Does Prayer Prove God Imaginary?
by Nick Peters
There was a day and age when atheists actually tried to put forward legitimate arguments and understand the views of their opponents. Alas, that day has past. Today, we are left with simple rants and sound bites from the atheistic community.
Such is the case with the "God is Imaginary" website. I have decided that I will go through the site and debunk the "arguments" that are presented. While I do believe they are weak, the sad reality is that the church has not done its job of informing its own. Hopefully, you’re reading this because you want to know more; or perhaps you are an atheist and want to see the responses Christians bring; or you’re one who’s open to evidence. Whichever you are, I ask that you evaluate my argument the way I do my opponent’s, and evaluate his as well and see who makes the better case.
The first argument centers on thinking about prayer. The author suggests that we pray this prayer:
"Dear God, almighty, all-powerful, all-loving creator of the universe, we pray to you to cure every case of cancer on this planet tonight. We pray in faith, knowing you will bless us as you describe in Matthew 7:7, Matthew 17:20, Matthew 21:21, Mark 11:24, John 14:12-14, Matthew 18:19 and James 5:15-16. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen."
So what is going on here? This sounds like something reasonable. Surely every case of cancer could be cured tonight. Well, why not?
An argument like this, in reality, puts God at the beck and call of his creation. Now God has definitely given us the privilege of being able to call to him and ask him for what we desire, but we are in no place to make demands. Because we want something and because it seems really good, that does not mean God is obligated to give it to us.
“But Nick,” you say, “surely God would have nothing against healing all the cases of cancer in the world tonight!”
And how did you come to know that?
For instance, we could start with cancer today. Tomorrow we’re going to cure heart disease, the next day AIDS. We’ll go on and on even to the point of healing male-pattern baldness. After that, we’ll just demand that God raise from the dead everyone who has ever lived and to grant us immortality right there on the spot; and oh yeah, please remove all this nasty stuff in creation we don’t like.
The objection assumes that it’s God’s goal to make everyone happy and make sure everyone has a pleasant life. In the church, we even have the idea that God’s goal is to make converts. It’s not. God never said in Scripture that we are to go out and make converts. We are to go out and make disciples.
The way of a disciple is that the disciple is to be continuously looking for truth and wanting it more and more. If he is following his teacher, he seeks to emulate his teacher in all his days. The disciple does not go and ask the teacher to bow to his demands. The disciple wants to check first to see if he is bowing to his teacher’s demands.
Would the response of God to heal everyone truly lead to disciples? No. All we have to do is consider the lifetime of Christ where several were healed, and he still got crucified. If one doesn’t accept that happened, then he/she can just think about children. We often condemn an activity of parents today where they spoil their children. Think of Veruca Salt in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” for instance. While parents should often give good gifts to their children, when the parents have their love for the child dependent on the gifts, there is a problem.
God could also say, “I already sent down a cure for cancer. Unfortunately, in the name of women’s rights, you aborted the one who was to discover it.”
The questioner has assumed that there is no good reason for God to not do this, when in fact there could be several reasons why he wouldn’t. I’ve only listed a few possibilities. I’m sure more could be mentioned.
“Ah, but you’ve got a problem! The guy doesn’t just say it! He gives Scripture!”
So he does, and indeed we must take Scripture seriously. Let’s see what he says.
To begin with, he points to a survey where most Americans think the Bible is literally true.
Well, I frankly disagree with them.
“Gasp! You’re writing for CARM! You’re supposed to hold to inerrancy! How can you deny the literal truth of Scripture!”
Well it is true that I am writing for CARM. It is also true that I hold to inerrancy. However, I wonder what it means to take the Bible literally. For instance, if I have someone who lives in my city and he rings my doorbell and talks as if he's out of breath, saying “I heard something and flew over as soon as I could to tell you!” I will not think, “Did he flap his arms or take a plane?” I know that "flew" is not meaning he literally took to the air, but in this case he moved at a fast speed.
If my wife and I are preparing dinner tonight and I say, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse,” is she to say “Honey, I happen to love horses. Don’t go talking about hurting one of them for a meal!” No. While I am using a figure of speech, there is a truth to what I am saying. That does not mean I am to be taken literally.
So when the Bible says that God covers me with the shadow of his wings, do I take that literally? No. God does not have wings. When I hear about God changing his mind, I do not take that literally. When I read about the fires of Hell, seeing as I believe Hell is more a place of quarantine, I do not take that literally either. The reality is that thinking the Bible is inerrant does not mean taking everything literally.
So what do we have? We have the verses given of Matthew 7:7, 17:20, 21:21, and other such passages. The problem is that our friend who writes this is taking them literally instead of seeing them as they should be seen.
Our heavenly Father will give good things, but the listeners at the time knew this wasn’t to be seen as a blank check. To make a request of God in their time meant going through a priest as well. For us, we go through Christ, and if we ask in His name, it will be done. I fully believe this. However, to ask in His name does not mean that the name of Jesus means magical powers. It means that we ask in His authority and if He is in agreement with us, it will be done.
The writer of this site says that it does not happen as Jesus says it would, so Jesus is lying. However, the problem is not Jesus’s words, but rather a 21st century American trying to understand them in 21st century terminology. We cannot blame Jesus for not fulfilling a promise he never made, and we cannot say he had to have made it that way because that’s how we understand it as 21st century Americans.
The author wants to say that God is supposed to be all-knowing, so he should speak clearly and not in 1st century terminology but in 21st century terminology. Does he think God should have had this kept in His word for 20 centuries since our time is the most important, or should He just constantly change the Bible for every culture and every time? I suggest that we should actually study the civilization the Bible was written in.
In the end, all I can say is that the attitude of this argument fits with our lazy mindset today where we expect all to cater to us.
We’ll see if he does better next time.
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