in which your version of God could be either unloving or unfaithful because any and every imaginable possibility can conceivably be called “God being loving” and “God being faithful,” no matter how unfavorable.  That makes this another hollow promise.

A question for theists: If all the awful things we can imagine can conceivably fall under the heading of “God remaining faithful,” then what exactly would God not remaining faithful look like?

Offline clip11

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Re: Hollowing out the promises of God: an article on prayer
« Reply #3 on: July 05, 2018, 12:07:19 AM »
Great article. A snippet (bold mine):

Quote
While the Christian tradition teaches us to tell ourselves over and over again that “God cannot forsake us,” it also teaches us that experiencing God’s faithfulness could mean enduring the most horrific things imaginable, which makes the promise never to forsake us an empty promise.  Think about it:  You’ve been invited to follow a man who was tortured and killed, and you are told that you may very well be led “like a lamb to the slaughter” yourself, either metaphorically or even physically.  There is no suffering so terrible that you can be sure God will keep you from it.  Even the passage which says that nothing can separate you from the love of God goes on to list a number of awful things which, if you get what he’s saying, you may very well have to endure:  persecution, famine, nakedness, even the sword.  But if none of these things represents God forsaking you, what exactly would God forsaking you look like?  Can you even envision what that would entail?  And if you can’t, what does that tell you?

I’d really like for you to mull that over a while.  When you make high-sounding proclamations like “God will never forsake you” it behooves you to unpack what that even means.  Is it a completely hollow promise?  Does it refer to a null set of possibilities?  If all the awful things we can imagine can conceivably fall under the heading of “God remaining faithful,” then what exactly would God not remaining faithful look like? Isn’t this embracing a teaching which is ultimately empty and misleading? I would argue that when you tell people that “God loves you” and “God will never forsake you,” you are making a completely unfalsifiable claim.  Unless I am mistaken, there is no scenario in which your version of God could be either unloving or unfaithful because any and every imaginable possibility can conceivably be called “God being loving” and “God being faithful,” no matter how unfavorable.  That makes this another hollow promise.

A question for theists: If all the awful things we can imagine can conceivably fall under the heading of “God remaining faithful,” then what exactly would God not remaining faithful look like?
They cannot tell you. It's not a statement contingent upon evidence from the real world. It's a statement of faith meant to be believed no matter what. You win the power Ball jackpot at 25 years old, get to be 6'2 and handsome, live to be 100 in the lap of luxury and good health until the very end and have a great life, it's because god is faithful. On the other hand, you end up 5'2, unattractive with a hunch back, work a low paying, crappy job, your beloved dog gets hit by a car and killed and you only live to be 49, well that's because god is faithful. In any case, god is faithful.

Offline magicmiles 2.0

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Re: Hollowing out the promises of God: an article on prayer
« Reply #4 on: July 05, 2018, 12:35:44 AM »


A question for theists: If all the awful things we can imagine can conceivably fall under the heading of “God remaining faithful,” then what exactly would God not remaining faithful look like?

It would look like the OT without the NT. In other words, it would mean He did not make it possible for us to be reconciled to Him through Jesus. that was God's promise immediately after the fall.
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Re: Hollowing out the promises of God: an article on prayer
« Reply #5 on: July 05, 2018, 06:59:40 AM »



A question for theists: If all the awful things we can imagine can conceivably fall under the heading of “God remaining faithful,” then what exactly would God not remaining faithful look like?

It would look like the OT without the NT. In other words, it would mean He did not make it possible for us to be reconciled to Him through Jesus. that was God's promise immediately after the fall.

Matt 27:46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" (which means "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?").

MM, does God forsake Jesus in his most suffering moment?
                         OR
     Did God forsake Himself?

*sidenote: The author never answers the question in the title...weird.
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Re: Hollowing out the promises of God: an article on prayer
« Reply #6 on: July 05, 2018, 07:03:56 AM »


A question for theists: If all the awful things we can imagine can conceivably fall under the heading of “God remaining faithful,” then what exactly would God not remaining faithful look like?

It would look like the OT without the NT. In other words, it would mean He did not make it possible for us to be reconciled to Him through Jesus. that was God's promise immediately after the fall.

Hmmm...I would love to see the scripture where YHWH "promised immediately after the fall", "for us to be reconciled to Him through Jesus"

Do you have those chapters and verses handy?

