The real miracles

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I just got around to seeing the film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, an amazing true story about a man who became paralyzed and unable to communicate with the world except by blinking one eye. One striking aspect to the movie was that, even though the main character himself was not particularly religious, almost everyone around him seemed to be a believer. He was often told, for example, that people were praying for him, and at one point he was even brought to church more or less against his will.

When I think about the idea that people were praying for him, I wonder what exactly they were praying for. That God would miraculously intervene against the laws of nature and give the man the ability to speak or even move again? Is this what people think God does?

I have never really made my peace with those parts of church services where intercessory prayers are offered for the sick. I understand and appreciate the sentiment that lies behind such prayers, and I know that at some level the idea of laying before God our concerns has great value. But it is one thing to tell God what concerns us; it is another thing to use God as a vehicle for a hope of magical solutions to the problems that plague us as creatures of nature who are limited by the physical world.

The real miracle in that movie, in my view, was not found in anyone's magic, but in the loving concern and attention that was directed to him by those around him, including by a wife who gave him more devotion than some might argue he deserved. Every act of communication on his part required active engagement by another party. There was something profound about the way people would begin a communication with him by reciting letters from the French alphabet, waiting for him to blink in order to signal which letter he wanted to communicate. This is in contrast to the way we normally express ourselves. If I want to say something, I just say it; but for him, the very act of "speaking" required that the recipient of the message look him right in the eye and start a recitation of letters.

To me, every time a human being takes care of another one, that is the real miracle. I think it is of much greater value for people to engage in tangible acts of compassion on a daily basis than to engage in futile attempts at conjuring up imaginary acts of magic by an interventionist Deity.

34 comments:

Connor said...

I too have always had a hard time handling intercessory prayer. I think if you were able to get people alone and away from the judgment of others so they could be honest, many church people would voice the same concerns.

Harry said...

To me, every time a human being takes care of another one, that is the real miracle. I think it is of much greater value for people to engage in tangible acts of compassion on a daily basis than to engage in futile attempts at conjuring up imaginary acts of magic by an interventionist Deity.

Most Christians, of course, do both. Another case of binary thinking?

And in my case, and many others, the attempts aren't futile at all, even though such things don't accord with your philosophy.

There are more things in heaven and Earth, Mystical,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy

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Mystical Seeker said...

Conor,

I think if you were able to get people alone and away from the judgment of others so they could be honest, many church people would voice the same concerns.

You think so? I often think that a lot of church people may hold certain beliefs in private that rarely get articulated in public, but because the beliefs are private it is hard to tell. I once attended a theologically-oriented group gathering sponsored by a progressive church in which various theological topics relating to progressive Christianity, and in in that gathering I expressed my belief that intercessory prayer was ineffective. I tried to express my views as politely in possible, because I did feel like I could be something of an outsider on this subject, but in any case my comment was met with silence. I couldn't tell if I had said something that people agreed with or if I had said something that crossed a certain boundary of belief. But it did make me wonder if this is yet another example of where I stand outside of the parameters of what constitutes most of progressive Christianity.

OneSmallStep said...

I've never liked that type of prayer because of what it says about the power of people over God. If someone says that they're praying that I be healed, my first reaction is, "So God wouldn't heal me unless you asked first?"

There is a compassionate sentiment behind someone praying for you, and the person praying means well. But if you drop an omnipotent, omniscience God into the equation, then prayer can't tell Him something He doesn't already know. If God is also all-loving, then He already wants what is best for the person, He wants the person healed/saved/the good thing to occur.

So I'd rather have a person's active help, or a person listening to me, then a person saying that they'll pray for me. The prayer doesn't add anything to what God already knows or is doing. If anything, it can come across like switching an "on" botton that's attached to God.

Mystical Seeker said...

If someone says that they're praying that I be healed, my first reaction is, "So God wouldn't heal me unless you asked first?"

Yes, EXACTLY! There are so many fundamental problems with this idea. You highlighted several of them--about how it calls into question God's omnipotence or benevolence. Another problem, which Spong has mentioned, is the idea that being popular with praying Christians will make God more likely to intervene on your behalf, something that seems particularly insidious.

