I’ve written about prayer a few times here. I’ve been pretty clear that I’m ambivalent about the idea the idea of intercessory prayer – that is, of praying to God to intervene in the life of others, to save a life, to cure an illness, to find a lost loved one, to solve war and famine, to see to it that the Canucks win the Stanley Cup. I’m ambivalent about it because – as I’ve said here before – although I appreciate (and practice) prayer as a sort of communion with one’s higher power, I can’t reconcile that idea of communion with asking for intercessory favors. I understand asking for strength, peace, patience, insight; I don’t understand asking for God to play favorites.
What I said about this a few months back:
Why should God help us find a cure for cancer, and not for muscular
dystrophy? Find one lost child, and not another? Help the Red Wings win
while leaving children dying in sub-Saharan Africa? If God is a god who
lets bad things happen, the only way that I can understand that is if
the point of letting bad things happen is to compel us to cope with
pain and heartbreak and evil ourselves, alone, to better understand
those things. And that idea of a didactic God doesn’t square with a
picture of God as a moody patriarch who dispenses favors to his
children on the basis of who supplicates most fervently.
My nephew – my sister’s child – is dying.
He has Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, which is a condition in which the
muscles – including the heart and lungs – gradually disintegrate. It
almost exclusively affects boys. It always kills, usually before the
child’s late teens. There is no cure. So it’s tempting for me to spend
every night praying for God to intercede, to reveal a cure or to
provide a miracle that will allow Tanner to live. But why should He?
Why cure muscular dystrophy, and not, say, childhood leukemia? Why save
Tanner, and not any number of other terminally ill children? If we
expect God to intercede to make the world a better place, why not
expect him to cure all illness and stop all wars and save everybody?
Because, I said at the time, it doesn’t work that way. God doesn’t work that way, or at least I hope that he doesn’t. If I pray for him to save Tanner’s life, and he doesn’t, does that mean that he judged Tanner undeserving of such favor? That I prayed wrong? What? Spiritual peace on the matter of my nephew’s inevitable death requires that I accept his death as part of God’s plan. What that plan is, I don’t know. But if I believe that God has a plan, a good plan, a meaningful plan, for everyone and everything on earth, who am I to demand that He change that plan? Why should he change that plan for me? And if He’s willing to change His plans if people ask Him enough, then what sort of God is He anyway?
I’ve been thinking about this, because I’ve been asked a lot over the last day or so to pray for the child of another blogger, and to ask others to pray for him and for his mom and for their family. Which I am doing, of course. But I am not praying for God to intervene and save Stellan’s life, and I’ve said so. I’m praying for peace and strength for Stellan’s mom and for Stellan’s family. I’m praying that Stellan be surrounded by love. I hope that that’s enough, and that that’s right. I believe that it is. But I’ve been told by a few people that my aversion to intercessory prayer reflects a lack of faith, and that if I only believed that God does intervene, I would embrace it.
But as I said above, I don’t want to believe that God can be persuaded to intervene in some cases (and by extension, choose to not intervene in others). Of course I want Stellan to live, just as I want Tanner to live. But if their life and death – if life and death in general – can be determined by something as fickle and indeterminate as force of persuasion, I don’t even want to know. Because as I said above, I don’t want to believe in a God who decides who lives and dies on the basis of who has the most effective lobbyists. I just don’t.
So I pray for strength and peace and love for the families of children like Stellan and Tanner. I pray that doctors and scientists be inspired to do their very best work in caring for these children and in searching for cures for their conditions. I pray for patience and understanding for myself, such that I might face a world that is full of sadness and pain with grace.
And then I pray some more.