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Re: Hollowing out the promises of God: an article on prayer
« Reply #7 on: July 05, 2018, 08:49:17 AM »


A question for theists: If all the awful things we can imagine can conceivably fall under the heading of “God remaining faithful,” then what exactly would God not remaining faithful look like?

It would look like the OT without the NT. In other words, it would mean He did not make it possible for us to be reconciled to Him through Jesus. that was God's promise immediately after the fall.
There is still that pesky problem of falsifiability.

Offline Jag

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Re: Hollowing out the promises of God: an article on prayer
« Reply #8 on: July 05, 2018, 10:04:14 AM »
^^^^^Stop it! You just have an unfalsifiability bias  :o! That's YOUR problem!
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Offline albeto

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Re: Hollowing out the promises of God: an article on prayer
« Reply #9 on: July 05, 2018, 10:27:59 AM »
It would look like the OT without the NT. In other words, it would mean He did not make it possible for us to be reconciled to Him through Jesus. that was God's promise immediately after the fall.

So God not remaining faithful would look like life as we know it, but then after you're dead there's no meet-up?

Is there any promise in the bible that can be taken at face value other than this one in your opinion?

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Re: Hollowing out the promises of God: an article on prayer
« Reply #10 on: July 05, 2018, 11:12:44 AM »
I think it will be very useful to post the entire text of the article so that it's really, really easy for everyone to read and refer to while Miles does his Dance of Denial. This makes it easy for Miles to read it as well.

****************
Most of my family still belongs to the church in which I grew up.  My daughters faithfully attend three times a week with their mother, my younger sister is president of the choir and a regular soloist, and my older sister is married to one of the ministers on the senior staff.  It’s a big church which has five floors, takes up two city blocks, and has an operating budget of around $10 million.  Because it is so large, it is ideal for hosting big conferences like the one coming up this weekend.  Mississippi Baptists have chosen as their church growth theme for 2014 a phrase pulled from the third chapter of Acts:  “In the name of Jesus…RISE UP!”  It comes from a story in which Peter miraculously heals a man previously unable to walk just by speaking to him “in the name of Jesus” (those are like magic words according to the New Testament).  To headline this weekend’s conference celebrating this emphasis, the conference organizers tapped Joni Eareckson Tada as their keynote speaker.

Wait…What?

In case you aren’t familiar with Tada, she is a quadriplegic who suffered a tragic diving accident nearly 50 years ago.  She is a talented artist (she paints with a brush in her mouth) and a prolific, award-winning writer who has made a name for herself advocating for the disabled, earning her a spot on the U.S. State Department’s Disability Advisory Committee in 2005.  Her courage and strength have been inspirational to countless people with and without disabilities.  Inviting her to speak at a conference should be a no-brainer, right?  Certainly!  Except…there are moments when irony whispers and there are moments when it screams.  This is a moment when it screams.  I find myself wondering what thought processes guided Mississippi Baptists through the selection of Joni Eareckson Tada to headline a conference entitled “In the Name of Jesus…RISE UP”?

It’s complicated, and the story takes us down a long and winding path through a jungle of contradictions and rationalizations, which I’ll do my best to unravel.  Peter Boghossian said faith is like a slippery pig, and he’s right.  Getting a handle on it is very difficult at times.  The more incongruous one’s beliefs are, the harder the believer must work to weave rationalizations and construct protective barriers around those beliefs to keep their tender bits from exposure to the elements.  Fortunately for them, the Christian faith has had two millennia to build up its arsenal of excuses for why we shouldn’t expect God to show up in the way that the Bible leads us to believe he will.  In one breath they tell us we must believe what the Bible says, but in the next they dismantle practically everything it says until we are left holding a strangely-shaped empty box, wondering what was ever supposed to be inside it.

Let’s look first at what the Bible promises, and then we’ll look at what Christians today do with what it says.  Maybe by the time we’re done, we’ll understand better what thought processes produced this jarringly incongruous choice of keynote speakers for a conference themed around a story about miraculous healing.

Standing on the Promises of God

First of all, let’s look at what the New Testament claims:

    Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.

