This is one of those Scott would call one of my “deep theological posts”. He really just means it’s too long to read. Sorry. It was a lot to think about.
I sat on the left side of the classroom pulled up close to black top tables that served a dual purpose of note-taking and dissecting. Thankfully, note-taking at the moment. With squinty eyes I watched a middle-aged woman with light brown shoulder length hair while she drew pictures and labeled them with A’s G’s C’s and T’s on an overhead projector. I understood clearly the concept of base pairing she was teaching but I had not a clue how it related to chromosomes which was the topic we had been covering. I wanted to ask how these little letters possibly determined the fact that I was a female. I just knew I had missed something and I was the only one in the class that was not getting the big picture. I mean, it wouldn’t have been the first time a little common sense hadn’t kicked in. My heart beat sped up and I could feel my face flush and I just knew I was going to ask. Before I knew it my hand had shot up, she called on me and I said, “This might be a stupid question but how does this relate to chromosomes?”
A huge smile broke across her face. “That is not a stupid question at all. In fact, it’s a great question! That’s exactly where I was going with this.” She went on to explain how millions of these pairs were strung together and made a chromosome. (Please trust WIKI for a better understanding) Trust me when I say a light bulb came on and I was a little closer to understanding DNA as well as one can in Biology 101.
So I sit here eight years later and I find I have that same feeling. There’s just something I don’t understand and I’m afraid to raise my hand to ask. Surely everyone else just gets it and I’m missing something. But as countless teachers said, there’s no such thing as a stupid question. And as Biology 101 proved to me, sometimes asking pays off. Not just for you, but for others. So I guess this post is me raising my hand. Not necessarily for anyone to answer, but maybe just for the benefit of some reading so they know they’re not the only one that doesn’t get it.
That was a long winded way to say I’m having a hard time understanding prayer. And a lot of people might find that surprising, especially after reading this post. Ever since I can remember I’ve always prayed. All day, in little spurts, I talk to God. And the Sunday School answer for what prayer is is talking to God. That’s easy. I get that. I do that. I understand the purpose of talking to him. And more importantly I understand how important it is to listen to him. I get that part of prayer.
The problem I’ve been having with prayer is when it comes to asking for something. Does God decide to give or do things based on if, when, how much I ask or even how many of us ask? In other words, does prayer work? It’s really hard to raise your hand and ask that question. It seems like Christianity 101. Surely everyone in the classroom gets the concept. You ask God for something, he decides whether it should happen and he answers. The problem I have is we all know that sometimes he doesn’t answer the way we’d like. I’m told this happens because it’s not best for us or it doesn’t fit in His will. Fine, I’m good with that. I will take His will over mine any day. But then my question is why ask? If He’s going to do what He wants, or what He has planned anyway and then I’m just left with a pile of prayers that were heard but ultimately didn’t change anything, what is the point of laying our requests before Him?
I have to be honest, I got to a point where I told God, “God, I don’t know whether this is going to change anything but I’d really like x, y and z to happen.” And I honestly didn’t know whether my asking would change anything. Because the real question here is much larger. Really it’s about predestination and whether things are already laid out and we’re just living them out or our prayers, free will and desires are creating the present and future. It’s a hard question and that question I know has many people raising their hands.
Sodom and Gomorrah is a good place to start to try to understand this. God told Abraham he would destroy the cities and Abraham basically bargained with God about whether to spare the cities based on how many righteous people were there. He ends up sparing Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family. If taken at face value, you would assume that had Abraham not asked, Lot and his family would not have been spared. But my question is would they have not? Would God have seen Lot’s righteousness and spared them anyway? Was God basically “playing” with Abraham and he was planning to spare them anyway? Or, was God’s plans really changed and Lot and his family were spared? I want to say God changed his mind! Prayer works!
But if God changes His plans, what does that mean for everything else? Does the future of everyone change with each decision we make or He makes? Does God really know everyone’s future?
I have to believe that some things are “set in stone”. If I just think back to all the prophecies, things were told beforehand what were to happen and they came true. Even Christ said that he was there to carry out what was set before him. God says many times He has plans for us. Revelation is an entire book dedicated to things that are to come. At some level, the future is known.
So that’s where I am. Where do my prayers fit in? As I sit here, I believe God hears my prayers and I’m pretty sure prayer changes things. I mean, I’ve seen and been a part of miraculous things that have happened that were prayed for. It’s like the A’s, T’s, G’s and C’s in class. I feel confident in that part.
But I’m having a hard time seeing where it fits in with the rest of God. Maybe it’s a stupid question. Maybe I’m failing Christianity 101. But it doesn’t mean I don’t believe in prayer or God’s omniscience or my salvation or whatever else. I believed in base pairing and chromosomes and DNA. Just because I couldn’t put the pieces of the puzzle together didn’t mean I didn’t believe in any of the pieces or that the puzzle did fit together. I’m not questioning my faith here.
But I do have questions. I have some puzzle pieces in my hands and I’m trying to fit them together. I’m turning them around and around trying to see which sides will fall into place to make sense of the bigger pictures.
So I’m raising my hand and bowing my head.