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[Disclaimer: I pose the thoughts and questions below in all sincerity. These questions are not meant to mock or deride anyone's beliefs. I honestly want to have an open discussion about this, to find out why people believe what they do.]

This is something I often wonder about and maybe those who are relgious can help me out: If you believe in God, do you believe he is an interventionist God? For instance, do you think that prayer can cure illnesses, help rescue people from burning buildings or bring a lost child home? Or do you believe that God is just an observer; he made the world and now just sitting back and watching what happens with his invention?

So often when disasters occur, we see quotes like this:

"We prayed and spoke to those flames and told them they had to subside and to those winds and told them they had to subside, and they did....What the devil has meant to destroy lives and destroy property, God just turns it to where people turn to each other and help each other."

Which makes me wonder. If the power of prayer turned those flames back, then one would say that God is interventionist. If that's true, and he can stop winds and douse flames, then why didn't he stop the fires in California in the beginning, before people died and homes were destroyed?

In the aftermath of 9/11, you could hear many survivors saying that God led them safely out of the building. And I wonder, why you? Why did God lead you out of that building safely and not all those other people?

Every night, people quietly say their prayers before they go to bed. Every day in churches around the world, people pray to their God for world peace, for a better life, for a sick relative. But when you look at news stories like children being starved to near death by the people who were supposed to care for them, don't you think that if God could really answer prayers or intervene in lives, he would have stopped that abuse?

I understand that God, if is he indeed up there somewhere, can't spend all his time preventing car accidents and healing sick kids. But you would think that if he gave his son the ability to turn water into wine, he could give someone in Africa the ability to turn grass into wheat, saving thousands upon thousands of lives.

If God gave Moses the ability to part the Red Sea, then why can't he stop earthquakes and fires?

The fact that thoughts like this keep me awake at night lead me to believe that I may be an agnostic after all, and not an atheist.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference intervention:

» Part of the plan? from dustbury.com
Michele wonders, as I have from time to time: If you believe in God, do you believe he is an interventionist God? For instance, do you think that prayer can... [Read More]

» Another Discussion on the Nature of God from Hi. I'm Black!
Michele takes a break from writing about anal rape and wonders that if God really exists is She an interventionist? Notice that I say "She" because if natural law [Read More]

» I was a little bored with drugs and sex from d-42.com: the electronic home of Josh Cohen
This guy really hates having Jay Fiedler as Miami's starting QB. (PDF) John Hawkins of Right Wing News explains why isolationism just won't work. Which really ticks me off. We need to fix our problems here before we take on... [Read More]

» Links from the Limey Brit
There's all kinds of good stuff out there today. Hopefully I'll have time this evening to add my two bits, [Read More]

» Are You There, God? from Sketches of Strain
It's me, a marmoset. Michele is pondering the existence of God, questioning His involvement in certain natural disasters and singing the Doom Song. I'm starting to get a little concerned about her again. DF... [Read More]

» That Said... from A Stranger In A Strange Land
Last week Michele from A Small Victory posted some questions about the likelihood of an interventionist God. So often when disasters occur, we see quotes like this: "We prayed and spoke to those flames and told them they had to... [Read More]

» Prayer and where is God when bad things happen? from One Name Left
Last week, Michele posted questions to religious people about their beliefs. She specifically asked about beliefs on God intervening during disasters and about how we view the power of prayer. I chose not to comment on her post for several... [Read More]


Plainly, God is too busy helping guys like Pedro and Pudge Rodriguez win baseball games.

With all those sports contests to interfere in, how could He possibly have time to prevent the sufferring and death of thousands?!

If god is omnipotent, then he must not be purely good (letting bad things happen, etc). And if he's not omnipotent, then he isn't really "god," is he?

He's too buy giving a legislature the right to over throw judges.

Quotes on the subject from the immortal RAH:

History does not record anywhere at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help. But, like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it.


God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent - it says so right here on the label. If you have a mind capable of believing all three of these divine attributes simultaneously, I have a wonderful bargain for you. No checks, please. Cash and in small bills.


The most preposterous notion that H. sapiens has ever dreamed up is that the Lord God of Creation, Shaper and Ruler of all the Universe, wants the saccharine adoration of His creatures, can be swayed by their prayers and becomes petulant if He does not receive this flattery. Yet this absurd fantasy, without a shred of evidence to bolster it, pays all the expenses of the oldest, largest and least productive industry in all history.

Friend.... tough questions, all of them. In all seriousness, I think the place to start would be to evaluate yourself. Such as: Do I want to know the truth about myself, those I interact with and the things I believe? Look around you; it seems there is great evil walking the earth today. But, for there to be 'evil' then there is a pre-supposition of there to be a 'good'. Furthermore, if this 'evil' is being exercised via mankind in general, can mankind also be the tool to exercise the 'good' that must be present. It seems to me that that would be like using a cresent wrench as a screwdriver! There's more, but sometime later....