That’s a pretty bold claim to make.  Incidentally, I’ve tried this myself several times before, as have many others, and it doesn’t work.  You don’t have to take my word for it, though; you can go try it for yourself.  I’m reasonably convinced you will experience the same results.  If you take the right medicine or have the right medical procedures done (or sometimes it’s just a dietary change), you might get better.  But just having people pray for you?  Most people know better than that—Christians included.  Yes, they pray anyway.  But then they go to the doctor.  They know better than to rely on the former at the expense of the latter.  Our actions speak louder than our words.

The Bible makes claims even bolder than this, though.  Miraculous healing is just the beginning.  It goes on to promise:

    Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.

Just reread that one more time.  Wow.  These are some really big promises.  Unless there’s something wrong with you, I probably don’t have to tell you how disastrous it would be if you were to accept these claims at face value.  The cognitive dissonance would be unbearable, and you could make some really dumb choices.  You either have to reject these claims as false or else you have to reinterpret what they mean until they fit what actually happens (which is fundamentally dishonest).  This is a bit like shooting an arrow and then drawing a target around wherever it hits.  People call this “moving the goalposts,” and it reminds me of this meme I saw making the rounds recently:

(text only from the meme)
Matthew 21:22
If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer*
(terms and conditions apply)

*"Believe" is only applicable to belief in Jesus Christ. Offer is not applicable to belief in other Deities. "Whatever' is limited to anything that is possible within the laws of nature and physics to be deemed possible to occur on its own. Offer not valid for anything supernatural or physically impossible to occur such as spontaneous regrowth of amputated limbs. Offer not valid for ant philosophical requests, including requests for the elimination of evil. Offer dependent on number of prayers received, seriousness of belief used, and whether or not the requests falls under God's plan. Odds of success are identical to requests made without prayer or belief. If the believer has not received what they requested via prayer, then the fault lies with the requester, not with management. Management reserves the right to rescind any offer or request via the "Mysterious Ways' clause.


Take the time to read that fine print
(in red). It’s pretty close to perfect.  Here we see the accumulation of centuries of disclaimers which so thoroughly reinterpret the promises of the Bible that we might as well be discussing two completely different sets of beliefs.  Christians today scarcely believe the things the Bible claims…and they have good reason to be skeptical.  Life has taught them that you can’t take these promises as they are.  You have to draw from a set of time-honored rationalizations which, when you really think about them, remove all substantive meaning from the promises so that in the end they say nothing at all.   If prayers which contradict the will of God will not be “answered,” then why pray for things at all?  Do you have to make God do the things he wants to do?  If not, then again, why pray at all?  And why the compulsion to keep prayers within the bounds of things that will likely happen on their own with or without prayer?  I see it as unintentional cruelty to teach people to profess belief in  promises which they know good and well won’t come to pass.  They start out learning to do this at a very young age so that by the time they reach adulthood, it’s second nature to them.  They do it without even having to think about it anymore.  But it never occurs to them how this leaves us with an essentially meaningless depiction of “the miraculous.”

Imagine for a minute if the New Testament had been written today using this interpretive framework:

    Then Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came upon the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.

    The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”  He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the disciples for letting the storm upset their faith in him.

    He told them, “Perhaps I brought this storm into your lives to teach you to trust me, or maybe I had nothing to do with this storm.  Either way, what really matters is that you trust me in the storm, regardless of whether or not I do anything to change it.”  Then he went back to sleep and their boat capsized, drowning all of the disciples except Peter, James, and John, who thanked Jesus for sending/allowing the storm, and for sparing their lives.

    The survivors were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this?”

Listening to people talk today, this is the picture of Jesus I would expect to find.  On the other hand, as we have it the New Testament portrays Jesus as capable of doing absolutely anything, so that even the wind and the waves obeyed him.  In those stories, even after someone had already died, he could still just say, “Get up!” or “Come forth!” and they’d rise up from the dead, even after up to four days.  But people don’t ask for that much these days, do they?  A day or two after someone dies, they don’t usually begin praying for the resuscitation of the deceased.  Pretty much immediately they shift into grieving mode and begin to talk about how God will comfort you in your loss, etc.  In a way, that’s what people do when major illnesses strike as well.  They may pray for relief from whatever ails them but greater emphasis is placed on helping people to be okay in the event that nothing outwardly changes about their situation.  They do this because they know this is the only realistic way to approach the trials we face in life.

What Does the Faithfulness of God Look Like?

