Response to the Interface

(June 23rd, 2014)

This is a response to my first guest blogger, Crorey Lawton! Read The Interface!
I, King, have dealt with the gods for three generations of men, and I know that they dazzle our eyes and flow in and out of one another like eddies on a river, and nothing that is said clearly can be said truly about them. Holy places are dark places. It is life and strength, not knowledge and words, that we get in them. Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood. – Till We Have Faces
Crorey, I too am skeptical, though intrigued, by the “science and religion” conversation. While at Yale I audited a class at the divinity school. It claimed to discuss and explore the intersection of science and religion. Even the professor was skeptical of the class. I was able to provide a guest lecturer in the form of our famous relative Charles Townes. Besides that highlight, I was left disappointed. Additionally, at a conference at Cambridge I heard lectures dealing with science and religion. While it was much better (and I was able to hear from the head of the NIHFrancis Collins,) they mostly talked about how the US was exporting much of its anti-scientific brand of Christian thought to the UK. From such little experience and study I am hardly qualified to pass my thoughts along on this subject. But since that hasn’t stopped me before, I’ll continue.

Please note that this response is not an answer, but rather a series of thoughts and questions of my own that grew as I read your post. This is fortunate, as I have no answers to your questions anyways. You posed multiple thoughts and questions. I hope I summarize them correctly as such. Can faith or prayer affect change? Why did Mac do so well for so long while others do not? Is there a way to repeat such success? How do we hold faith, doubt, and hope together?

As I write this I am in the lab (It is a Saturday night – don’t line up all at once, ladies) following a protocol. I’m doing a fluorescent immunohistochemistry experiment to see where specific proteins are located in my cells. If I don’t mess this up, I’ll be able to see how healthy my culture is. Following the protocol enables me to get the desired results – repeatedly. And as you rightly said, this is what we often desire when we pray. And it is so often not this way.

I wish I could tell you how to pray to guarantee success. I would probably say to pray repeatedly, earnestly, honestly, and other nice sounding words. I wish I could follow the steps so that Kathe’s cancer would fade away. I would check all the boxes for her, and for me, and for all those that I hold dear. But I cannot.

Either prayer doesn’t work because God is not there, or God is something other than a protocol to be followed, or a complex puzzle to be solved. In my lab work, if something goes wrong it is almost always human error (fancy words for ‘my dumbass mistake’). But I think we can rule that out with prayer. I’m not saying I get things right – ever. But as Christians we hold that Jesus did live ‘right.’ If Christ was perfect than his prayer must have been as well.

Jesus viewed prayer highly. He praised persistence (the parable of he crooked judge) and humility (the prayer of the publican) in prayer. He took time to instruct his followers in a way to pray. And he, himself prayed often, even daily. In his greatest need, he prayed. He prayed earnestly, honestly, repeatedly, perfectly. And yet, that night there was no voice from the sky, no answer, no help, no change. The night did what every night does, and marched ever on till dawn. Did Christ lack faith? Did he not pray enough? Or did God exercise a will that was not limited to a protocol perfectly executed?

Mac came to believe that he was called to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. He believed this was in done in relationship with God, with a God who, like himself, asks, listens, loves, moves, works and responds. Mac did not believe in a protocol. If God is relational, is god knowable, predictable, controllable? Mac believed in a God that was knowable, or at least that in our human limitations, god could still reveal godself in real, comprehensible ways. Yet, have you ever been able to perfectly predict/manipulate a friend or a spouse? So what then? Can prayer or faith affect change within a relationship?

The bible, and my experience, is littered with stories of prayer and faith affecting change. I think of Hannah praying for a son. I think of the parable of the persistent widow. I think of David, after stealing another man’s wife being told that if he had only asked of God, he would have been given so much more. I think of Mac and his 8.5 years. God does seem to respond at times in ways that people can see - but not always. Elijah was only sent to one widow, a foreigner - and no one else - when, in that epic language, ‘the sky was shut and famine took the land.’ Surely there were other desperate prayers.

So the question moves ever back to ‘what made these people special?’ or rather, ‘Why did God answer them?’ I’m not sure that is a question that can be answered. In my opinion both science and religion have trouble with ‘why’ questions. Asking ‘why’ of God may be pointless – just read the poetry ofJob, or the wisdom of the teacher. (Are we like little children that ask why until the parent exasperatedly says ‘because!’) It may be pointless, but I do not say don’t ask why. Always be honest. Even Christ, cried out ‘Why?’

Both Christ, and Mac prayed for God’s will to be done – even while asking for their own honest desires. Yet here is my fear and my doubt. Saying ‘thy will be done’ is nothing more than saying ‘my prayers change nothing.’ It is only saying ‘we can not know.’ It is to say god is either gone, or worse, a random number generator. I fear it is an abdication of rational thought, of struggle, of meaning, and importantly, of control.

Yet Mac didn’t seem to give up on the struggle, or meaning, or deep reflection. Could it be that Mac’s faith was something more akin to deep trust? For Mac, to say ‘god’s will be done’ was less an act of willful blindness and more like saying to a life-long friend, or spouse, ‘though I have no clue what you are up to, I know that you have never sabotaged me before.’ Did Mac have such a relationship that he was free to both express his desire and yet trust this other?

Did Mac’s faith or trust affect his diagnosis? Who is to say? God may have given him 8.5 more years. But, After all, he still died too soon. Yet I would be blind to look at him and not conclude that his faith or trust or prayer did not affect a tangible change in him, and those around him. Too many people’s lives have been forever altered because of his pursuit of justice, his practice of kindness, and his persistent humility to the very end of life for me to conclude that Mac’s prayers did nothing.

So what will I do? In my faith and in my doubt I will pray for you and for Kathe. I will express my honest desire. I will try to pray for God’s will to be done. And I will pursue that relationship that brings the freedom to let go of control without letting go of thought and struggle, meaning and hope.

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