How Shall We Pray?
I was recently in the company of an incredible woman. One who has traversed many more miles than I. And has seen much darker days. “We pray about such crap,” she says. “About our bad knees and bad backs. Safe travel. All crap. It has nothing to do with the heart. And then what do we say when something bad happens?”
Yup. There it is.
I have just come through a full on wrestling match with God during the past six months. Maybe a little less. It started over something pretty insignificant. Probably not worth wasting my time on, but the thought just wouldn’t leave me alone.
This word holds incredible weight and for us, it is such a huge concept, that it should probably be left alone to the philosophers and professional theologians. But I couldn’t quit. I clung on to God desperately over this because I finally realized that until I got my head wrapped around this reality I could not continue my journey. It could not be relegated to the sidelines. And why? Because here’s the essential problem: I was asking the question Can He be trusted? If I believe in a God who is sovereign over all, who orchestrates the events of the universe then it must follow that evil arises from God himself. Therefore, can He be trusted? I rarely question his existence because that answer is so blatant to me and always has been but the one nagging question that just doesn’t leave is this one. Can He be trusted? I do not believe I am alone. Frederick Buechner posed the problem perfectly when he said,
“God is all-powerful,
God is all-good,
Terrible things happen.
You can reconcile any two of these propositions with each other but you can’t reconcile all three. The problem of evil is perhaps the greatest single problem for religious faith.”
I know that I have heard this question over and over, it has been the shadow in the periphery for as long as I can remember. But I would always avoid it. Now that I reflect on it, my most frequent tactic to avoid this question was to avoid the Old Testament. I struggled to reconcile the God I knew in Christ to the God I read in Torah and beyond. The dichotomy of God’s anger and love confused and frustrated me, always bringing the question, can I trust Him? And maybe because I finally decided I couldn’t gloss over the parts that made me confused or uncomfortable anymore I was brought into the ring, to wrestle as Jacob did. For weeks I begged, through gritted teeth, “Bless me!”
My answer did come. After I had nearly exhausted myself with mental gymnastics, google searches and prayer I finally found rest for my mind. I doubt that this will be the last struggle but it has given me a foundation on which to build. For now I know the answer to the predestination question. We are not told why there is evil or where it has come from but rather we are told that there is no evil that is purpose-less. I return to the rest of what Buechner said,
“There have been numerous theological and philosophical attempts to solve it, but when it comes down to the reality of evil itself, they are none of them worth much. When a child is raped and murdered, the parents are not apt to take much comfort from the explanation (better than most) that since God wants us to love him, we must be free to love or not to love and thus free to rape and murder a child if we take a notion to.
Christian Science solves the problem of evil by saying that it does not exist except as an illusion of mortal mind. Buddhism solves it in terms of reincarnation and an inexorable law of cause and effect whereby the raped child is merely reaping the consequences of evil deeds it committed in another life.
Christianity, on the other hand, ultimately offers no theoretical solution at all. It merely points to the cross and says that, practically speaking, there is no evil so dark and so obscene – not even this – but that God can turn it to good.”
And there it is. We are still left with many unanswered questions perhaps but I find the knowledge that there is no purpose-less evil something I can trust. In all the agony the world endures, I often question and struggle with what God is up to, but to this I can return. The God I serve is up to something. And this something is beyond all the goodness I can muster up in my imagination.
So this is what I pray.
Our Father, who is in heaven. Hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.
Quotes from Wishful Thinking by Frederick Buechner
Further Reading: http://theologui.blogspot.ca