The Destructive Nature
Careless Prayer Claims

Man of Clergy holding his hands over a boy
This article is a dangerous article for me to write. It is dangerous because it is easy for the reader to misinterpret what is being said, and also because people may feel it is an attack on God. I am sure that I will receive letters criticizing what I am saying in this discussion, and I know it is politically incorrect in the religious community to write anything critical of prayer. The fact remains however, that a great deal of damage is being done by careless claims about prayer. We were recently sent a video of a Larry King show in which big name people claimed that a miracle had taken place in their family and asking that people pray that more of a miracle might take place. The incident involved a grandson of the entertainer Pat Boone and featured members of Boone's family and a number of big name preachers. Over and over people calling into the show asked questions that hit at the destructive nature of the claims that were being made, but the program continued to extol what had happened as a clear miracle of God.

We want to emphasize that this article is not intended to deny anything. Even the situation the Boone family finds itself in and its eventual resolution is not what this article is about. God can perform any miracle He wishes to, and we would not discourage anyone from asking God for a miracle--no matter what the situation is and no matter what their belief system might be. What we are concerned with in this discussion is careless prayer claims and what their affect is on the people asking God's help and to the public at large.

Claiming Supernatural Miracles for Natural Ones

In the Boone family experience we have a young man who fell a great distance and was severely injured. There was damage to many organs and great damage to the externals of his body. One by one these injuries have been repaired so that as you look at the young man he appears to be free of the damage of the fall. The Larry King dialogue stated that his liver had healed, his jaw had healed, his lungs had healed, and that God had provided this miraculous series of healings one by one over the weeks that the young man had been in the hospital.

Doctor at a table with surgical instruments The human body is an incredibly designed machine. Unlike man-made machines, the body is designed with a variety of tools to repair itself when it is injured or when physical changes occur within it. In the Boone family situation we have a young man at the prime of life. His body is at its greatest potential for recovery, and so a skeptic can look at what has happened and legitimately say "This is just the natural body healing itself from a severe wound." The young man's brain had also been injured from the accident and at the time of this writing there is no indication that a full recovery will come from that injury. Atheists make huge gains with people when they point to a case like this and ask "why would God heal part of his body and not give him a total recovery?"

I have always been amazed at how careful the Bible writers are to show the reader that the miracles of Jesus were not like what we have just described. Jesus gave no margin for skeptics. When a man who had been blind since birth was given sight in John 9 , he was immediately able to see and function with sight. Modern medicine knows that getting the eye to work is only part of sight. To get a person who has never had sight to see and use sight instantly is absolutely impossible. In Mark 8:22-26 we see an incident that looks very much like Jesus confronted this problem in His healing. Jesus takes a blind man and anoints the man's eyes. He then asks the man if he sees anything. The man responds that he sees people that look like trees walking around. Jesus then again touches the man's eyes and the Bible says the man sees everything clearly. It seems that the Bible recognizes two different things involved in the restoration of sight and the cure is instantaneous. In John 11 when Jesus brings Lazarus forth from the dead, there is no room left for doubt about the miracle. Lazarus has not only been dead for three days, but he has been wrapped in burial cloths so tightly that Jesus has to tell the people to loose him when He restores life to him. The cure is instantaneous and complete. No room is left for the skeptic to attribute the miracle to some natural process. You can reject the claim as a lie, but you cannot deny that if it happened it was clear miracle of God.

In today's world, skeptics can bring great doubts to the public at large when they can show that there is a high probability that the claimed miracle was just a natural process that everyone experiences from time to time. I had an atheist friend with terminal cancer many years ago, who had a sudden reversal in his tumor that eventually resulted in it totally disappearing. He has continued his active campaign against the existence of God, which by all rights should have ended when the cancer took control of his body.

We would do far better in our approach to the public to point out that it is the wisdom of God's design of the body and of the natural world we live in that allows all recovery from all illness than to make a claim that God supernaturally produced a cure for us that can have natural causes. The question is not whether God is active and alive on planet Earth, but how God acts in today's world and with whom.