There is no question that these prayers have a compassionate motive, as you point out. That is one reason why I have trod lightly on this subject in my face-to-face discussions with other church people. But I find it theologically untenable and I think it even can serve as a barrier to a more mature reflection on our relationship with God and our understanding of the world. I think there is a lot of value in moving beyond conceiving of God as a Santa in the Clouds or a Divine Magician we can try to cajole or manipulate.

Connor said...

"You think so?"

Not really, but maybe I want to believe. :)

Harry said...

If someone says that they're praying that I be healed, my first reaction is, "So God wouldn't heal me unless you asked first?"

Well, yes.

Anybody can ask. You can ask yourself. Is this so remarkable?

Creation was created for humans and is the responsibility of humans. We can ask for Divine assistance, but God doesn't usurp human responsibility by acting unilaterally.

And some people's prayers are more efficacious than others. Sorry if this offends your egalitarian sentiments. Don't blame me. I didn't make the rules. But I can't help but chuckle at the hubris of people who think they are wiser than our Lord.

If you have enough faith, you can move mountains. If you don't, well then you can't. Sorry, you've got to deal with the world as it is, not as you think it ought to be.

Mystical Seeker said...

"You think so?"

Not really, but maybe I want to believe. :)


Conor, I'm not saying you're wrong. I just don't know. I often wonder what people in the pews are really thinking.

Harry said...

Mystical:

According to this poll, only 5% of Christians believe that God doesn't respond to prayers.

It wasn't very scientific though.

http://www.beliefnet.com/story/157/story_15791_1.html

OneSmallStep said...

Harry,

**Anybody can ask. You can ask yourself. Is this so remarkable?**

It's not a matter of me asking for something that I need, it's a matter of portraying the idea that one person can use God as a method of power/control over the other. If I need to be healed, a person can use their "connection" to God to invoke that healing. Or if I need help, or so forth. It's like prayer becomes an on/off switch to activate God. Or the other person is somewhat saying, "I'm using God to heal you."

Whereas if you have a God that already knows everything you need, all ready loves you 100%, wants you to be saved/healed, then such prayers should be unnecessary, because He would already be doing something.

Harry said...

OneSmallStep:

t's not a matter of me asking for something that I need, it's a matter of portraying the idea that one person can use God as a method of power/control over the other. If I need to be healed, a person can use their "connection" to God to invoke that healing. Or if I need help, or so forth. It's like prayer becomes an on/off switch to activate God. Or the other person is somewhat saying, "I'm using God to heal you."

Well, if that is your concern, you needn't worry. If someone is praying out of impure motives instead of love, it won't work. And sometimes prayer doesn't work anyway. It certainly isn't an on/off switch, and no one who prays thinks that way, as you very well know.

Whereas if you have a God that already knows everything you need, all ready loves you 100%, wants you to be saved/healed, then such prayers should be unnecessary, because He would already be doing something.

Actually, this is why God is a Father and not a Mother. A Mother coddles her child. A Father allows the child to experience the consequences of the childs actions, and intercedes only if the child asks and the intercession is in fact in the child's best interests.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father does not go and rescue his son, but waits for the son to repent and return on his own. (The father does go out an meet the son on the road. An important point.)

OneSmallStep said...

Mystical,

**Another problem, which Spong has mentioned, is the idea that being popular with praying Christians will make God more likely to intervene on your behalf, something that seems particularly insidious.**

This isn't something I had considered before, but it would be insidious.

The other thing that can be insidious is that prayer can be used as an escape-valve. It goes back to what the letter of James said, in terms of showing one's faith with works. Your brother is in need, and what he really needs is food before he starves to death.

Harry,

**It certainly isn't an on/off switch, and no one who prays thinks that way, as you very well know.**

One thing to make sure we all understand, given that we are talking about two different ideas here. There is praying for others, and there is praying for yourself. My focus is on the idea of praying for another person, and everything that is buried in that idea.

