Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

I just finished reading a book about atheism– or more accurately, a book about the unreasonableness and faulty logic of modern atheism as espoused by many scientists and philosophers. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56614922-is-atheism-dead One of the arguments concerns the view, held by many atheists, that life exists only in the material– in other words, that only “matter” “matters.” They argue against the existence of the soul, or the uniqueness of mankind in relation to other living things. There is nothing beyond science and whatever science can explain. Therefore, there is no God. If there is no God, and we were not created in His image, they argue, then there is no Heaven or Hell, and nothing beyond what we can experience with our senses. There is no purpose for our lives; no consequences for our thoughts or actions; no higher power or authority than our own. We are simply a product of the evolutionary process and a sum of our material components. Our thoughts are simply products of brainwaves firing in a certain pattern; our emotions conditioned and triggered by no more than a series of chemical and physical reactions to stimuli.

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It is not my intention to argue or take the time to explain in the same detail that was in the book I finished, but I was struck by one of the points the author made. Without a belief in the God of creation, it is illogical and inexplicable that we should be affected emotionally by ANYTHING outside of the realm of material experience and scientific study. That means that we cannot fully explain or appreciate art, music, the grandeur of the night sky, the softness and warmth of a baby’s cheek, the thrill of a perfect sunset, the memory-evoking smell of a loved-one’s perfume or after-shave…our senses should not “move” our emotions. We can analyze a piece of artwork– it’s color or composition, the balance of light and dark, or the perfection of its perspective. But we cannot explain why it is “art,” or why it “speaks” to us (or turns us off!) We can discuss sound waves and tonality in music, but we cannot explain why certain songs move us to tears or cheer our spirits. We cannot say what makes a poem “connect” to something in our psyche, such that its lines come to us almost unbidden in times of distress.

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But all of this makes amazing sense in a world where God exists– a God that is the Author of Creation; of Glory; of Compassion and Wonder. God not only exists– He makes Himself known in the music of a waterfall, in the gentle fall of snowflakes, in the scent of lilacs, and in the smile of someone we love. And He has given us the ability to feel awe, and to strive to add beauty, art, and meaning to the world around us. This is unique among His creation. Birds sing; dogs romp and play; flowers bloom– but they do not fall to their knees in worship; they do not compose sonnets or build cathedrals in acts of sheer adoration. They are not moved to tears or stunned into silence by sun glinting on a spider’s web– even the spider ignores the beauty of its own functional creation.

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We are fearfully and wonderfully made–and wonder-ful-ly made! Today is a great day to look and listen for God’s glorious touches all around us. And it’s a great day to reflect back to Him all the wonder and glory of Who He Is in praise!

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.  Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

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Does Prayer “Work?”

I have a friend who is very keen to study if prayer “works.” His theory is that if someone were to measure the number of prayers said in various regions of the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, and compare those numbers to the rates of infection, numbers of deaths, etc, for the same regions, one could “prove” whether or not prayer is effective.

I don’t think my friend is being sarcastic or overly cynical– I believe he is sincere in wanting to study prayer. I accept his desire to study prayer–to quantify it, even to “prove” it, or legitimate it for those who are skeptical. Unfortunately, he wants to study it as an observer, and not a participant, and he wants to conduct a physical study of a metaphysical practice.

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Scientists are conducting several studies during this time, to see what “works.” Does social distancing “work” better than building up “herd immunity?” Is there a treatment that works better, or faster than others? Can we develop an effective vaccine? What practices– social, hygienic, medical, political– might help mitigate the spread of future viruses? Even these studies will not be definitive. The results will depend a great deal on methodology, and the conclusions will be open to interpretation.

