Friday, August 25, 2017

Deathbed prayer

i) I think some well-meaning Christians are confused about how to pray for the disabled, terminally ill, degeneratively ill, and other suchlike. They pray for miraculous healing, and that's well and good. We should pray for miraculous healing. And sometimes God grants our request.

Problem is, some Christians think that's the only kind of prayer we should offer in those cases. Even though we know that God doesn't always answer such prayers, indeed, that God rarely answers prayers for miraculous healing, they seem to think it would be faithless to pray for anything short of miraculous healing. That's giving up! 

One problem with their attitude is that it's possible to pray for more than one outcome. In addition to your preferred outcome, you can have a contingency prayer. You can pray for what you hope will happen, but you can have a fallback request in case that doesn't happen. You can say something like: "God, I pray that you will heal so-and-so of his terminal illness, but if not, I pray that you will grant him a peaceful death".

ii) Moreover, to only pray for healing can injure the faith of those we pray with. I knew a blind couple. Both husband and wife were born sighted but lost their eyesight in adulthood. The wife later died of diabetes (or complications thereof).

She shared with me her frustration about well-meaning Christians who, upon first meeting her, always wanted to pray that God restore her sight. "Don't you want God to heal you?" "Do you have faith?"

Imagine how discouraging it would get to have people constantly pray with you for healing, but nothing happens. They never let you come to terms with your condition. 

iii) Apropos (ii), you can pray for someone without praying with them. While it's often good to pray with someone, if you have direct contact, there are situations where it's more tactful to pray for them without their knowledge. That way they can't be disappointed if the prayer goes unanswered. 

iv) To adapt an illustration that Lydia McGrew recently used, suppose I live in tornado alley. Should I take the precaution of building a root cellar to protect my family in case a tornado strikes, or would that be faithless?

Or suppose I buy home that already has a root cellar. If I see a twister making a bee line for our house, should we head for the root cellar, or would that be faithless? After all, God has the power to divert the twister or make it instantly dissipate. Are we distrustful if we don't wait to see if God will miraculously intervene to spare us from the tornado? Should we wait until it's too late to take refuge in the root cellar? 

Yet we know from experience that God doesn't always or even generally deflect natural disasters in answer to prayer. Is it faithless to take ordinary providence into account? Is it faithless to have a backup plan? After all, God didn't promise to save us from the twister. 

iii) Finally, I ran across a statement today that reminds me of something I've said: Some Christians "campaign" to get as many people to pray about something as possible...seem to have a kind of theology of "votes" - if God's side gets enough votes, then the person who is ill (for example) is healed, but the person is not healed if not enough votes can be solicited.

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