Somewhere in the holy ether, a sleeping god is aroused by the voice of an anguished woman. He slowly settles his focus onto her words. She is making plea on behalf of a sick child. God thinks, I might have missed that. I’m glad she brought that to my attention.
God questions, what should I do about this sick child?
He listens further. The woman asks for healing for the child.
I had been inclined to take the child, god thinks. But this woman speaks so earnestly. She has swayed me. I will intervene and bring healing to the child.
Such a story seems a little preposterous. The assumptions that God was either unaware of the sick child or unwilling to do anything about it make God either irrelevant or uncaring–assumptions that don’t gel with any other assumptions we make regarding a higher power (God). To admit that there is a god is to admit that there is a being who knows all and is involved. Does the omnipresent God who is surrounding the child and living within the child know that the child is sick? Yes. Does the God who gives life to all and calls creation a child wish goodness for this particular child? Yes.
Did the woman’s prayer alert God to something God might have missed or sway God’s mind into a particular response? Unlikely.
So what’s the point? Why pray? Why offer up our hopes and longings to a divine being? After all, we are neither alerting God to some new situation nor effectually changing the mind of the Divine. Are we?
Let’s take the recent rash of mass shootings. Is there a point in praying for the families and communities of those affected? Will God deliver peace and reconciliation to those grieving because people on the other side of the country asked God to?
Yes and no.
Yes, because when I tell you that I’m praying for you in your pain and grief, I am saying many things. Firstly, I am saying that I acknowledge you–I recognize you are in pain and unsettled. You are not completely alone nor ignored in your pain. I see you and recognize you. I, in part, share in your pain. Secondly, I am saying that I have good hopes for you. I want to see you well. I want to see you whole again. I am asking for you to be well.
And that leads to the “no” side of our question. Will God deliver reconciliation in response to my prayer for you? Not if I’m not willing to help bring about the requested reconciliation. I think that is the point of the New York Daily’s headline (above right). They are suggesting that the candidates prays don’t matter because those particular candidates are unwilling to take the newspaper’s proposed steps to reduce gun violence. The candidates prayers won’t work because they are unwilling to be a part of the solution. So, if I have already decided that I will have nothing more to do with you or the solution to your situation, than my prayers for you are worthless.
It’s unlikely that our prayers alert or sway God. What our prayers do is align us. Prayer draws us into the heart of God. Prayer involves the pray-er.
God’s heart is love, for God is love (1 John 4:16). When we pray for someone else, we are aligning ourselves in love. We are expressing a longing to see goodness come around somebody–and we are opening ourselves up to the possibility that we might be involved in the answer to prayer. Prayer can be a creative endeavor, in that it helps us to imagine how prayer might be answered and how we might be a part of it. Prayer calls us into awareness and action. That’s the uniting presence of the Divine.
Do I think the families of the victims appreciate hearing that we are praying for them? I do. Our admissions to prayer can have the same affect as a get-well card from a friend. There is healing in that. There is love in that. There is God in that.
Will God fix the grief and the systems that create the grief? Only when we are willing to respond and, in part, be the answer we hope for in our prayers.