An Interventionist God?

A loved one is seriously ill, an undocumented mother of children who have been born in the USA is threatened with deportation, color-blind racism means you have to fear for the life of your son in ways that white mothers don’t have to. In the midst of these and similar situations, can we cry out to God, or is that pointless?

A refrain among some who wrestle with religious or spiritual questions is “I don’t believe in an interventionist God.” At best, they say, we can pray for some general wellbeing, or perhaps we can pray for a specific situation so that we will be changed. It seems that to think God intervenes is to say that God healed this person but refused to cure that one, cared about this situation but didn’t care about that one. Who would want to worship such an arbitrary God! But if it is not God’s doing that one person is healed and another is not, that some migrants die in the desert or on sea and others don’t, then how does one explain such things?

I believe that God desires relationship, that our prayers are heard and answered even though we may never understand how or why. I know I am not able to manipulate God, that if the situation about which I have prayed resolves in a way that makes me happy, it is not my doing. I can be grateful and give praise, but I cannot extrapolate from that situation as to what might happen in another situation, mine or someone else’s. What I can do is stay in relationship with God. I can, even must, cry out.

In the Bible story of Job, when he is afflicted with terrible losses and ills, his friends assume he has done wrong and God is punishing him. But Job insists he has done no wrong and demands an audience with God to protest. When God comes, Job is humbled by God’s awesomeness beyond all Job’s understanding. We would like to figure out who God is and how God works, but we can only stand in the mystery.

Queries:

How do you deal with the fact that some children make it through all the terrible challenges to reach the United States and others die? That some things you pray for seem to get no response?

Human action in response to God’s call and leading is important. How do you listen for what is yours to do? When and how are you to be God’s hands and feet?

Prayer:

Take a situation that you care about. Hold it in your mind and heart and know it deeply. In your imagination, lift that situation to the heart of Jesus.

For further reflection:

“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart” (See Luke 18: 1-8).

“The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.” (See Hannah’s prayer when she who had been barren gave birth to a child, I Samuel 2: 1-10.)

Praying for Someone

My grandson Jack knocked out his one permanent upper-front tooth. His parents took him to the dentist, who attempted to re-set it. The expectation was that it would either reattach or be rejected. My heart was heavy with concern for him. I couldn’t help but hold him in prayer. I also asked friends to pray for him.

What was I doing? I prayed passionately, with lots of caring energy. And I specifically prayed for his tooth to reattach. As far as I know that is the best thing that could happen for him. The accident would be overcome and he would have less trauma to go through. Sometimes when people pray like this they are in effect trying to work magic—to manipulate God by saying the right words, praying hard enough, getting enough people to pray, or whatever it might take to get God to bring the healing they want.

As a chaplain in oncology I once had a patient who had been struggling with breast cancer for many years but whose body had had enough. Her family had prayed for her through the years, with many remissions. They couldn’t bear to have her die. They asked me to pray for her, hoping that my prayers would get God to let her live even if theirs weren’t getting that result. When she did die, they were in such despair that they gave up on God and left their church.

In order to avoid this pain, some people pray only for God’s will in the particular situation, believing that that is the right way to pray—to be suitably humble. Others simply don’t believe in an interventionist God, a God who cares and who impacts specific situations in human life.

I pray what is in my heart. God knows my heart; there is no point in trying to cover it up. I also know that there is a much larger picture that I cannot see or comprehend. I trust that God loves and wants good. And I let go the prayer. Such praying brings community, strengthens my ability for love and compassion, and keeps me honest and humble, attuned to mystery and paradox.

Queries:

What do you think about intercessory prayer? What is your experience?

If there is that of God in every person, how might that of God in you relate to praying for others?

Prayer:

Pray as you can, not as you can’t. Sometimes action is the prayer to choose.

For further reflection:

“I pray that . . . he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit . . .” (See Ephesians 3: 14-19).

“Praise the Lord . . . who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases . . .” (See Psalm 103: 1-6).