The best explanation I've heard, and the one that prevents me from being kept awake nights, is that all of creation is like a pointiallist painting. We, being in the painting, see every dot as crucial and every change to those dots as a hugely significant event. But to God, the painter, he sees the whole picture. Changing a dot or two over here (answering prayers) may not be a big deal, but the placement of another dot may be completely crucial to the formation of the work of art ("allowing" 9-11 to happen). Then, factor in the fact that the dots can do whatever they want (free will), including destroying the other dots. In the end, the painting will be what God wants it to be, but there are a zillion ways it can happen.

I could go on and on about this...let me think about it some more, I gotta get to work! :)

I kind of like the explanation by Craig Venter, one the guys responsible for mapping the human genome, "It's unequivocally clear that life begins at birth and ends at death. And if most of the people on this planet understood that, they would lead their lives very differently. We always try to find religious or mysterious forces to fill in for our inadequacies, but heaven and hell are both here on earth every day, and we make our lives around them."

Well, that's quite a question to wake up to early in the morning. One of the great questions of human existence, really. Why does God permit evil? The first four folks here who gave you the off-the-cuff cute answers; Larry's right on track.

The degree of humility required to accept that a good God can willfully limit His omnipotence for His own purposes which He refuses to tell us is often beyond me. But that's my goal. Because I think the whole reason for faith is tied up in this answer.

While I am a Christian, I am materialist in my thinking. The fires broke out in California because of the laws of phyics. We lose at gambling because of the laws of probability. Most things happen because of causes we normally can see. Pleading to God for dumb luck or suspension of the rules seems unfair to the rest of us and that's why many prayers go answered. Why should you hit an inside straight when the rest of us have to play according to the normal odds. I'm guessing that most of what people call God's intervention is either (1) God legitimately working through human agency or (2) wishful thinking.

Larry is really on track. The question ultimately is personal -- why do you think God permits bad things to happen to you and those you love, and would prayer to that God help?

My own answer: It seems to me that one of the biggest answers to life is to trust God despite this very powerful rational reason not to. We look at the size of the universe, the beauty of our world, our own meager efforts at creating that beauty, our own smallness in relation to God, and decide, OK, I'll trust you. That's what I shoot for, but I don't always get there.

I don't think God suspends the laws of physics to prevent flames from moving. I think God works through firefighters, if you follow.

Christianity teaches that there are laws in the spiritual realm, and though God created them, He has agreed to be bound by them. (That is, if God gives His word, He's bound by that word.) This accounts for the apparent contradiction of omnipotence and the existence of evil. God certainly can look negligent, but that's from our point of view. We trust that God will reveal His purposes in the fullness of time (not that we go to God and ask Him to explain Himself, much as we'd like.)

It's a tough question, and no easy answers. And ultimately it's your answer. Good luck with it.

Sickness, death, and evil are not the products of God - yet if they did not exist, there would be no measure of good.
These negative things come, not by direct order of the Almighty, but from the consequences of human choices and sin in the world. Without freedom to choose between God and no God, just as with other human beings, love would not be genuinely and completely fulfilled. We can be thankful God did not create us like mindless worshipping robots, so that by our choice to believe and follow him he is glorified.
It's not like the world wasn't given a chance, either. The earth was quite perfect until man chose, for lack of a less cliche term, unwisely.
As far as prayer is concerned, it's the expression of faith, not a witless Santa Claus wish list, that God relishes from his creatures. It's a conversation with God himself, much like a conversation between father and son. And yes, not all prayers are answered the way we want them to be answered - but I've seen on more than one occasion a tragedy turn into a blessing.
"Petulant" as a word that I would normally find coming from those who lack any respect for authority to begin with, let alone God.... you can be thankful that you choose to live your life the way you do, believing what you do, until it's too late to change.

I come from the same school of thinking as Joe. There's birth and death and what lies between. I prefer to not live my life as if it's a dress rehearsal.

I would also like to see more respect between those who believe and those who don't. After all, neither of us can prove our points with facts.