The on/off image is what I see, when people say that they'll pray for me. Again, if you have the Christian God with all of His qualities, such prayer should not be necessary from other people, as He knows all and will provide all. If God is only going to heal me because someone asks, then in reality, the other person is in control, not God. It's not a matter of someone's intentions -- as I stated earlier, I do understand the compassion behind someone saying that they'll pray for me. It's a matter of what is conveyed by the very idea of someone praying to God for another person in the first place. Because it really shouldn't influence God one way or the other, given the nature of God.

Plus, if prayer sometimes doesn't work anyway -- and I assume you meant this to involve the pure motives -- what does it accomplish? Yes, it lets others know that they are petitioning God on their behalf, and it lets others know that they are in people's thoughts. But many times when you see well-known Christians asking for prayers, and then later thanking everyone for the prayers because the condition turned out favorably in the pray-ees favor, there are a boatload of implications there. One of such is the on/off switch, and thus the "power over God" idea. It's almost like saying the favorable condition would not have occured if only 49 people had prayed, instead of 50.

**and intercedes only if the child asks and the intercession is in fact in the child's best interests.**

I am truly hoping you don't mean this generalization 100% across the board. Fathers don't always wait for the child to ask. There are times when the child needs intervention regardless of asking, because the child is doing something incredibly dangerous. Mothers also do let children learn from their mistakes. Any mature parent realizes that doing everything for one's child only does a disservice for the child in the long run.

But the problem with this idea goes back to the two different ideas being discussed: prayer for others, and prayer for self. My focus is on intervening prayers for others, and what it can imply about the whole nature of prayer. This is a different scenario, because it involves the individual person recognizing his/her need for help, and accepting what is already available. The scenario I'm discussing is the one where person A asks God to do something for person B, and what it insinuates about person A's connection/control over God.

Mystical Seeker said...

This isn't something I had considered before, but it would be insidious.

Here's what Spong writes in "Why Christianity Must Change or Die", about all the prayers his wife received after she got a cancer diagnosis. I think it is a very compelling point:

Despite my gratitude for the embracing love that these people demonstrated, both for me and for my wife, I could not help but be troubled at their explanations. Suppose, I queried to myself alone, that a sanitation worker in Newark, New Jersey, probably the city with the lowest paer capita income in the United States, has a wife who had received the same diagnosis. Because he is not a high-profile person, well connected to a large network of people, socially prominent, or covered by the press, the sickness of his wife never comes to public attention. Suppose he is not a religiously oriented person and thus prayer groups and individual petitions in hundreds of churches are not offered on his wife's behalf. Would that affect the course of the sickness? Would she live less time from diagnosis to death, endure more obvious pain, or face a more difficult dying? If so, would that not be to attribute to God not only a capricious nature, but also a value system shaped by human importance and the worldly standards of social elitism? Would I be interested in worshiping a God who would treat my wife differently because we had had opportunities in life that the sanitation worker had not had? Do I want to attribute to the deity a behavior pattern based on human status? The answer to all of these questions is no, no, a thousand times no! If that was where praying to a theistic deity wound up, then dismissing so distorted a concept from organized religion was not a loss, but a positive gain.

Mystical Seeker said...

My focus is on intervening prayers for others, and what it can imply about the whole nature of prayer.

Yes, asking for intervention on one's own behalf is another matter altogether, different from the point I was raising. Of course, if God only helps a person who asks for it in prayer, that would pretty much rule out God ever helping people who were in comas or in vegetative states. But the vast majority of intercessory prayers that I hear spoken in churches are not requests on the person's own behalf, but for others, often family members or friends. That gets back to the example that Spong cited of his wife, where we have a theology that says that only those people who are popular in Christian circles will get God's attention, because a lonely friendless outcast would have no one to engage in intercessory prayer on their behalf.

Frank said...

I think prayer is more about the person praying that it is about whether or not you can invoke God's help. Augustine has a "theology of desire" which I think is very profound. It is good to fan the flames of our wishes and wans, to yearn and to reach. Judaism itself was a religion of desire in many ways, waiting for the Messiah (wish I could remember who said that).

Sure, some prayers seem to be about very simple things and even selfish. But I believe our humanty is good, and even though our humanity makes us wish for things that are self-serving, they can be a vehcile for us for growth and transcendence. We gotta start somewhere. When you fan the flames, you often start with a small flicker, first.

