“He (Brian Fleming, Purple Heart Recipient) tells of his vehicle in Afghanistan being blown up by an IED. Saying that prayer is what saved him, he tells how God answers prayer, because his wife and mother were praying fervently for his return, and here he is. This, of course, begs the question. ‘Do the wives and mothers and husbands and fathers of those who have died in our current wars not pray hard enough?’ What must people who are mourning the deaths of their loved ones be feeling about this particular line of theological thought?”
NOTE: Before you criticize me as a liberal who doesn’t support the troops…hit the little x in the corner of this page and go troll somewhere else. This is not a post about war or the troops. It is a post about bad and sometimes hurtful theology.
I admire Bolz-Webber’s commentary of a show she saw on Trinity Broadcasting (TBN). And even more than that I am grateful to have my own thoughts and feelings reverberate back to me about the potential hurt that this sort of theology can create for those who don’t win the prayer lottery, as I’ve come to call it. We Christians, myself included, have often attributed winning, war, safety, and fame to God’s favor because of our prayerfulness. This is a dangerous theology. One that can hurt. One that can wound. One that can make people feel as though they are not getting the recipe for getting God to do what they want correct. One that can push people out of community with us and right back to a community that will accept their loss and offer consolation in other forms.
It’s stupid stuff like saying that you won a football game because God loves you more. On that I call BULLSHIT. I’m not saying that you can’t pray for God’s favor, support, and strength. But if you win and there are Christians on the other team who prayed too does that mean God loves you MORE than them? Seriously…help me do some sort of logic math on this.
Let me bring it to a personal level…so you can trust that I’m not just sitting on some liberal soap box being preachy.
I once questioned the wisdom of a family member who allowed the person who molested me during childhood into her home…specifically around her children…her daughter. My family member said “We believe he no longer struggles with that sin and needs our love and mercy. And we pray daily for the protection of our children. Yes, we are watchful but we also believe God will protect our daughter from harm.”
That family member and I have never recovered from that statement. It’s not their fault, but at the time the implication of that statement was a pickax to my fragile healing heart. See…I knew Jesus during the years that I was being molested. I prayed…for protection…for deliverance. And still for 5 years there was abuse. So the implication that the prayers of parents for keeping danger at bay is somehow stronger than the prayers of an innocent child begging for mercy was more than I could take.
Prayer for me has become more about intimacy with the God…meditation…finding a quiet space in the noisy world, than about my wishlist…for myself or others. I do pray about the many things that my friends ask me to pray for because it is an honor to be asked and because God is a friend I like to talk to about my friends. I celebrate when a prayer “win” happens. And I hurt with those who cry out “Why won’t God help me?” in the midst of their own prayer “loss”. Prayer is personal…and powerful…because it is personal…even when it is corporate. (Whoa…there’s a lot of nuance in that last sentence that I don’t have time to unpack today.)
Before you give me a “God’s ways are higher than our ways” message or start quoting Garth Brooks “unanswered prayer” lyrics at me…believe me I know. If i didn’t, I would not have kept breathing during the roughest years of my healing. I get that much of the mystical nature of God is beyond my comprehension.
And for those who don’t believe…hear me when I say that I totally get why you are mind-screaming “THEN WHY DO YOU BELIEVE IN GOD AT ALL???” (That’s more than I can unpack today as well.)
But I will tell you…friends of any religious faith…be very very cautious about how you claim victory through prayer. For every soldier, abuse victim, car accident survivor, cured cancer patient, etc. that gets through because of prayer, there is one who “lost” despite the prayers of the righteous on their behalf.