God, Prayer, and Amputees

Recently, there have been charges brought against Christianity based on the supposed failure of God to respond to a given request. The challenge usually begins with an attempt to pray for something that is supposedly a good thing to pray for, such as the healing of amputees or the curing of cancer. When the prayer is not answered, it is assumed that no answer came because either God is weak or apathetic to the needs of people, or because no God existed to have heard the prayer. Some even go so far as to say that this is “scientific proof” that God does not exist. A good example is a more popular video which features the question “Why Won’t God Heal Amputees?”.

Many Christians have responded to these challenges by quickly pointing out the malicious spirit in which they are given and have simply dismissed them on that basis. Many of these charges are, in fact, superficial challenges. Be that as it may, we are still obligated to give an answer. There may be ulterior motives and logical shortcomings throughout these challenges. However, at the root of it all, I believe it is a deep misunderstanding about the nature of prayer which produces such a challenge.

There are fewer subjects concerning Christianity about which there is more loose thinking, both inside and outside of Christianity. It could be said that this is largely the fault of Christians for having distorted or deemphasized the Biblical concept of prayer. A weak conception of prayer makes for an easy target.

The following are four mistakes that the skeptic makes in bringing the above challenge and others like it.

#1 – Approaching the matter of prayer solely in terms of answers

This is the basis for the “Amputees” challenge and others like it. The skeptic sees prayer only as a means to an end, a way to get something. Sadly, many Christians view prayer in this way, but they too are susceptible to the same disappointments.

Seeing prayer only in terms of the expected answers ignores a host of issues which are far more important. We regard prayer as a mechanism, designed to produce certain results. We jump to the assumption that we have a right to have the results that we desire. We never consider how we should approach God, much less if we even have a right to do so. Worshiping God never crosses our minds. We come as someone to whom God owes something, rather than someone who deserves only God’s judgment.

Some even go so far as to compare the prayers in the Bible with their own and expect answers of Biblical proportions. Again, the emphasis is on the miraculous answers that are recorded, rather than on the prayer that was prayed. Let me be clear, it is no problem to expect answers of Biblical proportions, that is, unless the prayer that is prayed does not follow Biblical procedures. We often expect to see grandiose results while totally neglecting the given requirements.

When we view prayer only in terms of the response we want to see, we leave out what is required of us and concentrate only on the gratification of our personal desires. Making our requests known to God is a big part of prayer. However, there is so much more to prayer than “ask, and ye shall receive.” Confining prayer to the matter of requests and fulfillment is like confining a normal conversation to requests and request s and fulfillment.

#2 – Thinking only in terms of what God ought to do

This seems to be a large portion of what motivates the “amputees” challenge. It is assumed that amputees, because of their suffering, deserve to be restored. Therefore, as we see it, God ought to heal them if He has the power to do so.

Posing the challenge on this basis, the skeptic points to the infinite power of God, but at the same time refuses to acknowledge the infinite wisdom and righteousness of God. They impose their own sense of moral justice onto God. The problem with this is that they assume one characteristic of God, namely His power, while denying another, namely His righteousness. They strip God of His infinite wisdom in order to criticize His infinite wisdom. In essence, the argument is reduced from “what God ought to do” to “what I would do if I were God.”

If we are not careful, this is a mistake that we as Christians often make. We fail to consider the nature of God and His infinite wisdom before we make up our minds as to what He should or should not do. We build our expectations of what we have deemed as the right thing for God to do, and at the same time we stand ready to doubt the goodness of God when it does not happen the way we thought it should.

The fact is, if the God we are discussing is not both omnipotent and omniscient, then He is not the God revealed in the Bible. When we make our assumptions about prayer in terms of what God ought to do, we are using our own sinful nature as the standard by which to judge His righteousness.

We often, see suffering and think to ourselves that if we had infinite power then we would not allow that suffering to continue. However, if we are going to grant God His infinite power, then we must also grant Him His infinite wisdom. Otherwise, we are no longer talking about the God of the Bible.

After granting both His power and His wisdom, we must also remember that infinite power and infinite wisdom is something that we have never experienced. And, it is impossible to say what we would do with something we have never had.

