You know what has been the most common response to my de-conversion from Christian friends, family and colleagues?
“I will pray for you”
I have not heard this ten times, or twenty, but I guess at least a hundred times. Some even said that other groups, with people I don’t know at all, were praying for me! Maybe you have been praying for me. Maybe you are still praying for me every time you see another one of these blog posts come by. If you are my parents, probably every day.
Let me start off by saying I know you do this with the best of intentions, and I like that. I see that. You wish me well, you wish me an eternal life, you wish me the joy that Jesus or God brings into your life. Thank you.
But the story doesn’t end here. What happened behind the scenes is that I took all this prayer as a final test of the existence of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What if He is there after all, and Christians are right, then surely these 100+ people praying for me should have some effect on me. Surely God would finally show up from behind the curtains in some unexpected way, even if it was only for a second or two. I always kept my doubts to myself. This amount of prayer has never happened before!
So what happened, after all these prayers?
Well… nothing. I only lost my faith even more, and became more and more assured that Christianity was pulling the short rope, despite a lot of searching around.
Why? Why does this happen? What are the effects of prayer? What am I missing? Help me out here.
The Trust Based Relation
As I blogged earlier, faith in God is mostly a trust based relationship. Prayer is then the same as asking your all-powerful and all-loving father to do something for you or someone else and trust that it will all work out for good, in Romans 8 style (I know there are more types of prayer, like meditative prayer, but let’s keep those aside for now). I, for one, used to have a rock-solid faith that God would hear my prayers, and they would somehow have some effect.
But if we zoom in to the effect that prayer has, and especially those hundreds of prayers that have been said on behalf of my lack of faith, what results do we actually expect? And what is the apparent lack of an answer from God (until now) telling us?
I realise that this is a forbidden terrain for most Christians: “We can’t tell what God has to do with our prayers, after all, ‘He is not a tame lion’. God is no magic juke-box with predefined results”. Okay, fair enough. But certainly we should still be able to think about the effects of our prayers, right? What is going on in the mind of God as He is not hearing our prayers? What is the nature of prayer at all? We can’t keep saying “it’s a mystery, just trust God” while we see that prayer sorts out no effect, even not a tiny bit on a large scale.
So let’s take my case, as an example, or substitute any other unheard prayer for the conversion of a non-Christian. What possible scenarios can we identify, and what does each one tell us about prayer and what about God? Please tell me if I missed one!
The Scenarios for Your Prayers for my Rededication to Christ
- Yes, God heard your prayer and He wants it, so the wish is granted and I start to believe again because God revealed Himself to me. Or I received the wisdom. Or broke with my sins of doubting. That is what you are all praying for, I assume. One problem: it didn’t happen.
- Yes, God wants it, but I’m resisting. That’s assuming I can even resist God, which is a debate on it’s own. Plus, I don’t see a clear revelation from God either. No Damascus road experience at all for me. Besides, if I can resist God despite Him wanting me to believe, then your prayers can’t add anything at all. They don’t have power in themselves, they just ask God something to do. If even God can’t do it because of my free will, I am doomed and you are praying in vain.
- No, God does not want my salvation, period. Yikes! Then why would He write that anyone who seeks Him earnestly will find Him (Heb 11:6)? Why would He then say that He wants everyone to be saved (1 Tim 2:4)? Why die “for the whole world” (John 3:16)? Why let a missionary slip away for the grand ‘sin’ of asking tough questions? Plus: why would God let you pray on end for something He does not want to happen anyway? Couldn’t He rather tell you to put your prayer focus somewhere else? In this case, prayer is ineffective and God is simply a tyrant who hates my guts for all eternity, despite my attempts to believe.
- God does not want my salvation, unless you change His mind. So I am like Sodom and Gomorra, and you are Abraham, negotiating with God for my eternal life or destruction. Or you are like the widow who comes to the king every day begging for a favour, until the king gets so tired of the widow that he grants her the request.
But isn’t that odd? Didn’t God say that He wants my salvation anyway? Did Jesus die on the cross for the sins of the whole world, but then it is up to us to convince God that He should do some trouble in reaching the world with this message?
So perhaps in this scenario your prayers are somewhat useful, but it makes God into a bully who hates me, and you need to change his mind or I face eternal destruction. Wow. What a responsibility! And what a non-loving God, who apparently loves me less than all of you who pray for me!
- God wants my salvation, and He is going to do it, He just wants you to ask. Okay, so God is like a father who promises a cookie, writes it down in a big book for all the world to read, but then wants people to first beg him hundreds of times before they actually get the cookie? Oh, and no guarantee how many times you need to beg? Maybe you even never get the cookie? What sort of promise is that? What kind of real world scenario would make the father look like a good person if literally a hundred children have to ask him, for years on end, before He is going to do anything at all that He wanted to do in the first place? This way, your prayers don’t have an effect in and of themselves, they are just a way to please God. This makes God a rather unpleasant person with emotional insecurity issues (I’m not mocking, I am serious!)
- God will do it, but the time is not ripe yet. I can understand this one, in the grand majestic view of time that God would have. But if this is the case, why let your children plead and beg in the meantime? Why not tell the people who are praying: look, I will do it, but it’s going to take a little time for a strategic moment to arrive? It’s kind of sadistic to have people pray for years, while all the while you know it is going to happen anyway. Remember: the God of the Bible is not mute, He should actually be able to speak. Your prayers are actuallly pointless in this case.
- I don’t know, God just wants us to plead to Him for anything that is on our hearts. You are on my heart. Why don’t you respect those prayers and see the love behind it? Seriously, it is great that people care enough about me to really plead for me. But as I am trying to discern myself where God is to be found, and if prayers have any effect, then these kinds of answers only reinforce that there is no critical thought process going on, and God does not need to exist at all for you to continue your prayers. You just ‘have faith’. That may sound great, but it vaporises under scrutiny into thin air. So I’m sorry, this option is not a real answer.
Further Away From God
In the end, each and every promise of prayer has driven me further away from God. Because each and every prayer was confirming one of the following:
- God didn’t care about me to ‘save’ me (yet), despite the many prayers, which is cruel and contrary to Scripture.
- Or God is waiting for something to happen, but lets His children just plead pointlessly in the meantime, which is also cruel and a waste of time.
- Or God is not the God of the Bible and does not listen to any of your prayers.
- Or God does not exist at all.
I don’t see any other rational options. Do you?