The limits of divine intervention

castleDriving home from church one night, I realized I no longer believe in an intervening God. Not the kind described in the Bible, anyway – the God who speaks through burning bushes and rains manna from the sky. When people say God spoke to them personally with the promise of healing, of recovery, or some tangible form of deliverance, I believe it’s real to them. I’m not going to be the Grinch of Joy. But generally I don’t believe that’s God’s go-to method of communication anymore.

I like Harold Kushner’s reasoning that God designed a world that operates by its own rules. Laws of nature do not bend at anyone’s will: they follow a design that doesn’t take social standing or any form of status into consideration. If a man steals a packet of seeds, it would serve him right if they didn’t grow – but grow is what seeds are designed to do, regardless of the circumstances in which they were planted. If a woman is raped, it would be better, obviously, for her not to become pregnant as a result; but the laws of nature do not make exceptions for a violent conception.

I don’t understand the mentality that if one prays hard enough, they can be made exempt from the consequences of nature. Why would God intervene with the way his world operates on behalf of one person, but not all?

This self-protective form of Christianity is distinctly American; a product of modern, technologically sophisticated Western thinking. This is not the Christianity of early Roman martyrs waiting to be thrown to the lions – that radical faith is anything but safe, and that, I think, is how it was designed to be. But today, I listen to story after story of young Christians suddenly realizing the world is unfair only after tragedy becomes personal. God is still good despite the Holocaust, despite the prevalence of human trafficking, and natural disasters that leave millions of people homeless, but suddenly a car wreck that inhibits one’s ability to play basketball throws God’s goodness into question? An illness that was bound to occur as a result of genetics and perhaps poor lifestyle choices means God no longer cares? This, to me, is spiritual immaturity.

I don’t mean to imply that my own faith is far above all this. I am no deeper or mature than the next self-professing Christian, but I am one whose beliefs have been profoundly shaped by personal experiences. I am still learning, as everybody is, and there is no predetermined “life track” in which everyone comes to the same conclusions at exactly the same time. I realize that I must learn patience and compassion for people who haven’t experienced the same hardships – that’s a blessing, not a character flaw. But this twisted idea that some of us are immune to suffering is one I do have little patience for, and reflecting on my own privileged upbringing is a reminder that adversities can happen to anyone in a world governed by the laws of nature and physics, which I believe God created.

I believe God gives us tools to cope with things within our control: strength, courage, wisdom, hope. I no longer pray for events I have no control over, because that is essentially asking God to change the way he ordered the world to work, for reasons no one will understand until we can ask him face to face.

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11 thoughts on “The limits of divine intervention

    • Beth Caplin says:

      I never said that. But I’ll tell you that after 13 years of praying for my Dad’s cancer to go away, which it didn’t, and praying for an abusive ex to change his ways, among other things beyond my control, I have plenty of reasons to believe that it’s more worth my time praying for things within my power to do. I also realized that prayer to avoid suffering flies in the face of what Christianity was founded on – it’s not a faith that distances itself from any kind of pain whatsoever.

      But by all means, if you think it’s still possible for God to intervene with nature because you asked him to, pray for the limb of an amputee to grow back and see what happens.

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    • Beth Caplin says:

      I never said I don’t believe that happened. I said God’s communication has changed since biblical times – you’ll notice most people say things like “God spoke to my heart” or through other people, dreams, etc, as opposed to speaking through burning bushes or parting seas.

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  1. AthenaC says:

    I tend to agree with you – prayer should be about conforming yourself to God rather than trying to make God conform the world to you. I would add that although I agree it’s a sign of immaturity to ask for God to conform the world to you, I think it’s certainly better than not praying at all; hopefully it’s a stepping stone toward more perfected motivations in our prayer.

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    • Jim Hoerst says:

      The problem is the Bible portrays a god that is definitely intervenes. If you don’t like what the Bible teaches my I suggest to you that you are making up your religion as you go along.
      If you don’t believe in a god that intervenes then you are much more of diest than a theist.

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      • Beth Caplin says:

        I don’t think God intervenes by bending the laws of nature to cater to the human will – that’s making up my religion as I go along?

        This has nothing to do with “not liking” what the Bible says; it’s based off my experience.

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    • Beth Caplin says:

      Funny, even my pastor said in his sermon last Sunday when his daughter wanted an outdoor wedding that praying for it not to rain was senseless, because nature does what it wants. I thought that was interesting.

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      • Jim Hoerst says:

        Again, your view may be more reasonable than the Biblical view, but there are plenty of instances where Bible God fiddles with the weather in difference to prayer. I could give you scores of verses that teach about an interventionist god, and as far as I know none that back your view.

        I agree that your view is more rational than the Bible teaching, but never the less it is not the Bible teaching.

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        • Beth Caplin says:

          See my last comment that the communication of biblical times and now has changed. If it hasn’t, then no Christian I know has experienced anything like it. This was all outlined in the first paragraph of the post, so maybe you should read it again more carefully before making more assumptions about my faith.

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