I wrote that a bit here:
http://franklesko.blogspot.com/2008/04/prayer-as-petition.html

Frank said...

One more thing: Maybe prayer is more like karma. It depends on how you view God. If you view God on a throne with a white beard watching over us, then yes, it makes no sense why "he" would respond to someone who prays and leave someone else to suffer who didn't have someone to pray for them.

But that's not how you view God in the first place, so why are you using that analogy here?

If God is more of an energy, maybe God is not even "conscious." This is a cruel, unfair world, so why would we expect prayer to be any different? Its up to us to get in there to help each other out, because God is not going to do that, at least not alone. Jesus didn't say we should wait around for God to house the homeless and feed the hungry, he told us to do it.

Harry said...

OSS:

‏First, of course my generalization was not meant to be 100%.

Before we decide we are talking about two different things, do you then agree that God can and does intervene?

Are you arguing that God might intervene if we pray for our own welfare, but not for the welfare of others?

That we should pray for others and such prayer is efficacious is testified to by James (seeing as how you brought him up:

Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power In its effects. Elijah was a man of like natures with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain and...it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit. (James 5:16-18)

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And if prayer sometimes fails, what does it accomplish? It teaches us that prayer is not an on/off switch.

And if prayer for others sometimes suceeds does it not strengthen the faith of he who prays and others in the goodness of our God?

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I think meditation on Matthew 8:5-13 might help.

Harry said...

Perhaps, as you all are Progressive Christians, you might be convinced of the value of prayer for others by comparing such prayer to the Buddhist practice of "Meditation on Compassion.

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(BTW, it is my theory that the idea of "compassion" was imported into Buddhism from Christian sources. The timing is right anyway.)

Luke said...

i'll be posting soon on the Liturgy and it's interesting to find that intercessory prayer is actually a pagan practice. when you hear something like "God, if you do xxx then we'll do yyy" or anything similar than what you're hearing is a practice that is far older than Christianity; and not originally in the Gospels i might add as the Lord's Prayer is more a classic supplication prayer.

Sometimes an invocation mixes a supplication with a commandment in an attempt to obtain a favour from some spirit by commanding that entity to do something under a threatening of some bond placed unto him/her in case the asked favour is not obtained.

this type of religion is magical and ultimately doomed to fail. what happens if we do yyy, and xxx doesn't happen? than there must not be a God! and that's how many current atheists think but what their refuting isn't God but the magical, fundamentalist god.

great post! i'm right there with you... what prayer does for me is call to mind the greater framework, the higher ethic, and show ways i can improve or paths i can take. here's some examples from around the blog'o'sphere:

http://sftsexperience.blogspot.com/2008/02/genesis-121-4-pastoral-prayer.html

http://toothface.blogspot.com/search/label/prayers

Luke said...

@ Harry: "BTW, it is my theory that the idea of "compassion" was imported into Buddhism from Christian sources. The timing is right anyway.)"

are you kidding me?! seriously? your assuming that their ideas of compassion are the same, and they're not. the Buddhist idea of compassion stems from nonattachment; meaning, to help others reach enlightenment (goal of buddhism) than one must realize one's own impermanence. To help with this impermanence one must not have attachments and showing compassion and total self-sacrifice is key because if you don't go into it totally, then you're still attached to your own well-being. this idea has been around in buddhism for a LONG time mainly because it's derived from Hinduism, which is around 8,000 years old.

in Christianity (2,000 years old)it's much different. Where Buddhism is about escaping attachments, most forms of Christianity embrace them! One must grow in faith, hope and love both with self and with the wider church (i.e. community) to gain salvation. Note that salvation IS NOT enlightenment. So Christians are called to spread God's grace (everlasting compassion) amongst themselves and to the world, even their enemies!

these definitions are NOT the same, one does not preclude the other, and all in all, you need to do some more reading there my friend before you make such outlandish claims.

Harry said...

Luke:

Of course the ideas of supplicatory prayer are older than Christianity.

So what? Pre-Christians knew about the unseen world and the possibility of communicating with supernatural entities. It is only in modern times such knowledge has been lost.

And why should this idea die out? Sometimes you do xxx and yyy does happen.