One thing to keep in mind about prayer is that there is more than one type of prayer. The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" (http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/ccc_toc.htm) discusses prayer in "Part Four: Christian Prayer" (http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p4s1.htm). In "Section One: Prayer in the Christian Life, Article 3: In The Age Of The Church" (http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p4s1c1a3.htm) it details five types of prayers: Blessing and Adoration, Prayer of Petition, Prayer of Intercession, Prayer of Thanksgiving, and Prayer of Praise. The type of prayer to which you are referring is either a Paryer of Petition or a Prayer of Intercession, depending on whether we are asking for ourselves or for another. The other three types of prayer, which do not involve asking for anything, are equally important, equally encouraged, and equally practiced. Personally, I avoid prayers of petition becauase I believe that God has given me everything that I need to be prosperous. When I pray for intercession I don't do it because I expect God to intervene, I do it because it "[is a] characteristic of a heart attuned to God's mercy." I'm expressing my solidarity with the person for whom I am praying. Mostly, however, I practice the other three types of prayer, but this is nothing more than a personal preference. Prayer is an expression of the individual's relationship with God and, therefore, not something that another can dictate for you.

I keep looking for that line in the bible where it says that if you pray God'll do what you want.

It isn't there. Quite frankly the monotheists God pretty much demands worship with the only 'real' reward being that if you do it just right--no mistakes--you get something cool(a term I'm using VERY loosely) when you're worm food.

And that 'big picture' crap is just that--crap. God, if he were in fact all of the things he is claimed to be could simply alter the picture.

The notion of God as omni-everything is a monotheistic one. The gods that were worshipped before Yahweh oozed out of the desert didn't know everything, were not infallible, and were, if the stories are 'true' a whole lot more interactive and entertaining. Non-omniscience is a great thing, it allows for free-will--a paradox for monotheists.

In fact, most of the problems with religion today deal with the logical problems that arise from the monotheistic view of what it means to be God or A god.

Get rid of that mono-god and you get rid of a lot of strife.

I cant tell you either way if there is a god or gods. That being said, the link provided is a very good test of your beliefs.

StumpJumper's answer is why I love the RC Catholic Church. You ask a question, and they just look up the answer. "Ah yes, the problem of evil ... let's see that's over here in this cabinet, this drawer here open 'er up (flip flip flip) ah, here we go: Evil is a byproduct ...

A lot of people believe in God simply because, with all the hurt, harm and horror in the world, they cannot bear the thought of living in such a world if God does NOT exist.

That's as good a reason to believe as any I've heard and better than many (e.g., "Don't just ask God to give you an RV; ask God to give you a BLUE RV.")

Sometimes when you ask for something in prayer, the answer is no.

You mean God isn't helping my favorite football team to win?

I believe in God, but I find it simpler to accept that he doesn't affect things directly anymore, as opposed to merely speaking to the heart. If he does, it's using a set of rules I don't understand. I'll ask him if I can after I die, but right now I'm busy.

Analog Mouse: That is a really good way to look at it.

Jack: Do you honestly think the God who created the entire universe and everything in it would simply up and change a large portion of his picture just because of the opinion or desire of one tiny little dot?
That has to be the epitome of self centeredness.

People pray because they've run out of other options. They can't think of any way to alter or control the outcome of a given event, so they ask the Big Daddy in the Sky to make it all better.

When things work out, it's proof that Someone is up there listening. When they don't work out, He's moving in Mysterious Ways.

It ain't a miracle; it's a longshot paying off.

2 quick thoughts on prayer (specifically, prayers asking for things):

  • If God is really God, then God knows everything, including what I want and need, so I shouldn't have to ask, right? And if God isn't going to give me the things he knows I need unless I get down on my knees and ask... seems a bit childish to me. I'd expect more from my deity.
  • If God answers prayers, God is not very just or fair, and could even be said to be cruel. Imagine 2 children dying of cancer in adjacent hospital beds. One child is from a large and deeply religious family, well known in their community, and scores of people pray round the clock for his healing. The other child is the offspring of two crack addicts from the ghetto, and absolutely nobody prays for that child's recovery. If God answers the prayers and heals the first child, well, that's just farked up. I know LIFE isn't fair, but I would expect my God to be.

Joe's point of view is not the antithesis of a Christian point of view. My mother was one of the strongest Christians I ever knew. Her work with the Red Cross and inside the church resulted in a better world for the people she helped and touched than when she left it.

Any Christian that treats their gift of life on this earth as just a "dress rehersal" is missing Christ's message when he was here.

BTW,some of you normally nice posters sure can be mean, vindictive and nasty when it comes to making fun of my and others beliefs.

Oh, and Fred Phelps and his elk ain't no Christians; I can't wait for him to get his comeuppance at the Pearly Gates.

I'm not sure why making the world a better place and touching and helping people has anything to do with being a strong Christian. The rest of us are just as capable of doing those things.

I used to have alot of problems with faith, god, and religion in general. It always seemed so ridiculus without straight answers. So many contradictions which many people have pointed out exactly as I would have.