Making God a Respecter of Persons

One of the unique attributes of the Christian system is that it does not put one person over another. One of the most beautiful stories in the New Testament is the story of Cornelius. This man was a centurion in what was called "The Italian Regiment." He was a follower of God, and God acted in response to his prayer. Peter is brought to Cornelius and in undeniable terms God shows Peter that the Christian system is for all men. When he sees this Peter says "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right." The nationalistic, paternalistic, ethnic favoritism that existed under the Law of Moses was done away with. Passages like 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 show that the Church is made up of all kinds of people working as a unit--not one favored over another. Galatians 3:28 says it best when the writer tells us "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

This principle of equality is lost if we claim that God offers miraculous cures to those who He especially likes and denies them to those of us He does not. God loves all of us and sent His son to die for all of us--not just those who might be more appealing to Him in some way. Suppose that God looks at your child and your prayer and says " OK, I like your prayers very much and I love you very much so I will cure your child of this disease and your child shall live." Then He looks at me and says "Well, I don't think you have asked enough people to pray for you and I don't like the way you pray and I really don't like you or your child very much so your child will die."

I can tell you from difficult personal experience that this is exactly what happens to many of us. When my wife and I first realized that our first born had some problems, we prayed and prayed that the problems would disappear. When that did not seem to be happening, we prayed that our son would not be blind, because it appeared he had a vision problem. When it was obvious he would be blind we prayed that he would be OK mentally so we could work to handle the vision problems. After weeks and months of prayer it became obvious our son was retarded. We were at the point where we just prayed that he not have any more problems--but he did: a form of muscular dystrophy and a form of cerebral palsy. There were those who disengaged themselves from us because they felt we must not have much of a connection with God. God was not answering our prayers because we were not spiritual enough or because we had done things that made God refuse our petitions. I even went through a period when I wondered if God was not retaliating at me because of my years as an atheist--and in fact there was a minister who made that statement to me.

It was only when I starting looking at Job and Christ Himself that I began to see that the problem was not that God liked other people better than He liked me.

Giving Weak Answers to People
with Bad Results in Their Prayer Life

The experiences that we have had with people who claim to be Christians on this subject have almost universally been negative. It is easy for people who have no problems in their lives and no struggles at the moment to give simplistic answers to people in pain. Saying that our faith is insufficient is not only untrue but totally cruel and highly destructive. The blind man and his family in John 9 were not people who were followers of Jesus and did not even know who Jesus was when the blindness was cured. In one case a widow's son was raised from the dead as his funeral procession went out of the city in which they lived. When Jesus says "your faith has ..." He is stating the process that led the person to Him, but He is not giving a prerequisite for action. There are too many cases where people who had no faith get an incredible miracle to take such a position. There is no question that by the time my wife and I had been hammered with one negative result after another with our son, our faith was hanging on by a thread. Only when we started looking at God's purpose in creating man, at Job's life and problems, at the terrible suffering that Jesus endured and how He responded to those last hours before dying on the cross did we begin to make sense of our situation.

Saying "Well, this is God's will" is another weak and destructive answer that rips and tears at the spiritual fabric of people. There are many things that happen in this world that are not God's will. It is not God's will that any should be lost the Bible says ( 2 Peter 3:9 ) and yet we know people will be lost. It is not God's will that John Clayton sin. Does John Clayton sin?--yes--and that is not God's will. There is a difference between what God enjoys, what God says will happen, and what we think God ought to do in addressing our problems in life. To tell someone who has just had a tragedy (that God did not solve the problem as he/she wanted it solved) that this is God's will not only is destructive, but is untrue. Jesus wept when He came to the tomb to resurrect Lazarus, and He did that because He saw the pain of being human and suffering the loss of what you love. We are told that we will all die, and we are told that we will reap what we sow and those statements cannot be washed away by a careless use of the phrase "this is God's will." God weeps with us in tragedy and loss as He did at the death of Lazarus, but He does not sweep our pain and agony under the rug with clever or flippant clichšs.

Ephesians 6:12 tells us that we are in a war with spiritual terrorism. The battle is severe and there will be losses in the battle. Our prayer life needs to be conducted with the realization that this war is going on. We have a tendency to approach life with a Pollyanna attitude that nothing bad is ever going to happen if we live a certain way and develop the correct set of words and approaches to God. God knows what we have need of before we ask, and He knows that life is hard and that we will have bad things happen to us. The promises God gives us are promises that He will sustain us and that we will not be given more to handle than we can endure ( 1 Corinthians 10:13 ). There is never anything wrong in anything we ask God for, but we cannot hold God hostage to our demands or feel that we have any worthiness that God needs to reward.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think that Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us tends toward envy, but he gives us more grace? That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.--James 4:1-10

--John N. Clayton

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