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And I am certainly not kidding you. I have done enough reading to support my credentials to make outlandish claims, I assure you.

Religions evolve (another Progressive Dogma), and Theraveda Buddhism wasn't so very much interested in compassion.

Mahayana, which introduced the Bodhisatva vows, didn't come around until after Christianity got going.

I will concede that Buddhist compassion is different, and very much inferior to, Christian Agape, but they did the best they can having been hobbled with a constipated religious perspective.

Luke said...

"Mahayana, which introduced the Bodhisatva vows, didn't come around until after Christianity got going.

I will concede that Buddhist compassion is different, and very much inferior to, Christian Agape, but they did the best they can having been hobbled with a constipated religious perspective."
-Harry

le sigh... it's different as it's ends are different. Buddhist compassion is not inferior to Christian Agape because the ends are not the same.

if Buddhism was striving for salvation and grace, you'd be correct, but it's going for enlightenment, so salvation is reletively unimportant nor even relative as there is no "god" inherent in the buddhist system. so you can't compare apples and oranges and say one is better than the other. you can only say "this one is better suited for me" anything else would be a lie unless you lived in that culture and tried to meet it's desired ends and with statements like that, it's obvious you haven't.

as for your really outlandish claim that Christians influenced Buddhist thought, you must recognize that we're talking 1st century. Things took a little longer, communication is a little slower. so the conversation in Buddhism was going on for a long while before the first century came around (some scholars say as early as the Third Buddhist Council around 250 BCE where the "doctrine" of Theravada school was established).

your claims on the surface level look like they hold water, but on a closer theological investigation fall apart within the first 5 minutes. the Bodhisattva has been around way before the first century in fact it's a hindu concept that's linguistic roots can first found in the Upaniṣhads Veda, it's the Mahayana that really took this concept and ran with it.

Every culture has their wisdom beings from the Jewish "Tzadik" to the Native American "elder" and their oral tradition can't be exactly placed. but we do know the linguistic roots go back a lot further, but if it helps you sleep better at night that you're superior to others have at it... just note that it goes against the very nature of the religion you claim to support (Matthew 5:43, Matthew 22:36-40, JOHN 10:4-16, John 14:23-24, Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 3:28 to start with)

Harry said...

Luke:

I certainly agree that the ends are not the same, and I'm glad you recognize this because alot of Progressive Christians insist that the ends of all religions are the same, usually making some vague reference that all paths lead to the same mountain, or something like that.

The goal of Buddhism is, of course, Nirvana: the extinction of self. Why anyone should consider this a worthy goal is beyond me, however. Nirvana is recognized in the west as the illness Depersonalization Disorder and I have seen a couple of times where sufferers of Depersonalization Disorder are hailed as very Holy Women by Hindus (both cases happened to be female.)

As far as it being the 1st century, communication was slower than today. It might take months instead of hours to get from Jerusalem to Dehli. Christianity was established in India by St. Thomas, and his tomb can be seen in Mylapore to this day.

Why did the Bodhisattva notion "take off" when it did, just when Christianity was first established in India? Hmmm. Here is a great thesis subject for someone, I think.

Luke said...

Thanks Harry, nice reply! I really liked this "Why did the Bodhisattva notion "take off" when it did, just when Christianity was first established in India? Hmmm. Here is a great thesis subject for someone, I think."

i concur.. may have to explore this further as wisdom literature is one area of my studies (ecclesiastes, job, jonah, proverbs etc).

As for St. Thomas... Thomas Christians are a WHOLE 'nother ball of wax... namely that they throw the Gospel of John right out the window and use the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, a move which i find really interesting. Elaine Pagels studied this in her book Beyond Belief where she postulates that parts of John are directed at the Thomas Christians (saying that Thomas was NOT there at pentacost ergo not blessed by the Holy Spirit and the whole Doubting Thomas passage for two examples). Good book and an interesting tradition there in India. Some scholars also have gone as far to make the reverse claim that you're making, namely Jesus didn't shape Buddhism but was shaped BY Buddhism. There are those out there that make a compelling case saying that Jesus was a Jewish Buddhist and spent his childhood years in India and other Buddhist countries. Plausable, yes as there is no narrative of Jesus' teenage years to age 30. Provable, no.