However, it just seems like a nonissue now, atleast to me. I can't explain my reasoning which I know won't satisify people but I believe there's a god, I believe he does answer, help, and guide people. However, there was one thing I read that really solidified it for me.

In Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series everyone's life is a thread in this gigantic "weave" of life. There's no real "gods" per say, atleast not in the sense of God. However, everyone's life is threaded through others and there are ways in the world to kill someone and erase them from the weave...erase their past. However, when you do this...it impacts other peoples lives. Even if its just ten seconds of past erased.

So maybe God answers prayers in a rather haphazard manor that we don't understand. Why? Because we can't see the impact on another persons life that our simple request might have.

I heard an interesting quote on a TV show once... an older woman was sitting, praying, at the bedside of her comatose and dying husband... her incredulous daughter asked her if she thought her prayer would somehow change things, change God. And the woman responded, "Sweetheart, prayer doesn't change God. Prayer changes ME."

This might be a good response for people who, when thinking about God's omniscience about our needs, and indeed the future, wonder "Why pray at all? Doesn't God already know what we need? Doesn't God already have a plan?"

I'm a Christian, and although I'm gay, I'm also fairly orthodox. I believe that we can't always know why things happen the way they do. But I do have to say that most of the evil in the world is the result of humanity's actions. Then why does God allow it? Think of it this way: A mother tells her son, "All right, you're old enough now to clean your room yourself. I'm not going to do it anymore." The next day she comes in and finds toys everywhere, the bed unmade, and a half-eaten sandwich lying on the floor. This is obviously not what she wants, but her will is that her son clean the room himself, and so she allows him to have his free will, despite the fact that he doesn't use it properly. (Taken with liberty from C. S. Lewis).

Having said that, I have to say that I take great offense at the comments that tell me that my beliefs are "crap" or try their best to insult them. There are polite ways of saying that you don't believe something, but that's not one of them. I don't believe in Buddhism, but I also don't go around trying my best to come up with a really stinging insult to their beliefs. That's just rude.

Freedom, terrible freedom. If God went around saving everybody, we'd be his pets, ants in an ant farm. Our burden for freedom is that everybody has it, and others will make choices that will kill you or worse. I believe God wants us to choose to be virtuous. Virtue can't be coersed by the government, church, or others. It has to be a choice on a personal level to be real.

At the risk of 'Me tooism', I must say that I agree with the sentiments of RAH on this issue. (as reported by Sekimori) Religion is the result of superstitious behavior. If (and it's a big if) there is a god, he doesn't interfere. He may have pulled back the hammer on the pinball machine, but he isn't going to touch the flippers.

On a side note, John S:
Buddhists didn't persecute Christians for centuries for not believing in Buddhism.

Dave misses my point. Of course, non-Chirstians have the ability to make the world a better place (and many have done so). My point is that Christians have the DUTY to do so. My post was in response to the theory of Craig Venter that religious people aren't making the world a better place because they're too wrapped up in getting ready for an after life.

Morpheus, can we keep the discussion centered on, say, the last couple of centuries?

There is no substitute for prayer in a non-religeous life. Prayer is a way of influencing the outcome of an event that you cannot otherwise; natural disasters, sporting events, other people's actions. By extolling God to intervene you are really passing that responsibility on to another. In some cases that is understandable, especially when there is no way you could have done anything anyways. Without prayer you have to learn to accept that you have no power except that which lies in your own hands.

With "hope" or "desire" you still have the yearning for an outcome but you hold no illusion that you can influence it.

Superstitions, like rabbits feet, or lucky clothes, are the same as prayer in their power to transfer control back to you. It, like prayer is an illusion, but one that we (usually) recognize as such. Prayer and superstition have about the same track record, how many Red Sox fans wore their lucky shirts or turned their heads at critical plays, and how many Cubs fans prayed for a victory?

Once you accept that God (in a broad sense) doesn't share your personal biases or quirks of humaness you can then accept that the picture of God painted by most religions is false and sells us a short vision of our creator. I find the views of the universe outside myself presented by scientific exploration more inspiring than the rather mirror-like images presented by most humanly inspired faiths.

When did Christians persecute Buddhists?

Saw a great dissertation over at den Beste(yes, that statement is redundant) wherein he took the Ravin Atheist to task over his contention that you could disprove the existence of God. Playing devil's advocate, den Beste picks a single example that invalidates that particular hypothesis. What follows is a list of particulars from which his atheism flows. However, he mentions that Donald Sensing arrives at a completely different conclusion(he is an ordained minister) starting with the same suppositions. Den Beste concludes by stating something similar to the proposition that atheism requires a faith of sorts, not much different from theism. The only thing that I can add is that I, as a scientist, become more convinced of the existence of God every day. YMMV.