#3 – Making superficial and sweeping conclusions from answered prayers

The skeptic often sees it as a discrepancy in Christian thought to contrast the prayers in the Bible with the prayers of modern Christians. The prayers in the Bible produced miracles while Christians’ prayers today produce “nothing.” It is assumed that our prayers should produce the same results as those in the Bible with no consideration of the circumstances surrounding the prayer.

We Christians fall occasionally into the same trap. In doing so, we are guilty of presumption. It has already been pointed out that we often expect certain answers that we have heard of coming before, but we do so without considering the circumstances that were required for those answers to come. Just as often, though, we hear of answers to prayers from the Bible or Christians throughout history and assume that the results should be the same for us. It is a grave mistake on our part.

We see the prophets and the Apostles having their requests granted and desire the same answers to our prayers. The fact that there were things in the lives of the prophets and Apostles that made their answer possible never crosses our minds. We complain about the difference between their answered prayers and ours, but we never think about the difference between their lives and ours. To the prophets and Apostles, the answers to their prayers and receiving the desired answers were secondary to their ultimate concern for the glory of God.

We, like the skeptic, are prone to ask, “Why does God not answer my prayer as he answered that man’s prayer? All the while, we should be asking, “Why is it that my life is nothing like the type of life which that man has lived?

#4 – Neglecting the right approach

All of these things converge at a central principle. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “There is nothing more important in connection with the matter of prayer as the question of the right approach.”

The Apostle Paul, who saw quite a few of his prayers answered in a miraculous way, wrote to Timothy, “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” (1Timothy 2:8) This is the approach that is necessary for effectual prayer.

“Lifting up holy hands” refers to the holiness that the Lord requires of those who come to Him in prayer. It follows that the only way to receive that holiness is by the imputed righteousness of Christ. This is something of which the skeptic has no adequate understanding. Also, though, we Christians must endeavor to maintain that holiness of a Christ-like life.

“Without wrath” speaks of our motive in prayer. Those who pose challenges such as “why won’t God heal amputees” speak of prayer with blatant antipathy and resentment. This is a challenge to Christians as well in that we often pray with malice in our hearts rendering our prayer futile.

“Doubting” is the last requirement which expresses our expectancy. If a skeptic ever actually makes an attempt at prayer, how likely is it that they will do so with nothing but doubt in their hearts? After all, doubting is what makes a skeptic skeptical. Also, Christians must take this as an indictment of all the times we have prayed without expecting the response that God has promised.

In the end, God is not in the business of entertaining skeptics. So, while there is much to say about the “amputee” challenge and the like, there is also much for us to consider by way of how prayer was intended to be done.

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7 comments so far

  1. carlgobelman on

    TJ,

    Great post on prayer! All of your points were valid and well argued. I expecially liked this part from #4:

    Lifting up holy hands” refers to the holiness that the Lord requires of those who come to Him in prayer. It follows that the only way to receive that holiness is by the imputed righteousness of Christ. This is something of which the skeptic has no adequate understanding. Also, though, we Christians must endeavor to maintain that holiness of a Christ-like life.

    I firmly believe God will go a long way to answer an honest seeker, but the hard-hearted unbeliever should not expect an answer from God.

    As to the point of God not answering prayers, I like to think that God answers ALL prayers in four ways:

    1. “Yes” – God answers the prayer as prayed
    2. “No” – God does not answer the prayer as prayed; many people fail to realize that “no” is an answer, maybe just not the answer they want to hear (sort of like my children)
    3. “Wait” – God will answer the prayer in HIS timing, not ours
    4. “What? Are you talking to me?” – The response given to the hard-hearted non-believer

    Anyway, that’s my $0.02 worth…

    Carl

  2. Huh on

    Too bad no amputees have been healed yet, though.
    :/

    • jane Wanja on

      Yea too bad.

  3. unrman on

    Good article. Thanks for the research. Atheists, please comment on this article.

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2009/01/30/feedback-god-heal-amputees

    • Dan G on

      Wow. Your complete argument is based on what happened about 2,000 years ago? Of which the bible is the only evidence because it says so?