Luke said...

"Progressive Christians insist that the ends of all religions are the same, usually making some vague reference that all paths lead to the same mountain, or something like that."
-Harry

yeah... they do. i'm trying to tweak this phrase as it's EXTREMELY simplistic. i'm trying to get ppl to realize that yeah, there's one mountain (meaning earth) and there are paths on it... however, not all are going up. Not all treat the mountain in the same way, etc, etc, etc.

i'm a pluralist but a HARD one, not the cheap kind running around quoting Gandhi saying "all hindus, buddhists and Christians are actually the exact same! And so is everyone else!" that's really insulting not only to Christianity, but to everyone else out there.

Peace man!

OneSmallStep said...

Harry,

**‏First, of course my generalization was not meant to be 100%.**

If you are going to say that God is not a mother because mothers coddle, it will come across as a 100% statement.

**Before we decide we are talking about two different things, do you then agree that God can and does intervene?**

The nature of the discussion is not if God intervenes, but intecessory prayer and the implications behind it. However, to answer your question, I'm not sure. Most cases I see when people pray has an answer that has a 50/50 chance of being granted, and greatly dependent upon circumstances.

**Are you arguing that God might intervene if we pray for our own welfare, but not for the welfare of others?**

No. My focus is on the perception behind the idea that God answers person's A prayer about person B, and what that implies about the nature of God, as well as the "control" person A has in the situation. It again comes down to the idea that if 50 people prayed for a reversal of cancer, God answered. Whereas God might not have answered if there were only 49 prayers. As soon as the idea is presented that God only did something because a person prayed, it does present the idea of an on/off switch.

There's a different idea behind praying for oneself. In terms of intecessory prayers, I'm thinking of the prayers that say, "God, my friend really needs your salvation, please open her heart." I find that type of prayer senseless, because if God wants everyone to be saved, then God is already working on my friend to open her heart, and get her saved. What does the prayer accomplish? It won't motivate God to do more than He's already doing. If not, then it means that I am the power behind my friend's salvation, because my friend would not potentially be saved unless I asked God, first.

In the case of one's self, if my friend sees no need for salvation, then she's certainly not going to utter that prayer. Which is why I say we are discussing two different categories.

**And if prayer for others sometimes suceeds does it not strengthen the faith of he who prays and others in the goodness of our God?**

It might, but I'm not sure it should. The idea here can be that God is good because He answered the prayer in a successful way -- as in, the person received what was prayed for. However, God's goodness is not dependent upon that positive answer. God is not good because He said yes to the prayer. God is also good if God says "no." If God's goodness is not dependent upon the positive answer, then I'm not sure said answer should strengthen anything. Because it's certaintly not said that "God is not good because He said no to my prayer."

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**I think meditation on Matthew 8:5-13 might help.**

This wouldn't work in terms of the nature of God, because we have no indication that the centurion thought he was approaching God or any sort of deity. What we have is that he knew he was approaching a superior of some sort with healing powers, probably just a man.

What we are discussing are prayers to an omnipotent, omniscence, omnibenevelont deity who's will is paramount, and does not change.

Mystical Seeker said...

The nature of the discussion is not if God intervenes, but intercessory prayer and the implications behind it.

Yes, my posting was really focused on the question of people praying on others' behalf, and what this really means about God's supposed nature and the nature of this alleged supernatural intervention.

The misogyny that lies behind an assertion that motherly love is inferior to the fatherly variety was specifically offered to justify the claim that God only intervenes to help someone if someone asks for it. Even if that were true (and I would guess that even most people who believe in an interventionist Deity accept that God may intervene at times even if no one asks for him to do so), and even if we set aside certain implications of this (such as, as I pointed out, the fact that God would be unable to help a person in a coma because that person could not ask for Divine intervention on their own behalf), it all completely misses the point of the discussion here, which involves intercessory prayer by one party on the behalf of another party. In that case, the suggestion is not that the person who God is being asked to help is doing the asking him- or herself, but rather that somehow it is the others doing the praying that has the effect on changing God's actions.