Troll, Morpheus, et al: If you do not keep this discussion civil and ON TOPIC, I will be forced to close the comments off and publicly blame you for it.

In an essay written about a week after 9/11, biologist/writer Stephen Jay Gould said:

Complex systems can only be built step by step, whereas destruction requires but an instant. Thus, in what I like to call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the "ordinary" efforts of a vast majority.

I’ve always thought that this Great Asymmetry, the everyday, ordinary efforts of the vast majority to nurture, build and create, is ‘God’.

These efforts may be ordinary, but that doesn’t mean that they’re easy – any parent knows that raising just one kid is an extraordinary effort. People do it every day. For the most part, they’re successful. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.

This ‘God’ is not omnipotent – it doesn’t control every minute detail of everyday life, and it can’t magically transcend the laws of nature. But it’s important to have faith that it exists now and it will continue to exist in the future. Personally, I don’t believe in the sort of miracles that are described in religious texts or a single omnipotent being, but that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t exist. If praying and going to church/facing mecca/ helps people believe that their extraordinary everyday efforts are worthwhile, who could complain about that?

When those beliefs create hatred of anyone who doesn’t share your religious beliefs, and ‘spectacular incidents of evil’ then they are directly opposed to the ordinary efforts of the vast majority - and opposed to God. Writer Paul Fussell, a veteran of WWII said, "evil demands retribution if we are to retain our sense of what it means to be human" This is also part of the Great Asymmetry – the force that allows us to survive, and thrive.

Religion and belief are two different things--as a Jew by choice (i.e., I converted) this is very important to me. I'm not sure yet whether I believe in G-d, but I do know that attempting to live a Jewish life helps me to be a better person (happier, more fair and just, less hurtful to others), and that prayer keeps me mindful of the good things in life. (I don't do much petitionary prayer--just what's in the services that we do as a group; I mainly give thanks and praise.)

The Commandments were ahead of their time and are still hard to live up to. Flash ahead some thousands of years to Sermon on the Mount. In an era of savage cruelty and slavery this man was exhorting people to find empathy for their enemies and allow women and children a distinguished place in society and religion. Cool.

I've seen intimations of God in pagan myth and folk tales too. But historically speaking, I don't believe the pagans put much emphasis on empathy, even if a lot of Christians missed that lesson as well. The neo-pagan maxim "As long as ye harm none, do what ye will" is lackluster compared to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". Not harming is good, empathy is better, and as for dancing naked around candles for love or money, sheesh.

As for bad things happening to good people, a quote from an old African story (can't remember what country) in an anthropology book comes to mind. It's about a Job-like character who never finds an answer to why she had so much tragedy in her life. The only counsel she gets in her quest for answers is that "The besetting one stretches his hand against all of us. Why should you be any different?" She was spiritually broken and spent her life being bitter and resentful.

I love rational thinking, empiricism and Western democratic tradition, and I also love God. A working contradiction to be sure, but one that gives me access to poetic consolation and succor. I'll save the tough questions for the politicians whose job is supposed to be protecting us. They're the ones who failed, not God, and I get no consolation from them.

P.S. I live in NY and worked across the street from the little church (St Paul's I think). I came up out of the city hall subway and saw the towers both on fire. Soon after that I switched parties due mainly to the total moral bankruptcy and equivocation I heard coming from the left (including a member of my own family). I don't go to church but have a fascination with religion and try to keep mine personal and simple - harder and harder to do in these modern times.

Is there a church or synagogue in Manhattan that's socially liberal without all the empowerment jargon and multi-culti crap?

Sorry, ma'am.

"an older woman was sitting, praying, at the bedside of her comatose and dying husband... her incredulous daughter asked her if she thought her prayer would somehow change things, change God. And the woman responded, "Sweetheart, prayer doesn't change God. Prayer changes ME.""

The Hebrew word for "to pray" means roughly "to judge oneself." Petitionary prayer in Judaism is considered minor compared to praise and thanks, and the sages are clear that you can't pray for something that is physically impossible, because the age of miracles ended with the Tanakh. For me prayer is a guard agains the solipsism which is such a temptation in our modern society where independence and individuality is so valued, and where our technology makes us feel so omnipotent.

When I praise God and give thanks I am noticing that the universe is so much bigger and more mysterious than I am, that so much is not under my control, and that so much of it is beautiful and aw-ful, in the original meaning of that word. (This is the purpose of saying the kaddish - which is one long flowery statement of praise - when one is mourning).

"The Path of Blessing" is a great book on the topic:

When I use prayer for self-examination, when I am telling a witness (God) about my faults and problems, it eliminates a certain amount of bullshitting I would do if I was just talking to myself. I don't have "faith" in God, but I assume there is "someone" on the other end listening, because it is a qualitatively different experience than when I don't.