      Several problems with what’s on your link. You talk about atheists twisting words, yet you are coming up with explanations, or twisting, what is being said in the bible to suit your own needs. You have decided that because it is implied that Jesus caused an ear to regenerate that it therefore happened in just that way. Not to mention that your argument conveniently happened so long ago that there are no facts to dispute it. So simply because we can’t dispute something that happened 2,000 years ago it must therefore be true? That’s a logical fallacy.

      If you want to make any argument with atheists, then you must fight fair. Keep your examples within the last 100 years. Oh but then you’re completely blown out of the water aren’t you? Because otherwise your only arguments are based on that which can no longer be proven and that which has NEVER happened within the last 100 years!

  4. The gods demand good but they LOVE being evil. on

    There was a very real perception that bi-racial was much worse for the white than it was for the person of color. The liberal culture screamed racism when there is a very reasonable explanation for this reality::::
    In this white punishment known as the United States the person of color has already adopted the disfavors/temptations intended for another race. But by associating/mating with a person of color the white is newly adopting the disfavors of another culture.
    And this is the reason why people of color are not welcome in the United States. The gods control everything:::The perception they want to create, the thoughts they want you to have.
    People of color can’t recover from absorbing the temptations from two cultures. And why they become more and more like so many blacks in America:::Veterans at absorbing the temptations of two cultures.
    To further illustrate this is why California’s educational system/funding was ranked #1 when California was white:::Education being the basis of the affluent economic system. Now even public higher education has become unaffordable.

    The gods placed us all into our own corners of the globe. As such for thousands of years we spent time and reproduced with out own kind.
    This is why mobilty/travel, biracial unions/offspring and partaking of other cultures is a sin::::
    Each has it’s own elements of disfavor, and by experiencing other cultures you are being exposed to these disfavors, which if people may adopt will make their state even worse than prior.
    The United States has been considered a “melting pot” where rejects from around the world were sent when kicked out of their motherland.
    Remember, this concept of cultural diversity is an element of the liberal platform the gods used to promote societal decay, revealed on the map with the “beast” that is the SanFranciscoBayArea and the spread of social deterioration that spread to the rest of the country and eventually to the entire globe.

    As with some things in this life “less is more”. Sex is one of those things. They used the liberal age to promote casual “free” sex intentionally::Combined with “women’s lib” and their initiation into the “trenches” of the workplace people experineced a mass masculinization of their females.
    The gods use sex as temptation. This is why the most disfavored among us are preoccupied with it. While some may feel being well-endowed is a sign of favor the truth is just the opposite. And often the result is misogyny, a belittling of the favored gender, and stagnation of the people as a whole.
    Less is more. When young women experience passing thoughts which say you’re doing something wrong instead of fighting or dismissing the thought you should heed the warning. Sadly in today’s world too many experience prolonged periods of promiscuity in their lives, whereas if married by 15 like throughout human history this disfavor was avoided.
    Don’t forget:::It is children who ascend into heaven, and the absence of sexual activity is one reason. Their general innocence is another, which should help you see the destructive nature of adult life in today’s society.

    Ronald Reagan spent the communist block into submission with defense buildup, and in the process increased the National debt from $1 trillion in 1980 to $6 trillion when he left office.
    W charged both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to the national debt, honest numbers to come.
    The gods used W to initiate the “Great Recession” with deliberate legislation/regulation changes, allowing the sub-prime fiasco and corporate irresponsibility/criminal behavior which led to the multi-trillion dollar stimulous package, pocketted by Republican friends and donors::::$5 trillion charged to the National credit card.
    This corruption is one element of evil in the party of good. War mongering is another.
    Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t::::With the Democrats you subscribe to social decay via liberlism, which WILL lead to the Apocalypse. Republicans are being used by the gods to bankrupt the United States, ultimately motivating people to the point of “desperation prayer” once anarchy presides::::Punishment designed to correct your behavior.

    god won’t heal amputees because they deserve it.
    They deserve it.
    In a former life they were sick monsters who thought they were “earning” by hurting others, perhaps Italian shit like the filth who did the legwork setting up WorldWarII (revenge on enemies, ex:5th c. German invasion of dying Roman Empire. The gods had a real reason behind this.)

  5. John Reeves on

    You answered the question exactly how the atheists article said you would, by deflecting the question and blaming it on God’s will. All you did was prove the atheist correct. My Faith is really becoming a burden.


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