A typical defense for the "Well, if we knew everything . . ." argument is that our faith is inextricably linked to free will, that faith is a necessary by-product of God's granting humans the ability to choose to obey Him. However, God's intervening demonstrably in the world would not override our freedom to choose to follow Him any more than my demonstrations of love for my wife force her to love me in return.
If God does indeed desire that all men come to Him, then why not clearly act in the world in such a way to mitigate, if not eliminate, doubt concerning His presence or existence? Why is faith required to the degree that it is?
But then as I consider these questions, I'm mindful of the Bonhoeffer quote I wrote a post about back in February:
"It is not that God's help and presence must still be proved in our life; rather God's presence and help have been demonstrated for us in the life of Jesus Christ. It is in fact more important for us to know what God did to Israel, in God's son Jesus Christ, than to discover what God intends for us today. The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I will die. And the fact that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, will be raised on the day of judgment. Our salvation is 'from outside ourselves.' I find salvation not in my life story, but only in the story of Jesus Christ. Only those who allow themselves to be found in Jesus Christ--in the incarnation, cross, and resurrection--are with God and God with them."
The skeptic in me thinks, "Ah, Diedrich, you're just letting God off the hook for the times he seems so absent." But when I consider Bonhoeffer's plight--a suffering which I'll likely never know--I think he understood so much more deeply than I the significance of Christ.
And so I continue to grapple.
Obviously these writers aren't familar with much of Barenaked Ladies' catalogue.
Shortly after I started this blog, I wrote a short series called "Time-Defining Music" in which I highlighted the impact particular albums made on me at various points in my life. BNL's Born on a Pirate Ship was the first album I wrote about http://jmiddlekauff.blogspot.com/2006/02/time-defining-music.html.
Part of what has always drawn me to that record is the sad tenor of many of the songs. Perhaps that speaks to my own melancholic disposition.
This evening I came across this July 18th article by Chris Snethen in the Portland Tribune entitled "The Eternal Sadness of Steven Page" http://thevig.portlandtribune.com/2008/07/18/the-eternal-sadness-of-steven-page/
Snethen, who like Page has had struggles with mental health, offers a poignant assessment of Page's arrest as seen through the lens of the emotional and pyschological turmoil he has revealed in his songwriting.
Whether you're a BNL fan or not, Snethen's article is worth reading.
Here's a salient excerpt:
Now, Kurzweil is predicting the arrival of something called the Singularity, which he defines in his book on the subject as "the culmination of the merger of our biological thinking and existence with our technology, resulting in a world that is still human but that transcends our biological roots."
"There will be no distinction, post-Singularity, between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality," he writes. Singularity will approach at an accelerating rate as human-created technologies become exponentially smaller and increasingly powerful and as fields such as biology and medicine are understood more and more in terms of information processes that can be simulated with computers."
By the 2030s, Kurzweil said, humans will become more non-biological than biological, capable of uploading our minds onto the Internet, living in various virtual worlds and even avoiding aging and evading death.
In the 2040s, Kurzweil predicts that non-biological intelligence will be billions of times better than the biological intelligence humans have today, possibly rendering our present brains obsolete.
"Our brains are a million times slower than electronics," Kurzweil said. "We will increasingly become software entities if you go out enough decades."
To answer the second question, of course, depends on how one defines effective. If by "effective" I mean that prayer focuses someone's mind on God (Lewis posited that the main point of prayer was changing the one praying), steers my thoughts away from self-interest and toward the needs of others, and can offer a sense of peace to the one praying or the one being prayed for, then, yes, prayer is effective. But verses like "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective," "Whatever you ask in my name will be given to you," and "The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well" suggest that the efficacy of prayer extends beyond practical benefits. Obviously, there are caveats for the aforementioned verses. For example, the passage from James about the sick person being made well has to be balanced against the inevitability of death. Nonetheless, the biblical writers contend that prayer can, and does, elicit a response from God.
So, let's return to the first question: How do you know if a prayer has actually been answered?I've noticed that often our prayers are so vague that we can assume there's been divine action with basically any positive event--"Lord, be with so and so," "Lord, bless so and so." What exactly do we mean? Do we even know? Whatever the answers to those two questions, I don't believe we can point to a beneficial circumstance in someone's life and say, "Ah! That's an answer to my prayer to bless so and so!"
The deeper issue here is that if we earnestly expect God will answer such prayers or any other kind, then we're inclined to interpret anything as a sign of His response. To use a rather poor illustration, think back to when you had a crush on someone. You analyzed everything that person did when interacting with you, looking for some sign that he or she reciprocated your affection. And, if your high school or college days were anything like mine, there were times that your desire for a sign led to misinterpret the person's intentions, finding a reciprocated interest where there wasn't one.But what about something with specificity? Let's say we pray for someone to find a job, and the person gets hired. Prayer answered? Maybe. Jobs are part of everyday life. Most people looking for a job hard enough find one eventually. Generally speaking, I don't see how finding employment is any sort of proof of God's intervention.
I've written several posts regarding theodicy, butting my head against the pervasiveness of suffering. But a tangental frustration that arises from theodicy for me is that if God demonstratively healed people, then such healing would be proof of the efficacy of prayer. However, as I've noted before, we all have increasingly long lists of sick people we've prayed for who have died, and the recuperation of the few who haven't died can't be cleary attributed to divine intervention (I've never known a cancer patient who recovered without medical treatment.)
I confess I've spent very little time in prayer in recent months.