The argument that God requires a person to ask God to help themselves before God will intervene thus not only doesn't apply here, it is basically contradicted by the assertion that intercessory prayer by certain people on the behalf of others actually works. The only way you could reconcile this with the notion that a non-coddling masculine fatherly God will only help you if you ask for the help yourself is if the person being prayed for also does the praying for themselves along with the others who are praying for him or her. And if that is the case, then those other people who are praying for the party in question would be superfluous, since (according to this argument) the only thing that matters as far as triggering Divine intervention is that the person ask for their own help. So it is indeed a curious and indeed self-contradictory argument on behalf of intercessory prayer to claim that it works because God expects someone to ask for their own help.

It again comes down to the idea that if 50 people prayed for a reversal of cancer, God answered. Whereas God might not have answered if there were only 49 prayers.

I agree, but I think it even goes farther, because even if comes down to one person being all that is necessary to form a quorum, I would suggest that this raises serious questions about what kind of God this would be. If the lonely outcast has no one to pray for them, then God won't help them? What kind of God is that?

Harry said...

Luke:

I read Pagels along time ago and was impressed with her warped notion of John's Gospel and her insidious way of leading her readers to jump to conclusions which she wouldn't actually state because she had her academic reputation to maintain.

Her newer work, the Gnostic Paul I think it is called, is much more interesting. Paul, of course, was not a Gnostic but like me was a small g gnostic.

As far as Jesus visiting India, it is certainly possible and has as much supporting evidence as anything the Jesus Seminar has ever come up with, i.e. slim to none. My opinion is that Buddhism is about as far away as you can get from Christianity, not merely in its orientation to a Deity, but especially in its attitude toward suffering. Buddhists try to escape suffering. Christianity embraces it.

Taoism, on the other hand, is the most Christian non-Christian religion. An interesting book here is "Christ the Eternal Tao".

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OSS:

Perhaps I have missed totally the nature of the discussion, then. I like to work from bottom up. If intercessory prayer works, then we expand our understanding of God to include that fact. If it doesn't, that is a sufficient reason not to indulge in it, and we theologize accordingly.

I am less comfortable with an argument that says "God is like this, so we shouldn't pray for others."

Praying for others is as old as Christianity, as the quotation from James indicates.

Finally, what the Centerion believed about Jesus is utterly beside the point. Jesus, as Christians know, is God and a request to Him did result in the healing of the servant. This is a datum that we must include in our theology.

What we are discussing are prayers to an omnipotent, omniscence, omnibenevelont deity who's will is paramount, and does not change.

Here is the crux: Christianity believes in your o^3 deity Who condescends to the will of man on occasion.

Harry said...

Mystical:

The outcast can certainly pray for himself. I pointed this out in my very first post.

Seeing as how you finally acknowledged my posts, there is a question I'd like to ask you, and ask the favor of a reply:

You don't like the theologizing in the Church. You don't like Communion, and now you say you don't like the praying.

Just what would go on in your ideal church?

What do you consider a proper sort of Christian service?

Mystical Seeker said...

The outcast can certainly pray for himself.

Thus once again illustrating the pointlessness of people engaging in intercessory prayer for other people, which has been the point of this discussion all along.

Those people who are praying for others are obviously just silly deluded folks who think that God has inferior feminine characteristics, not realizing that God has the superior characteristics of the human male.

Harry said...

So Mystical, now that we've cleared all that up, what do you think we should do in church?

Harry said...

I actually woke up this morning and remembered this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttT8pOf9rQQ

I've been think about this too much, God help me! (Oooops, sorry didn't mean that!)

Eileen said...

Mystical -

I know what you mean about praying to for magic.

When I pray for someone, I spend time thinking about my fondness for them, and my sadness for what they are facing...and then I pray for them to have the strength and courage to face the things they will face.

I think of it as me sending out my love and energy to that person, more than praying for magic solutions.

just me though...

Mystical Seeker said...

Eileen,

That sounds great. My guess is that a lot of "intercessory" prayer has, or at least can have, a lot more to do with what you are describing than with someone actually asking God to wave a magic wand.

That is why I am always a little ambivalent about this subject. I understand and respect the positive value of laying before God our feelings about people who are important to us.