Especially when I was younger, I was prone to saying prayers that amounted to “God, please don’t let reality be reality.’ I would not prepare for a test and ask God to help me do well on it anyways. I would wake up late and ask God to somehow make the 5 minutes I had extend to the 15 minutes I needed. And if the bus could be running just the right amount late, that would be great. Or to let the $3 in my bank account somehow cover the $25 I needed for gas. Pretty please, please, please.
Oddly enough, God never seemed inclined to answer these prayers. In fact, anyone who has known me for a while will tell you that I have remarkably bad luck. I’m the sort of person who hits every red light, always gets stuck behind someone who has a problem at the checkout and when I switch lanes while driving, that lane immediately slows down. At least twice a year, my mail mysteriously gets waylaid or returned to sender. And it’s almost always mail with money or something important in it. My checks always went through miraculously fast while my deposits were usually delayed. So on and so forth.
After a while, I stopped fighting life as it is and just went with it. It’s much less stressful to just let life be what it is than to continually hope against hope that just this once, I’ll catch a break.
The thing is that God made reality. It works according to certain rules and principles. And it works the way it does for reasons. Asking God to make reality work some other way for your benefit isn’t really a reasonable request. Nor is it practical. There are 7 billion of us. Imagine if God changed the rules of time, physics and biology every time someone prayed for it in Jesus’ name. It would be an unholy disaster. For all of us.
Right now some of you are saying, “but Rebecca, you’re talking about petty things you were asking for here. I had a kid who I asked God to heal and he didn’t. I asked God to provide safety or shelter and he didn’t. I understand why God isn’t continually making time stand still or changing traffic for our benefit. What about the really major tragedies people ask God to intervene in?”
The examples I’ve given are pretty petty, but I too have prayed “please stop reality from being reality” prayers in some very serious circumstances which have remained unanswered. People I’ve begged God to heal and tragedies which went un-averted. I get it.
And I don’t often understand why God can’t just intervene and set things right. What possible harm could come from healing my 33 year old brother in law who is imprisoned in a body he hasn’t been able to control for the last decade, for example.
To a certain extent, the issue is that there’s a bigger plan at work than we understand. Some things are the way they are and will remain so because to change them would interfere with other important things which are going on. And often there’s no way for us to know the why’s behind such things.
However, I think that mostly the answer is basically the same as for our unanswered petty prayers: reality is what it is. And God made it that way for a reason. As I’ve said often before, all of creation works not in spite of destructive forces, but because of them. The planet could not support life without earthquakes, fierce weather and death, for example. The evolution of life which lead to us could not occur without mutations which more often than not lead to deformity and death. Remember, when God created the world he declared it “good”, not perfect.
As Job said, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
Have you ever considered how it is that we came to have the ability to suffer? If God had intended the world to be perfect and for us to never suffer, then why would he have created us with the capacity to suffer? He could have made us so that no matter what happened, we wouldn’t mind and would just carry on our merry way. But he didn’t.
The truth which has too long been denied – especially by Christians – is that this world is as it should be, even though we often are not. Even with all the trouble which being alive can bring. When we ask God to change reality for our benefit, we are rejecting the reality he made. Which I am certain he understands, but he made reality intentionally, for good purposes. Is it any wonder that he doesn’t often step in to change it?*
Now, I’m not claiming that God never steps in to change reality. Sometimes prayers for healing are answered. Sometimes favor is given, luck strikes and tragedy is averted. And those are good things. Some people say that this is what we can expect when we have enough faith. As if one child will receive healing because of the faith of his parents while another dies because her family’s faith wasn’t good enough. This is simply not true.
As I said a couple of weeks ago, Jesus is the author of our faith, so our faith is always just what it should be. God will not find fault in us and withhold blessings from us because our faith doesn’t meet his standards.
Again, we have to go back to what I said at the outset about answered and unanswered prayers. Different people need different things. Life is far too complex to be boiled down to simplistic formulas.
So yes, there will be times when God answers prayers for reality to be something other than what it is. But as a rule, we should expect that reality will remain reality. Jesus said that no father would hand his son a scorpion when he’d asked for bread. He didn’t say that he’d turn a scorpion into bread for him, though.
*Sometime soon I will have to write more about why God might have desired to make a reality in which suffering is an unavoidable part. But for now, consider that grace, mercy, compassion, empathy and patience are all part of God’s character. And we are made in his image, so it’s part of our true identity as well. If no one ever erred or suffered, what need would there be for grace, mercy, compassion and the like? How would God and man ever express these parts of our character?