Sunday, December 24, 2017

God's sleeper cells

I discussed the problem of unanswered prayer on several occasions. Now I'd like to consider from a different angle.

Of course, from the standpoint of an atheist, Christian explanations for unanswered prayer are special pleading. The real reason prayers go unanswered because there's no God to answer prayer, and apparent answered prayers are just coincidence.

I understand how it looks that way to an outsider, yet the evidence for a prayer-answering God is uncontrovertible.

But here's one reason God doesn't answer every Christian prayer: many prayers request direct divine intervention. Ask God to cut through the red tape.

Problem is there's a balancing act between the theology of the church and the theology of prayer. I don't mean "the church" in a high churchy Roman Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, Eastern Orthodox sense, but garden-variety Christians. 

Oftentimes, God chooses to minister indirectly through the efforts of Christians. Christians can function as mediators in the sense that their charitable efforts bear witness to God's love and grace.

Consider Ernest Gordon, who was an inmate in a Japanese POW camp. At first, the law of the jungle took over. The survival of the fittest among the inmates. But then a Christian revival broke out.

A related example is Eric Liddell, a missionary to China. He had a chance to leave China when the Japanese invaded, but he stayed behind to be with his students. He and they were captured. Imprisoned in a POW camp. And he never left the camp. He died there of brain cancer, after faithfully ministering to his students and other inmates. 

Or the experience of Corrie ten Boom. Those are specular examples, but there are more mundane examples, like a Christian family in which grown children care for elderly, enfeebled parents. Or an elderly Christian couple where one provides for the other, even though both are very diminished. 

If God were to parachute in, in answer to prayer, that would eliminate the opportunity for Christians to minister to other Christians. Although our best efforts are often pitifully inadequate, there is, for that very reason, something beautiful about vessels of clay aiding other vessels of clay. The weak caring for the weaker. When Christians who may have very limited resources summon what little they have to offer, making the most of little.

Catholics mock the "invisible" church, but there's something wonderful about the invisible church. Oftentimes, the church is like a desert that has a barren, lifeless landscape. But appearances are deceptive. It only takes is a flash flood and the next day the desert is bursting into a flower garden. 

Just beneath the desolate surface the ground was teaming with seeds waiting for water. All it takes is a flash flood to explode into life. 

God has seeded parts of the world with Christians who lay dormant until they spring into action when a challenge arises. Like sleeper cells behind enemy lines. They go largely unnoticed by unbelievers, yet God has delegated to them a ministry, to be his lips and ears and hands and feet. 

Nabeel Qureshi never got what he asked for–in this life. Those who prayed for his healing never got what they asked for. Yet they themselves were agents of mercy. A whole network waiting to spontaneously assemble at a moment's notice to shower him, his wife, his parents and sister with encouragement and Christian witness. In a sense, the medium was the answer. 

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