One of the things I love about Judaism is that the rituals are so sensually rich, appealing to taste, smell, seeing, hearing, physical motions and the physical presence of my community. Observing them is a whole-body experience. "God" as "an intellectual concept I am going to worry about whether I believe in" is just beside the point.
A few examples:
We do that intellectual obsessive stuff too, in spades, but if that's all you have it's easy to talk yourself into a self-referential corner. All successful religions work viscerally as well as intellectually.

FL, most conservative and Reform synagogues are socially liberal yet intellectually and ritually rigorous. In Manhattan I would suggest Ansche Chesed, Town & Village, or Central Synagogue as conducive to someone who "loves rational thinking, empiricism and Western democratic tradition, and also loves God." (This description would fit me too.) Also, these synagogues and the Skirball Center of Temple Emanuel and the Upper West Side JCC have great classes on Jewish theology where you can wrestle with the big questions.

Let me also add that I spent a lot of years in sort of New Agey loosy-goosy "listen to your heart" type "spiritual" settings, and a lot of that creativity was valuable and I don't regret any of it. But there is something to be said for doing a process according to rules that don't cater to your whims. For this reason I appreciate saying the prayers in our set liturgy and studying the words of our Torah. They force me to deal with things I might otherwise avoid if I "spoke from my heart" all the time. Even when I don't agree with them, they make me think - they are like a wise, kind of "tough love" debating partner. If you have hundreds of years of accumulated wisdom to push against, you have a different experience than if you are casting about in your own head for how to relate to the Infinite.

I also want to add that I am not trying to convert anyone - any ancient well-established religion offers these things. Which is why many feminists and gays have clung to their "oppressive" religions - the depth and richness are so much greater than the particular instances of cruelty and reppression. We would prefer to slowly reform the religion from within - and within its own structural procedures, which we respect - than lose that wisdom and meaning and community.

Orson Scott Card, in his novel Wyrms, wrote that reality is the truest revelation of God's will. It's awfully hard to argue with that.

Along with that, we have another observation, from the mouth of the C. S. Lewis character in the movie Shadowlands, about why he prays: "It doesn't change God. It changes me!

Though we have been told to pray for Earthly benisons, such as our daily bread or the recovery of our sick, we have also been told that we may be denied what we ask. Christ Himself prescribed the following prayer:

"Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven."

It's the emphasized phrase that carries the charge. Thy will be done. How, after all, could it be any other way? In light of that, whatever we might "nominally" pray for, the crucial subtext of every prayer, without exception, is, "Whatever You decide, Lord, may I be strong enough to bear it."

"Who do atheists talk to during orgasms?" -- Beth Fiedelman

Why does God choose to heal some and not others?

Answer: We have a question for which there is not one clear answer which applies to all cases. The New Testament book of James gives us two possible answers:
“You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives . . . “

Christian author Jerry Bridges comments:
“As we watch tragic events unfolding, or more particularly as we experience adversity ourselves, we often are prone to ask God, "Why?" The reason we ask is because we do not see any possible good to us or glory to God that can come from the particular adverse circumstances that have come upon us or our loved ones.*”

Our inability to come up with an answer to "Why?" is due to the fact that our way of thinking is not the same as God's way of thinking.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." - Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

This answer from the Bible leaves some people unsatisfied because the carnal person does not acknowledge God's superiority and sovereignty.
The carnal mind has difficulty understanding that the chief end of God is to glorify Himself, and He alone determines what will bring Him glory.

Furthermore, the carnal mind doesn't understand how sin has left all of us unworthy of God's favor. Still we notice that God extends his grace (meaning: unmerited favor) to some people and not to others. We scratch our heads because we do not know how God's choices will result in God being glorified.

Perhaps we can learn something from the experience of the Apostle Paul, a man through whom God healed several people (see book of Acts). Paul himself had a sickness that God refused to heal (2 Corinthians 12).

Even if God did heal all people, such a miracle would not guarantee that all people would worship God. According to the Old Testament book of Exodus, the people of Israel witnessed many miracles in their favor, and yet many of them continued to worship idols. God gave the miracles that were requested, but people still would not glorify God.

Even if we don’t understand God, it is still okay for us to ask "why God?" Such is the cry of the heart.

*Jerry Bridges, Trusting God Even When Life Hurts (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1988), p. 119

Prayer to me is a conversation with God. Sometimes it's meditative, sometimes it's self-examination, sometimes it's connecting myself with other people. In general, when I pray something, it's usually for understanding of a situation or the strength to deal with it.

