Looking back, it’s interesting how I still prayed after I lost my faith in God. I came to the heart-breaking conclusion that even if there was a God, He had no interest in this world. But for thirty years, I was used to talking to this God on just about any topic; especially the heart-felt cries. A sudden loss of all faith felt like the spine was ripped out of my body, so what do you do in an emergency like that?
There was this constant tendency to ‘bring my needs to the Lord’, ‘come to His presence’, ‘connect with the maker of heaven and earth’. Although I wasn’t someone to spend an hour in continuous prayer every day, it was more like a constant conversation in the back of my mind. Like God was reading my thoughts all the time. Yet despite it being such a strong force, I think overall it was rather an element that drove me out. Why? How can prayer get you removed further from God?
Here are my seeds of prayer doubts:
No Audible Voice
As a Christian, you are not expected to hear an audible voice from God. Some testify to have heard an audible voice, but that is a big exception (I can think of only one missionary, but he was full of wild stories). Of all the hundreds or thousands of stories I have heard, it just doesn’t seem to happen.
But given that the Bible is full of “so says the Lord” and audible conversations, why does God not use this strategy these days? Why talk through the minds of people, where your own voice and ‘Gods voice’ can sound so enormously similar? Why the big silence? I know the Christian answers, but I also know they are band aids on a wound that is still fresh and just won’t heal. It just didn’t feel right.
No Dislike Button
One of the common phenomena among Christians is to share testimonies of how God helped you in your life and your prayers were heard. In the missionary college we often had these ‘sharing’ sessions, especially after ‘Quiet Day’: a whole day of praying, silence and bible-reading.
What struck me at some point, is that only a small portion of students were sharing stuff that had happened, and the vast majority of it was positive. Whoever gets up on the stage to share that they were quiet for a whole day, listening to God, and nothing happened? No feeling, nothing? That they really needed an answer, but they got nothing? It wouldn’t do well.
Just as Facebook has no dislike button, every Christian story needs to ‘glorify God’. This gives believers the false impression that God is constantly hearing prayers.
There are some Christian groups honest enough to admit that prayer often doesn’t yield results and even share stories of that. But the blame is never put on God, instead, we are commanded to persevere and just keep praying. God never gets the dislike button.
But researchers are not fooled by the lack of dislike buttons in Christian testimonies. Statistically speaking I can be very short: prayer doesn’t work. Large scale research has been done, and there is even a negative impact on sick patients when they are being prayed for.
I knew about this research when I was a Christian, but I just thought that God couldn’t be caught in a number. Now that seems strange: why would God want to hide so much that He is going to not hear any prayers for healing for every single patient in the prayer research that included thousands of people, and leave it all to luck?
The God who could send fire from heaven to burn the flesh on the altar to show off His muscles against the fake god Baal (1 Kings 18), is squashed by a simple scientific research. This doesn’t make sense. It makes the 21st centry YHWH look like a magician who can only do His trick when nobody is watching.
This bothered me. How powerful must the dark wizardry of Kim Jong Un be in North Korea to resist this wave of prayer; that can supposedly move mountains, hold back rain, send legions from heaven, and much more? Yet hardly anything positive could be attributed to prayer for North Korea. Platitudes don’t help, I cannot think of some grand mystery why God allows North Korea to be this way despite the prayers. It is just plain wrong, and God just lets these people suffer.
Have you ever heard a preacher say: “stop praying, you have done enough”?
I have often been guild-tripped into praying more. Examples have been given to me of people praying 3 hours a day, getting up at 4 AM in the morning to pray, as the ultimate way to live. A full night of prayer for persecuted Christians. Weekly prayer meetings. “Seven days without prayer makes one weak”. Prayer before every meal. After every meal.
Yet it felt wrong to me. How many times to I need to repeat the same questions to God, or have the same conversations before God hears me? Doesn’t God know that Thailand needs to be ‘saved’, or that we need to stay safe, or that we need His presence, love and wisdom in our lives? And how often does God need to hear ‘thank you’ for the death on the cross? (No, I am not mocking. Real life relationships dont work that way either)
Which brings me to the point of the monologue: prayer is called a conversation with God, but it is really a monologue. What could possibly be more exciting than talking to the Supreme Being behind this universe, the Mind That Knows All, the Ultimate of Wisdom, the Total of Every Sum? I’m serious: I would be thrilled!
Despite having this Enormously Interesting conversation partner, prayer is –most of the time- downright boring. This only makes sense to me if God isn’t answering – or worse: listening – at all.
I think it took about a month after my deconversion for me to stop the habit of praying altogether. Nobody seems to be listening, so I was just talking to myself. And even though I sometimes miss having this ever-present ‘daddy’ figure to talk to, it feels like growing up to give up on prayer. Like moving out of your parents house, and buying your own living. I have to take my own responsibility, I cannot lay down the burden of being a father, a husband, or the search for a car, house or keys in my Heavenly Father’s hands.
No, I need to do my own business. It was time for me to stand on my own two feet.
The story of prayer does not end here. Lots of people have prayed for me since my deconversion. More than ever, in fact. How did that affect me? What do I think of that now? More of that in part two, coming up soon.