Yesterday on Facebook a friend of mine posted a blog entry written by a friend and coworker of hers who has watched her son endure eight rounds of chemotherapy to battle “an aggressive form of lymphoma.”  Happily, he is now in remission; but as she prepares for her son’s upcoming wedding, she admits her struggle to trust in God’s provision for her son’s health.  As she awaits the results of the latest PET scan, she wrestles with a probing question which so many of us who were raised in the Christian faith have struggled to answer:

    What does the faithfulness of God look like? Does it match my picture? If I’m trusting Him, does it mean that I’m okay if [my son] checks back into the hospital instead of leave (sic) for his honeymoon?

What she is doing is preparing herself for the worst while hoping for the best.  That’s what we all do in moments of intense personal challenge like this.  But in the midst of that she is also rehearsing a narrative which sounds like the modernized Jesus story above.  Since she can’t exclusively credit God for her son’s healing (note again the eight rounds of chemo) she knows his chances for success are approximately the same as for anyone else who undergoes these treatments.  She knows from life experience that while much is said about “the power of prayer,” it’s unrealistic to expect that her loved ones will be any more immune to relapses than anyone else.  So she focuses instead on trying to have the right attitude toward her situation instead of spending more of her time asking for deliverance from it. That is the best, most reasonable thing to do in this circumstance.   I suspect that deep down most believers know that there are certain things they just shouldn’t count on.

The mother asked a thought-provoking question, though.  I addressed this very question myself a couple of months ago.  While the Christian tradition teaches us to tell ourselves over and over again that “God cannot forsake us,” it also teaches us that experiencing God’s faithfulness could mean enduring the most horrific things imaginable, which makes the promise never to forsake us an empty promise.  Think about it:  You’ve been invited to follow a man who was tortured and killed, and you are told that you may very well be led “like a lamb to the slaughter” yourself, either metaphorically or even physically.  There is no suffering so terrible that you can be sure God will keep you from it.  Even the passage which says that nothing can separate you from the love of God goes on to list a number of awful things which, if you get what he’s saying, you may very well have to endure:  persecution, famine, nakedness, even the sword.  But if none of these things represents God forsaking you, what exactly would God forsaking you look like?  Can you even envision what that would entail?  And if you can’t, what does that tell you?

I’d really like for you to mull that over a while.  When you make high-sounding proclamations like “God will never forsake you” it behooves you to unpack what that even means.  Is it a completely hollow promise?  Does it refer to a null set of possibilities?  If all the awful things we can imagine can conceivably fall under the heading of “God remaining faithful,” then what exactly would God not remaining faithful look like?  Isn’t this embracing a teaching which is ultimately empty and misleading?  I would argue that when you tell people that “God loves you” and “God will never forsake you,” you are making a completely unfalsifiable claim.  Unless I am mistaken, there is no scenario in which your version of God could be either unloving or unfaithful because any and every imaginable possibility can conceivably be called “God being loving” and “God being faithful,” no matter how unfavorable.  That makes this another hollow promise.

So today we find ourselves in a bit of a pitiable, self-contradictory position.  We’ve inherited a book full of promises which we’ve learned not to trust so much, all while somehow professing fervent faith in those same promises.  We’ve learned to insist that “God is faithful” while emptying that phrase of virtually all practical meaning, and then somehow we are to draw comfort from the idea anyway.  We’ve been taught to ask God to make things happen which we then have to make happen ourselves, but we then turn around and give credit to him for what we’ve accomplished.  Finally, when we want to understand Bible stories about people being miraculously healed, we call upon people who haven’t been healed because what we really need is for someone to help us understand how to handle the disappointment that results from God not doing what the Bible says he will do.  We do this, yet we never allow ourselves to admit that God doesn’t do what the Bible says he will do.  No matter what, the promises can’t be wrong. We have become a strange group of people indeed.


So Miles, do you care to comment on the article under discussion?
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Offline YouCantHandleTheTruth

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Re: Hollowing out the promises of God: an article on prayer
« Reply #11 on: July 05, 2018, 02:10:08 PM »


A question for theists: If all the awful things we can imagine can conceivably fall under the heading of “God remaining faithful,” then what exactly would God not remaining faithful look like?

It would look like the OT without the NT. In other words, it would mean He did not make it possible for us to be reconciled to Him through Jesus. that was God's promise immediately after the fall.

