This week I found out my car needs new brakes. New brakes – front and rear – cost about $800. I don’t have $800 (well, I do, but I’d have to take it from the Future House fund, and I really didn’t want to do that).
But then I checked the mail, and found a refund check from Colorado State for $9900 – money left over from the loan I took out expecting to have to pay out of state tuition again, before my petition for residency was approved.
Long story short, I was able to buy new brakes. And another bag of prescription cat food for my cat with food allergies. And pay rent.
If I posted this story on Facebook and concluded with “God is so good!” I’m sure it would have easily gained 50 or more “likes.” But I’m not going to do that.
A friend of mine who writes for Patheos shared this photo recently, and it’s haunted me ever since.
I’ve seen the photo before, but the caption from the Bible with it is especially gutting. I have no idea what to say to people as hungry as that child was, as far as God’s provision for their needs. The thing is, even without that check, I could have paid for the brakes out of my savings, and I wouldn’t have had to sacrifice a few meals to make up for it. At worst, Josh and I wouldn’t be able to have Date Night at a nice restaurant (read: Buffalo Wild Wings or Texas Roadhouse) for a while. Well, more likely, we’d have to extend our lease for another few months and Josh would take more shifts at work until we could afford a down payment for a home and still have money left over to eat and stuff.
The point is, of all people with needs, I could have gone without that check. The timing of it is coincidental, yes – but I’m not “needy” in the truest sense of the word. Honestly, I’d feel guilty claiming God’s blessed me for something that is rather trivial in the grand scheme of things.
It’s for this reason that my beliefs about intercessory prayer are changing. When I see God helping people who already have more than most, I get skeptical. The photo of that starving child does not jive with my idea of a loving God, because I can’t reconcile a loving God who favors the privileged (I also don’t believe that self-protective prayers are biblical, but that’s another post). When I think of the verse quoted in the picture, I imagine – though I could be completely wrong – that it refers to the resources on earth that humans need to survive: edible plants and animals, clean water, tools for building shelter and healing diseases. The problem is humans who don’t want to share those things.
I can’t help but agree with the blogger who wrote this:
The minute you broadcast that good fortune as divine blessing…you are convinced at some deep level of God’s special favor. In proclaiming this good fortune, you are also calling into question the status of everyone else. When you celebrate even the most amazing occurrences – successfully overcoming cancer, surviving a tornado, or a sudden and unexpected financial windfall – you are suggesting those who are dying of cancer, killed in the tornado or poor and destitute are less favored by God. Your prayers were answered, but not theirs.
This is exactly how I felt reading posts on Facebook praising God for healing someone’s cancer after my father died. My faith was already struggling, and while the authors of such posts probably think they are being encouraging, they’re not. At least not to me. They mean well, sure – but ultimately these sentiments are just not helpful for people who didn’t get a “yes” to their prayers.
It’s more comforting for me to accept that we live in a fallen world in which shit happens to the just and unjust alike. Sometimes we understand the reasons – bad genes, poor decisions – but often times we don’t. I find greater hope in redeeming tragedies than seeking to prevent them. If I’m ever killed in a tragic, unexpected accident, I hope my organs can go to a child who needs them, so at least the tragedy will mean something to another family. That’s different than saying I had to die so another child could live, but I think God is in the business of redemption. Making beauty out of broken things.