googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: A Friendly Atheist Has 78 Questions for Christians: Part 2

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Friendly Atheist Has 78 Questions for Christians: Part 2

Hemant Mehta describes himself as a friendly atheist. In his video, 78 Questions for Christians, he groups the questions according to subject. The first section dealt with heaven and hell. The next section deals with prayer. I've numbered the questions according to how Mehta numbered them but I've rearranged them in my answer.

10) Whose prayers does God answer?
11) And if it's ultimately God's will what happens, why even bother praying?

We can see from the questions that Mehta has a very rudimentary understanding of what prayer is. For example, what does it mean for God to “answer” a prayer? Judging by the Mehta's list of questions about prayer, Mehta certainly believes “prayer” means “asking God for things” and “answered prayer” means “God gives you what you ask.” I could paraphrase the two questions above as:

Who gets what he asks?
If nobody gets what he asks, why even bother praying?

It sounds a little shallow when I phrase it like that, doesn't it? That's because it is shallow. Mehta has caste God as a year 'round Santa Claus and, every day, we get to tell Him what we want in our stocking. Just think about this: what kind of relationship would you have with your child if he only ever talked to you when he wanted something? And if you didn't do everything he asks, he would stop talking to you? If my children were like that, I'd be both very hurt and very angry. Yet this is apparently how Mehta thinks our relationship with God should be. I've written about this before, people have a false idea of who God is, then claim He must not exist because they can't find a god who acts like they imagined.

Jesus gave His disciples a model of prayer, often called the Lord's Prayer. He said, “Pray like this....” If you examine the prayer, you'll see that includes things like acknowledging God as our Father, praising Him, desiring His will to be done, and asking Him to forgive our sins and keep us away from temptations. Of course, we do also ask Him to help meet our needs – our “daily bread” - but Metha seems to think that's all prayer is.

Have you ever heard the child's prayer of grace? “God is great, God is good. Thank you, Lord, for this food.” What a wonderful prayer! Praise – thanksgiving – adoration – all presented in a few simple words. If all Christians prayed like this – praising God, seeking His will, asking for forgiveness and seeking His guidance – then revival would break out in America.

James 4:3 says, Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. I know I'm not a model Christian so I can't say my prayer life is where it should be. But if I spent all my prayer time telling God what I want Him to do for me, I would feel more spoiled than edified. Unfortunately, too many Christians spend their prayer time focusing more on themselves than God.

8) If your son or daughter were dying – and I hope that never happens – would you just pray for them or would you take them to a doctor?
9) And if you say you'd do both, which one do you think has more of an impact?

Unfortunately, my son and daughter are dying. My step sons are dying, too. My wife is dying. My mother and siblings are dying. My wife's family is dying. I'm dying. Everyone reading my blog is dying. Romans 5:12 says, Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. It's not a question of if you're dying – it's only a question of when. And, yes, prayer is THE most important thing I can do for my children, my spouse, my family, and my readers – especially if death is imminent. It's my prayer that they will all seek Christ, ask for His forgiveness, accept Him as their Lord, and be saved.

If my child were sick or hurt, yes, I'd take him to the doctor. I would pray that God would help him recover, that He would give the doctors and nurses wisdom, that He would give my son comfort, and give me peace. Above all this, though, I pray that my son comes to Christ. Let's face it, doctors can't stave off death forever. One day death will claim everyone I love and, at that time, all the doctors in the world are useless. But if my prayers have been answered, then they will have had an infinitely greater impact.

12) If you have cancer right now, what's going to help you more: drugs or prayer?
13) Let's say you have an amputated limb. Would prayer ever bring it back?

Several years ago, I wrote a series in response to the video, “Why Won't God Heal Amputees?” Certainly, Jesus is able to heal us. Luke 22:50-51 tells us that Jesus healed the ear of Malchus after Peter had cut it off with a sword so I know that Jesus is able to heal even a severed limb. It's just that I don't expect Him to miraculously heal people today like He did during His ministry.

Jesus overtly said that He did miracles to demonstrate His authority. In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus healed a paralyzed man to prove He had the authority to forgive sins. In John 11, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead to show Martha that He is the resurrection and the life. When Jesus appointed His disciples, He gave them the ability to perform miracles including healing the sick and raising the dead (Matthew 10:7-8). This was to show their authority to preach in God's name. But now we have the Scriptures to evidence His authority and the need for miracles has passed.

Jesus has promised us an eternity where there is no more pain or sorrow or death but paradise is not on this earth nor in these bodies. This is a cursed world where there is sickness and disease. Does Metha think we should be able to pray and no one should ever die or even get sick? I guess he does. Like I said, he has a very rudimentary understanding of prayer.

16) If you had an exam coming up, what do you think would help you more: prayer or studying for the test?

Heck, why even bother with school – or even a job? I could just stay home and pray that God mails me a paycheck! Really, Metha? God never commanded us to do nothing. In fact, He condemns laziness. Matthew 5:16 says, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. We should strive to be the hardest workers, the best students, the friendliest neighbors, etc. And, yes, we should seek God's help while doing this. There's an old saying that says we should work like it depends on us and pray like it depends on Him!