As for evil in the world, I see this question in two parts. #1 -- the natural "evil" of cancer, brush fires, etc.: I don't think these things are evil. They just are. Some survive and some don't, and I don't know why. We will all die someday -- death, in and of itself, is not evil. Even pain isn't evil. The world is rather complex - if we didn't feel pain, we'd probably die at much earlier ages, from burning ourselves up or jumping from insane heights. Cancer and other diseases are riding piggyback on our own cellular systems; other microbes work symbiotically with our bodies (like the microbes in our intestines, aiding digestion and vitamin absorption). In a way, we can't have one without the other. In our own experience with antibiotics, we notice that killing off disease bacteria ends up with killing friendly bacteria and can create more potent disease bacteria. I find this interesting.

#2 -- the evil people do. This is a direct result of free will. God allows people the freedom to choose their way. People are free to be extremely nasty to each other. People are free to be noble, like the soldiers who put their lives on the line to protect us. People have used God as their reason for both, as well we know.

We are all figments of God's imagination.

You can choose whether to believe or not to believe. It's okay. God believes in you.


I'd like to thank everyone for their honest and thought-provoking opinions. You all really gave em a lot to think about.


I personally agree with a lot of what's been said. (I am Catholic myself.) The greater good is often beyond our understanding. And the very act of praying can be good for your soul (or mental health, if you're not into the soul thing) even if your wishes are denied.

And you can add to that a quotation from Tennyson: "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of." Yeah, it's kinda vague, but it's very nicely put. And what's more, it proves that it's okay to end a sentence with a preposition.

I'm not trying to convince anyone of this of course, just explaining my self.

Now, an RAH off-topic question for Sekimori et al.: Spider Robinson made an anthology, The Best of All Possible Worlds, in which "he alternated between his choice of an under-appreciated jewel of short fiction by an author he loved, and another story chosen by that author."[source] The story chosen by Heinlein was "Our Lady's Juggler," a nice sort of medieval religious tale. (The book includes a different translation.) So, can any Heinlein fan explain to me why this story appealed to him? I've read (and enjoyed) a lot of Heinlein's books and stories. But I wouldn't have guessed that he would enjoy "Our Lady's Juggler."

Hardest question in the universe:
If God is good, why does He let bad things happen?

Why does he say "yes" in answer to some prayers for mercy and miracles, and answers others with "no"?

Mark Twain prodded at that question once. He wrote a story where an angel visited earth, and struck up a friendship of sorts with a few medieval peasants.
In one part of the story, he mentioned that one of the villagers was, at that very moment, making a decision that would effect the outcome of his entire life... namely, whether to get up and close the shutter on his window, to bar the night rain. The angel said that if he shut the window, it would lead to the happiest possible outcome for that poor man's life. Should the angel intervene to make this happen? The peasant friends agreed.
When the angel told them that the poor villager had indeed gotten up and closed the window, they asked him what the result would be. "A fortnight from now, he will try to save a neighbor girl caught in a flood. They both shall drown."
Horrified, they got on their knees and begged for the angel to undo his deed. The angel was outraged. He informed them that he had examined all possible outcomes for the man, and that this was the best possible one. If he had not shuttered the window, there was not a single course he could have taken that would not have ended with him suffering horribly for the remainder of his short life and dying a long, slow, lingering death. He would go on to suffer unspeakable misery, if the angel reversed time and change his actions. Would they now have him undo his work?
The friends hastily, but unhappily, declined.

Not to belabor the obvious, but God's perspective of the Universe isn't our own. From the moment He gave humanity free will, humanity had the potential to utterly bugger things up for themselves. More to the point, humanity had the ability to set about the seeds of their own suffering and destruction--- and the gall to blame God when humanity reaped what it sowed.
(There are millions of people who rail "why did you let the flood destroy my home, God?" Yet few who notice the answer is " I told you not to build in a flood plain, dummy.")
Yet He did not rescind His gift of free will. Nor does he absolve us of the consequences of our actions. The fires in California can be attributed in the majority to the idiocy of enviro-activists, who wouldn't let the forests be pruned and tended as they should be.... Result: forests filled with dead, matchstick-dry logs and tinderbox undergrowth, and no access roads for firefighters.
To prevent human suffering, he would have to prevent human idiocy... and to prevent human idiocy, he would have to make us all nothing more than puppets. Instead, He works, for the time being, around humanity's free will. Letting us make our mistakes, and softening the blow where he may.
It is not God's indifference or cruelty that causes human suffering to be this terrible, but rather a measure of God's mercy that it is not a thousand times worse than it is.