Hmmm...I would love to see the scripture where YHWH "promised immediately after the fall", "for us to be reconciled to Him through Jesus"

Do you have those chapters and verses handy?

Yeah isn't there a thousand plus years between the fall and Jesus?  Didn't think it was immediate. 

What happened to the people that God drowned in the flood during the fall that didn't have the benefit of relying on Jesus for salvation?  Did they go to hell or just die and vanish forever?  Is that explained anywhere in the Bible?  Maybe they just died?  There doesn't seem to be much mention of hell in the OT - maybe a vague verse or two?

Offline velkyn

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Re: Hollowing out the promises of God: an article on prayer
« Reply #12 on: July 05, 2018, 02:58:03 PM »


A question for theists: If all the awful things we can imagine can conceivably fall under the heading of “God remaining faithful,” then what exactly would God not remaining faithful look like?

It would look like the OT without the NT. In other words, it would mean He did not make it possible for us to be reconciled to Him through Jesus. that was God's promise immediately after the fall.

Hmmm...I would love to see the scripture where YHWH "promised immediately after the fall", "for us to be reconciled to Him through Jesus"

Do you have those chapters and verses handy?

Yeah isn't there a thousand plus years between the fall and Jesus?  Didn't think it was immediate. 

What happened to the people that God drowned in the flood during the fall that didn't have the benefit of relying on Jesus for salvation?  Did they go to hell or just die and vanish forever?  Is that explained anywhere in the Bible?  Maybe they just died?  There doesn't seem to be much mention of hell in the OT - maybe a vague verse or two?

a myth was made up to have JC visit hell and offer this forgivness to the dead.  This doesn't make much sense when revelation says you have to accept this fellow when you are alive.
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Offline clip11

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Re: Hollowing out the promises of God: an article on prayer
« Reply #13 on: July 05, 2018, 07:45:29 PM »
I think it will be very useful to post the entire text of the article so that it's really, really easy for everyone to read and refer to while Miles does his Dance of Denial. This makes it easy for Miles to read it as well.

****************
Most of my family still belongs to the church in which I grew up.  My daughters faithfully attend three times a week with their mother, my younger sister is president of the choir and a regular soloist, and my older sister is married to one of the ministers on the senior staff.  It’s a big church which has five floors, takes up two city blocks, and has an operating budget of around $10 million.  Because it is so large, it is ideal for hosting big conferences like the one coming up this weekend.  Mississippi Baptists have chosen as their church growth theme for 2014 a phrase pulled from the third chapter of Acts:  “In the name of Jesus…RISE UP!”  It comes from a story in which Peter miraculously heals a man previously unable to walk just by speaking to him “in the name of Jesus” (those are like magic words according to the New Testament).  To headline this weekend’s conference celebrating this emphasis, the conference organizers tapped Joni Eareckson Tada as their keynote speaker.

Wait…What?

In case you aren’t familiar with Tada, she is a quadriplegic who suffered a tragic diving accident nearly 50 years ago.  She is a talented artist (she paints with a brush in her mouth) and a prolific, award-winning writer who has made a name for herself advocating for the disabled, earning her a spot on the U.S. State Department’s Disability Advisory Committee in 2005.  Her courage and strength have been inspirational to countless people with and without disabilities.  Inviting her to speak at a conference should be a no-brainer, right?  Certainly!  Except…there are moments when irony whispers and there are moments when it screams.  This is a moment when it screams.  I find myself wondering what thought processes guided Mississippi Baptists through the selection of Joni Eareckson Tada to headline a conference entitled “In the Name of Jesus…RISE UP”?

It’s complicated, and the story takes us down a long and winding path through a jungle of contradictions and rationalizations, which I’ll do my best to unravel.  Peter Boghossian said faith is like a slippery pig, and he’s right.  Getting a handle on it is very difficult at times.  The more incongruous one’s beliefs are, the harder the believer must work to weave rationalizations and construct protective barriers around those beliefs to keep their tender bits from exposure to the elements.  Fortunately for them, the Christian faith has had two millennia to build up its arsenal of excuses for why we shouldn’t expect God to show up in the way that the Bible leads us to believe he will.  In one breath they tell us we must believe what the Bible says, but in the next they dismantle practically everything it says until we are left holding a strangely-shaped empty box, wondering what was ever supposed to be inside it.