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There are additional problems in studying whether or not prayer “works” or not, because prayer is metaphysical. Here are just a few of the “measurement” problems:

  • How do you measure prayer? By length of time? Number of words used? The number of prayers prayed by each person over a certain period of time?
  • Do you count ritual prayers? Mantras? Meditation? Unspoken “thought” prayers? Recitations? Prayers spoken “in tongues” or in ecstatic states?
  • Do you count corporate prayer as a single prayer or by the number of people in the group?
  • What about social media? Do you count all the people who say they will send “thoughts and prayers?” Do you count those who say they “will pray,” or only those who are “praying,” or “praying now.”
  • If you are testing by geographical region, how do you account for people who are praying for others around the world?
  • How do you measure the efficacy of prayer (as opposed to other factors)? If a region has a higher mortality rate, even though many people prayed, does that mean that prayer “doesn’t work?” Or does it mean that the mortality rate would have been even more devastating (given other factors) without prayer?

More than just measurement problems, there are problems with the very nature of prayer that make such a study impossible:

  • Even if you could come up with a standard definition of “prayer” in order to get a count, prayer is not a physical substance or action. Prayer is not a “cause and effect” exchange. It is communication. If ten people say the same thing at the same time to the same person, it is not necessarily “more effective” than a single person-to-person exchange. If a thousand people pray to the same “god” who is not a god–“Mother Nature” or “The Force,” for example, it cannot be compared to a single person praying to a Loving and All-Powerful God.
  • God’s ways are not our ways. If we are measuring for one thing, God may be working for a different, unseen outcome. If more people contract the virus during the “study period”, we see that as “failure.” But God may be preparing that region to build up a resistance or immunity for a future outbreak. God answered prayer in a mighty way that we won’t see immediately. I have known a great many people, and prayed for a great many people who have not received physical healing in this world. They have suffered. They have died. But that doesn’t mean that prayer “didn’t work.” Their sufferings and eventual deaths have often brought about unbelievable works of God– salvation, families restored, friends discovering renewed purpose, strengthened efforts to fight disease, injustice, poverty, etc., and communities coming together in unity and hope.
  • Prayer is not about measurable results. Prayer is a heart-cry to a caring Creator. It doesn’t just involve asking for healing or miracles or “wish fulfillment.” Prayer involves thanksgiving, worship and adoration, repentance and confession, sharing burdens, asking questions, and building an eternal relationship with God Almighty.
  • In the end, any study results will be interpreted differently by different people. Some people will be convinced by numerical comparisons to re-consider their view of prayer. Others will never be convinced, no matter how much “evidence” someone else presents.

Prayer isn’t like taking an aspirin, or holding a protest rally, or doing research for a cure. Prayer isn’t about “winning the battle.” It isn’t about “what works.” It isn’t about “what” at all. It’s about WHO.

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God “works.” God is sovereign, loving, and wise beyond what we can imagine. His ways endure. And He has vanquished the power of death and disease. Yes, it can still touch us in the here and now, spreading havoc and pain and mourning. But it will never triumph over Hope, and Life, Truth, and Faith. And when we pray, we connect to the source of all that is Eternally victorious! Beyond ANY measure!

In God We Trust

It appears on our money in the United States.  It is our official national motto, “In God We Trust.”  See article here  But is it true?

In recent years, many people and groups have tried to challenge this simple four-word phrase.   Some claim that it violates the “separation of church and state”.  However, the phrase is not specific to any one religion– most of the major world religions (and most of those practiced in America) agree that there is (at least) one God, who can and should be trusted.

I actually worry a little less about those who are challenging the phrase than about those who simply ignore it or give it lip service.  And I pray that I don’t fall into the latter group, but in certain moments, I can’t honestly say that I am trusting fully in God.  Instead, I tend to trust in various “God-like” things:

  • I trust my own intuition or my own reason
  • I trust “experts”
  • I trust “the science”
  • I trust “the numbers”
  • I trust in the money that bears the motto
  • I trust in my own strengths and abilities
  • I trust in my husband
  • I trust my church
  • I trust my family
  • I trust what I read on Wikipedia or what I look up on Google
  • I trust what my friends send me on Facebook or Twitter
  • I trust what “they” say on TV
  • I trust what I read on a cereal box or food label
  • I trust headlines
  • I trust photos and videos I see on the news
  • I trust what I hear on the radio
  • I trust celebrity endorsements
  • I trust public opinion
  • I trust my feelings…

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Of course, some of the things listed above are obviously suspect; others seem reliable and true.  It’s hard to argue against some of the things on the list– it’s hard to doubt what I see, what can be measured, or what has proved true in the past.  And yet, I have been hurt and betrayed by many of these things– my feelings are unreliable; my friends or family give me advice with good intentions, but bad results; images and even eyewitness accounts don’t always tell the whole story, and, increasingly, honesty and integrity are being crushed out by compromise and expediency.  “If it bleeds, it leads…”  “The truth is evolving..”  “We all have our own ‘truth’..”