Prayer and belief are possibly two different things, that, in some way, work together.
I am a Christain (Not only is that true, I like to say it because it gets up under the skin of the liberals and festers like a small pack of maggots)
I have not found, in my own studies, anything in the bible where God lists a series of things a person has to do in order to get a prayer answered ("Stand on your head, gargle pink kool-aid, blow it out your nose and say 'King David rocks' five times..."), but there seem to be many examples of prayers being made, and being answered.
At times prayers that seem to not be answered, truly are, but in a way that we refuse to accept or see (ie. John Doe's family has been praying for months that his cancer wouldn't kill him. John dies. Johns family is pissed that God didn't answer thier prayers, and has no idea that his girlfriends daugther Sally will no longer be sexually abused by him.)

ok.. bad example..

anyhow. I believe that belief (hmm.. odd statement) has a large part in things happening. For a NON-religious perspective on belief, read the book "The Magic of Believing". It has some very though provoking information on how healings and miracles seem to run throughout many different religions, but all have the common thread of belief.

Wow... I feel like I just had a heavy-duty philosophy lesson (the good kind, I mean). Cheers, everyone!

I look at God thru this joke.

There came a rain one time and it was causing the river to rise. The goverment told people that they would need to evacuate, but this one old man was determined to stay. He just said God will watch over me.

Well the water came up to the porches and some folks in a rowboat came by an offered the old man a ride to safety. Again he just said, God will watch over me, he will save me.

Well the water kept rising and it was up to the second floor of the house and some folks in a motor boat came by and offered the old man a ride to safety, and yet again he just said, God will watch over me, he will save me.

Well the water was up to the roof of the house and the old man was sitting out on the roof when a helicopter came over and hailed him through the loudspeaker offering him a ride to safety. Yet again he just said, God will watch over me, he will save me.

Well, needless to say the water kept rising and finally washed him off the roof and he drowned.
He went up to heaven and he just asked God this one question. Lord, I put my faith in you and was patient, yet you did nothing and I drowned, why did you let this happen?

God looks and the old man, and answears him, What do you mean, three times I sent help and you refused them each time.Why did you refuse my help?

I've thought about why God would "let" destruction happen in earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. God doesn't make this happen, these are natural disasters that have been on the earth before we as humans began populating it. As humans we just choose to build in their way. We choose to put cities on a fault zone. We choose to build beach houses and hotels on the shore.

From a Christian POV, worldly suffering pales in comparison to eternal suffering. Worldly happiness is less than a mirage compared to eternal happiness.

What you would imagine as the worst possible suffering one could experience in this world would be merely a scratch compared to the suffering of the damned. What you would imagine as the most joyous moment in this world would be cold and empty compared to the joy of the righteous in heaven.

...or something like that....

I'm sure there is scripture that supports that but it would take forever for me to find. As has been pretty much said above, if you think God "let's bad things happen" perhaps you may not understand what a truly bad thing is.

I'm not denying that there is worldly suffering and when one is suffering the worst this world has to offer it cetainly would be overwhelming to the mind and spirit.

What prayer will give us is the strength to go on in life, through it all, day by day, happy or sad. God knows your heart and when you cry out, He will give you a miracle there. He will faithfully provide your needs. (If you define needs as the material world, you will surely become disallusioned.) God will provide your safety and physical sustenance but not necessarily a win in the World Series or a Cadallac. Your sick child may not live. Your husband may be unfaithful. But in your grief or fear, He will hold you up. God is not the author of evil. He gave the world over to wickedness.
He promises that when we believe, He will take us out of this realm even while we are yet still alive in it. We have no tangible proof other than
sensing His over whelming presence beside us, this abiding conviction that we do not struggle alone.

In our human make up, God put a yearning for Him in our hearts. That is what non-believers are sensing when they are intellectualizing about His existence. Many ignore that yearning and eventually, it is lost, replaced by cynicism. God is experienced in our emotional life not in our intellect. Non-believers scorn us if you will, communion with God brings an inexplicable, unexplainable, joyful connecton with the universe and the life we share in it with all men. It's not a mystery beyond being able to bring one's self to a place of submission and humility before His presence.
The rejection of this process in our life is surely death to our need to experience God. Pity to have lived and not known Him.


I wrote this for Nancy. Hope you read it and all of the comments. There is a lot of spiritual
wisdom among these commenters.

Jane m

Sorry i was just scanning through some sites and came across this one. i just want to add that god does let evil happen because we all have been given free will. If god destroyed all evil he would destroy all humans. He has promised us that he will never again kill us all as he did with noah. This is why evil happens and we just have to be content that god is doing the right thing. When people dye its because god thinks its the right time that they are not needed on eath by him, afterall earth is only a test for him in some forms to see where we are going. So there people who dye are either in heven or hell but you just have 2 trust that god knows what he is doing as he created us after all. And no god is not evil.