Let’s look first at what the Bible promises, and then we’ll look at what Christians today do with what it says.  Maybe by the time we’re done, we’ll understand better what thought processes produced this jarringly incongruous choice of keynote speakers for a conference themed around a story about miraculous healing.

Standing on the Promises of God

First of all, let’s look at what the New Testament claims:

    Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.

That’s a pretty bold claim to make.  Incidentally, I’ve tried this myself several times before, as have many others, and it doesn’t work.  You don’t have to take my word for it, though; you can go try it for yourself.  I’m reasonably convinced you will experience the same results.  If you take the right medicine or have the right medical procedures done (or sometimes it’s just a dietary change), you might get better.  But just having people pray for you?  Most people know better than that—Christians included.  Yes, they pray anyway.  But then they go to the doctor.  They know better than to rely on the former at the expense of the latter.  Our actions speak louder than our words.

The Bible makes claims even bolder than this, though.  Miraculous healing is just the beginning.  It goes on to promise:

    Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.

Just reread that one more time.  Wow.  These are some really big promises.  Unless there’s something wrong with you, I probably don’t have to tell you how disastrous it would be if you were to accept these claims at face value.  The cognitive dissonance would be unbearable, and you could make some really dumb choices.  You either have to reject these claims as false or else you have to reinterpret what they mean until they fit what actually happens (which is fundamentally dishonest).  This is a bit like shooting an arrow and then drawing a target around wherever it hits.  People call this “moving the goalposts,” and it reminds me of this meme I saw making the rounds recently:

(text only from the meme)
Matthew 21:22
If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer*
(terms and conditions apply)

*"Believe" is only applicable to belief in Jesus Christ. Offer is not applicable to belief in other Deities. "Whatever' is limited to anything that is possible within the laws of nature and physics to be deemed possible to occur on its own. Offer not valid for anything supernatural or physically impossible to occur such as spontaneous regrowth of amputated limbs. Offer not valid for ant philosophical requests, including requests for the elimination of evil. Offer dependent on number of prayers received, seriousness of belief used, and whether or not the requests falls under God's plan. Odds of success are identical to requests made without prayer or belief. If the believer has not received what they requested via prayer, then the fault lies with the requester, not with management. Management reserves the right to rescind any offer or request via the "Mysterious Ways' clause.


Take the time to read that fine print
(in red). It’s pretty close to perfect.  Here we see the accumulation of centuries of disclaimers which so thoroughly reinterpret the promises of the Bible that we might as well be discussing two completely different sets of beliefs.  Christians today scarcely believe the things the Bible claims…and they have good reason to be skeptical.  Life has taught them that you can’t take these promises as they are.  You have to draw from a set of time-honored rationalizations which, when you really think about them, remove all substantive meaning from the promises so that in the end they say nothing at all.   If prayers which contradict the will of God will not be “answered,” then why pray for things at all?  Do you have to make God do the things he wants to do?  If not, then again, why pray at all?  And why the compulsion to keep prayers within the bounds of things that will likely happen on their own with or without prayer?  I see it as unintentional cruelty to teach people to profess belief in  promises which they know good and well won’t come to pass.  They start out learning to do this at a very young age so that by the time they reach adulthood, it’s second nature to them.  They do it without even having to think about it anymore.  But it never occurs to them how this leaves us with an essentially meaningless depiction of “the miraculous.”

Imagine for a minute if the New Testament had been written today using this interpretive framework:

    Then Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came upon the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.

    The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”  He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the disciples for letting the storm upset their faith in him.

    He told them, “Perhaps I brought this storm into your lives to teach you to trust me, or maybe I had nothing to do with this storm.  Either way, what really matters is that you trust me in the storm, regardless of whether or not I do anything to change it.”  Then he went back to sleep and their boat capsized, drowning all of the disciples except Peter, James, and John, who thanked Jesus for sending/allowing the storm, and for sparing their lives.

    The survivors were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this?”

Listening to people talk today, this is the picture of Jesus I would expect to find.  On the other hand, as we have it the New Testament portrays Jesus as capable of doing absolutely anything, so that even the wind and the waves obeyed him.  In those stories, even after someone had already died, he could still just say, “Get up!” or “Come forth!” and they’d rise up from the dead, even after up to four days.  But people don’t ask for that much these days, do they?  A day or two after someone dies, they don’t usually begin praying for the resuscitation of the deceased.  Pretty much immediately they shift into grieving mode and begin to talk about how God will comfort you in your loss, etc.  In a way, that’s what people do when major illnesses strike as well.  They may pray for relief from whatever ails them but greater emphasis is placed on helping people to be okay in the event that nothing outwardly changes about their situation.  They do this because they know this is the only realistic way to approach the trials we face in life.