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God’s truths are eternal and righteous; that doesn’t make them easy or comfortable.  Sometimes it seems as though God takes a stand on both sides of an important issue– or that He takes no side at all– leaving us confused and wanting quick and well-defined answers.  I have friends who agonize about being on the “wrong side of history” with many current issues.  Let’s face it– no one wants to be on the “wrong side” of anything. We draw lines and pick sides– both sides can’t be “right”, can they?  So how can we know if we’re trusting God if God is silent or ambiguous?

In the end, there are a few guidelines that have helped me be more confident and have acted as anchors for my faith:

  • Reading the Bible:  not a verse here, or a chapter there to support a particular action or position–consistent reading THROUGH the Bible– from beginning to end, or at least through an entire book at a time.
  • Asking tough questions:  I would love to assume that I already know the answers or have the “right” opinions, but if I can’t handle being challenged; if I never have any questions or can’t ask the ones I keep pushing down, that should be a sign.  Sometimes the more questions I ask, the more I have!  But, as uncomfortable as it is in the beginning,  it is better to ask, and chase after an uncomfortable answer than to ignore the question or pretend to have all the answers.
  • LISTENING— really listening, whether to friends who seem to know all the answers (see above) ,  or those with really good questions.  It also means listening to those with whom I am tempted to disagree, and to those with whom I passionately disagree.  Listening is not the same as accepting or agreeing, but it is important for at least two reasons:
    • Every person is made in the image of God– how I treat them is a reflection of my love for God.  I will fall short; I will still hurt people’s feelings, whether or not that is my intention, but if I’m doing it through pride, hatred, or disdain, I am dishonoring God.
    • Second, I cannot say I understand a person if I’m cutting them off, talking over them, and finishing their sentences for them.  Often, while we may disagree on semantics or details, it turns out we agree on more than we assume we know about “the other side.”
  • Praying for wisdom and discernment.  It sounds odd to those who trust in their own understanding, but God WILL open your eyes, ears, and mind to truth, even if it’s being twisted, covered up, hidden, or falsified.  God promises, again and again, to give wisdom freely to those who ask.  He doesn’t want us to be confused and frustrated– but He does want us to seek out His truth instead of wallowing in the bog of “little white lies” and obfuscation around us.
  • Waiting and listening for the Holy Spirit to prompt my conscience.  This is much like asking for wisdom, but more subtle, and in some ways more dramatic.  The Holy Spirit is our guide and counselor (think Jiminy Cricket, but much more spiritual and always right).  Even if I’m not aware enough to know what to ask or what to question, the Holy Spirit will often prompt me.  Have you ever been reading along, or listening to someone’s story, and suddenly you just get the sense that something is “wrong”– you’re not getting the whole truth; or there is a detail that stands out and doesn’t make sense, and it keeps niggling at your conscience?  Yeah– that.  Pay attention to that– even amidst the graphic images and angry voices surrounding you.
  • Keeping track of God’s faithfulness– I don’t maintain this blog because I “wish” that God was faithful, or because someone managed to convince me that this is what I “should” believe.  God has proven faithful through all my questions.  I know I can trust Him because I have trusted Him through good times and difficult times; times when it didn’t make sense, when it wasn’t popular, and when circumstances pointed in other directions.  I have seen God’s hand at work in history and prophecy and personal testimony in ways that defy expectation and explanation.

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And whether of not it’s printed on my money; whether or not it’s popular or “patriotic” or punishable by law, I will continue to trust in God.  He is trustworthy and true; faithful in mercy and love; sovereign and altogether righteous.  In God I have trusted; In God I trust; and In God I will continue to trust.

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