18) What matters to God more: the quantity of prayers or the quality of prayers?
19) If it's the quantity that matters, how come the most popular team doesn't always win the Super Bowl?
20) And if it's the quality that matters, how come people we really love, people who are close to us, how come they die no matter what we say to God?
21) Is it possible that your prayers have no supernatural effect and only serve to make you feel better?
22) And if that were true, would you ever admit it?

1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “pray without ceasing.” If you were to walk through the mall with your spouse or drive down the road with your child, wouldn't you talk to them? Well, we're never truly alone because God is always with us so I try to talk to God just like that – like He's sitting there next to me. I tell Him I love Him. I thank Him for all He does for me. I tell Him about things I struggle with and ask for His guidance.

I believe that, as we draw closer to God, His will becomes our will. When that happens, we worry less about how things affect us. When things are going well, some Christians will say, “God is blessing me.” When things aren't going well, some Christians will say, “God is testing me.” I think if we prayed like we should, more Christians would start to say, “It's not about me.”

Lord, help my team win the Super Bowl. Don't let anyone in my family get sick or die. That's how a 5-year-old prays.

O Lord, I come to You with praise. You alone are good. You alone are worthy to be worshiped. Let me know Your will and give me the strength to be obedient. Forgive my sins and let me rest in Your mercies. Let me trust in You for everything I need and let my thanksgiving never end! Amen! These are the kinds of prayers that get answered!


Steven J. said...

I suspect that Mehta agrees with John Loftus that "there is no 'Christianity,' only Christianities" -- i.e. that John F. MacArthur, Creflo Dollar, and David "Pope Michael" Bawden are all equally valid examples of "what Christianity teaches." So he is addressing not merely you, but believers you would regard as misinformed or even gravely heretical. Presumably most Christians don't really think that God will give the Chicago Bears (or any other team) victory in the Superbowl if enough Bears fans pray hard enough -- but probably some do.

James 5:13-18 assert that God does answer prayers for benefits in this world, from healing to rain. Now, James is pretty clear that this applies only to prayers for things that God approves, but still suggests that prayers for healing will be granted routinely ("the Lord will raise [the sick person] up," not "the Lord might on some occasions raise him up"). If faith can move mountains and God gives good things to His children, one would expect prayers (if not for Superbowl victories, then at least for peace or health for the saints) to be answered more often than we might expect on the basis of chance. James seems to expect healing to continue (as, indeed, the book of Acts depicts spectacular miracles continuing after Jesus' earthly ministry ended.

So it does not seem unreasonable to expect prayers, if Christianity is correct, to at least alter the probability of desired outcomes.

I think, by the way, that when Mehta speaks of "the quantity of prayers" he means, not how continuously one thinks about God, or how many times an individual repeats one (cf. Matthew 6:7), but the number of people offering prayers (e.g. one might expect more people praying to have more of an effect); it's not a matter of "pray without ceasing" but "lots of people praying." Probably "the most popular team winning" is not a good example; C.S. Lewis raised a more compelling example with the outbreak of World War II, despite what he assumed were the prayers of all Christendom that it not do so.

No doubt you are right that the Biblical model of prayer (if there is a single consistent biblical model) has more to do with reminding the believer of his dependence on and subservience to God than with asking God for favors -- but the "asking God for favors" feature is present, too. To insist that proper prayers are limited to matters that can't even in principle be empirically tested is tantamount to conceding Mehta's implicit point that the fervent prayer of a righteous man avails practically nothing.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

Thanks for your comments. I would like to have written a lot more on prayer but there's a lot to it and this post is already longer than most. Let me say now that, yes, when we pray, there is an expectation that God will hear and answer our prayers. First, it's because we know there is a God who answers prayers. Implicit in Metha's questions is the idea that prayers aren't answered because there really is no God. It's just that there isn't a god like the one Metha imagines.

What's more, we are commanded to pray for literally everything: Phillipians 4:6 says, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” As funny as it sounds, I sometimes pray for God to start my truck (if you saw my truck you'd understand). I have said that I pray the hardest when I'm balancing my cash at work. But I also pray for things like God giving me a good day, that He makes my wife's students behave, or that He keeps my children safe. When He does, I thank Him. It's an all day, every day relationship I have with God.

Like I said in my post, though, when we are close to God, His will becomes our will. I know that sometimes I will go through trials. At those times, I pray that God's will is being done, that He will give me peace and understanding, that He will help me to be obedient, and that He will receive all the glory.

Your point of WWII is a good example. Millions of people in different countries are all praying for victory. However, I know that God has a plan. When the nation of Israel was disobedient, God would sometimes send another nation to conquer them. When they repented, God delivered them. God still judges nations. If we are at war, our prayers should be the same: Let Your will be done, forgive our sins, deliver us, etc.

I'd like to say more but I'm out of time. Thanks again for your comments. God bless!!