What Does the Faithfulness of God Look Like?

Yesterday on Facebook a friend of mine posted a blog entry written by a friend and coworker of hers who has watched her son endure eight rounds of chemotherapy to battle “an aggressive form of lymphoma.”  Happily, he is now in remission; but as she prepares for her son’s upcoming wedding, she admits her struggle to trust in God’s provision for her son’s health.  As she awaits the results of the latest PET scan, she wrestles with a probing question which so many of us who were raised in the Christian faith have struggled to answer:

    What does the faithfulness of God look like? Does it match my picture? If I’m trusting Him, does it mean that I’m okay if [my son] checks back into the hospital instead of leave (sic) for his honeymoon?

What she is doing is preparing herself for the worst while hoping for the best.  That’s what we all do in moments of intense personal challenge like this.  But in the midst of that she is also rehearsing a narrative which sounds like the modernized Jesus story above.  Since she can’t exclusively credit God for her son’s healing (note again the eight rounds of chemo) she knows his chances for success are approximately the same as for anyone else who undergoes these treatments.  She knows from life experience that while much is said about “the power of prayer,” it’s unrealistic to expect that her loved ones will be any more immune to relapses than anyone else.  So she focuses instead on trying to have the right attitude toward her situation instead of spending more of her time asking for deliverance from it. That is the best, most reasonable thing to do in this circumstance.   I suspect that deep down most believers know that there are certain things they just shouldn’t count on.

The mother asked a thought-provoking question, though.  I addressed this very question myself a couple of months ago.  While the Christian tradition teaches us to tell ourselves over and over again that “God cannot forsake us,” it also teaches us that experiencing God’s faithfulness could mean enduring the most horrific things imaginable, which makes the promise never to forsake us an empty promise.  Think about it:  You’ve been invited to follow a man who was tortured and killed, and you are told that you may very well be led “like a lamb to the slaughter” yourself, either metaphorically or even physically.  There is no suffering so terrible that you can be sure God will keep you from it.  Even the passage which says that nothing can separate you from the love of God goes on to list a number of awful things which, if you get what he’s saying, you may very well have to endure:  persecution, famine, nakedness, even the sword.  But if none of these things represents God forsaking you, what exactly would God forsaking you look like?  Can you even envision what that would entail?  And if you can’t, what does that tell you?

I’d really like for you to mull that over a while.  When you make high-sounding proclamations like “God will never forsake you” it behooves you to unpack what that even means.  Is it a completely hollow promise?  Does it refer to a null set of possibilities?  If all the awful things we can imagine can conceivably fall under the heading of “God remaining faithful,” then what exactly would God not remaining faithful look like?  Isn’t this embracing a teaching which is ultimately empty and misleading?  I would argue that when you tell people that “God loves you” and “God will never forsake you,” you are making a completely unfalsifiable claim.  Unless I am mistaken, there is no scenario in which your version of God could be either unloving or unfaithful because any and every imaginable possibility can conceivably be called “God being loving” and “God being faithful,” no matter how unfavorable.  That makes this another hollow promise.

So today we find ourselves in a bit of a pitiable, self-contradictory position.  We’ve inherited a book full of promises which we’ve learned not to trust so much, all while somehow professing fervent faith in those same promises.  We’ve learned to insist that “God is faithful” while emptying that phrase of virtually all practical meaning, and then somehow we are to draw comfort from the idea anyway.  We’ve been taught to ask God to make things happen which we then have to make happen ourselves, but we then turn around and give credit to him for what we’ve accomplished.  Finally, when we want to understand Bible stories about people being miraculously healed, we call upon people who haven’t been healed because what we really need is for someone to help us understand how to handle the disappointment that results from God not doing what the Bible says he will do.  We do this, yet we never allow ourselves to admit that God doesn’t do what the Bible says he will do.  No matter what, the promises can’t be wrong. We have become a strange group of people indeed.


So Miles, do you care to comment on the article under discussion?
He ran away when his feet was unrelentingly held to the fire