Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thoughts about a blog article on unanswered prayer

I was reading an article about unanswered prayers. In that article, the author attempts to suggest some reasons why prayers remain unanswered, and how we should pray in order for our prayers to get answered. The author cites the Lord’s Prayer and attempts to distill some principles from it as a model. One key principle the author claims is that we should hallow God in our prayers, otherwise we will be praying self-centered prayers, and that may be the reason why a person’s prayers does not get answered. The author cites the passage of James 4:2-3 where James writes in his epistle to his audience that even when they ask, they do not receive because they ask with wrong motives. The author makes the point that even seemingly godly prayers like the author’s own asking for God to change his children could be self-centered in nature as it does not focus on the kingdom of God.

I have mixed feelings when reading the article. On the one hand, I am desperate for God to answer my prayers, especially with regards to physical healing of some of my chronic illnesses. Thus, I just hope to apply whatever the author is recommending so that God will answer my prayers for healing. I figure also that it couldn’t hurt to focus more on the aspect of hallowing God when I pray. I believe that I do indeed try to hallow God’s name when I pray. I would ask God to heal me because I believe that he is an all-powerful, merciful, and loving God. But perhaps I might have left out the part about asking for God’s kingdom to come, and that his will be done, or something like that. If praying that would make my prayer more effective, I would certainly do it.

On the other hand, I can’t help but feel that this suggestion of having to pray for God’s kingdom or otherwise my prayers are self-centered is legalistic and artificial. I hope I am not being overly-cynical, but it sounds to me that God is scrutinizing my prayers such that if I don’t add a particular phrase or clause, he will foul me and not consider my prayer requests. It doesn’t matter whether my prayers are heartfelt, or sincere, or whether I am pleading with God most earnestly, because if I haven’t hallowed God’s name, or asked for his will or kingdom to come, I am being self-centered in my prayers.

Personally, I have a different conception of how God is like, or how I think he should be. I conceive of God as loving and sympathetic to our needs, and even our desires. I like the idea in the bible of how we should think of God as our Father, and we his children. Some of the bible passages I favor about prayer are those like Matthew 7:9-11 where Jesus was telling his audience that just as we as human parents know how to give good things to our children, so much so will God, the Father give good things to those who ask of him. As such, rather than a legalistic God who would make such demands on the way we pray, I would believe that God is keener on trying to meet our prayer requests for our needs, even if they may be self-interested (or more negatively put, “self-centered”). I can accept the point about how God desires that we as Christians should want to advance God’s kingdom and do his will, but I am quite adverse towards the idea that I must have such desires first before God will consider meeting my needs. And to be honest, I often don’t feel that the advancement of God’s kingdom or doing his will is at the topmost of my mind. I don’t even feel like praying for this actually, because the concerns for my own needs or wants can be pretty overwhelming. It can seem forced for me to have to conform to this idea that I have to do those, so that God will answer my prayers.

Perhaps I might be overly-cynical by saying that the God that the author describes is legalistic and demanding. I know the author means well with his article, but this are my thoughts about it at the moment. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Reflections about suffering

Where is God when it hurts? I still ask myself this question quite often, especially in light of the chronic daily tension headaches that I experience. I wonder why God would not heal me of this tension headache. I believe I must have prayed at least a thousand times asking God to heal me of this illness. So why hasn’t God healed me yet of this tension headache?

I can’t help but find my faith in God challenged through this ordeal and hardship that I have found in my life. Does God exists at all? I tell myself this sometimes. And there are indeed times when I say to myself that God indeed does not exist. If he does, then why wouldn’t he do something about my plight?

I suppose if I should be critical of myself, I should have questioned the existence of God as critically as I am now even before I suffered these tension headaches. After all, suffering amongst humankind is pretty common. There are the periodical news report of some poor souls undergoing some form of hardship or another. I remember reading about a kid who died after he was kicked in the neck during a taekwondo sparring session. Then there was the case of a newly wedded couple where one of them fell down and died on his wedding day. The spouse committed suicide a few years later. Recently in the news, there was a report of a girl who had to have her legs amputated due to cancer, the news coming to her on the day when she got into the netball team of the Singapore Sports School. She succumbed to cancer later, even though she had underwent an amputation of her legs. I believe that she was Christian. The mother was quoted as saying that she is somewhat relieved that her daughter does not have to go through any more pain, and is in heaven with God.

I mustn’t be too surprised over my own experience. It is perhaps much more common than what I am aware of. At least, if I should consider my society as a whole, instead of just the communities which I interact with on a daily basis. And even within those communities which I am part of, I wouldn’t be too surprised that the respective individuals themselves face one sort of ordeal or another, ordeals that are hidden from the surface that can be observed by the eyes. But it can honestly seem like I am the only undergoing such undue hardship when everyone else seems pretty happy around me.

I would like to think that God exist, and he is merely testing me, or making me undergo trials through which I would become a better person. There is this underlying belief I had even before I experience this chronic tension headache, that suffering is God’s way of imparting divine wisdom. When I see my plight from such an angle, it makes me question what are the lessons or wisdom that God is trying to teach me from this suffering. Perhaps I have become more empathetic to the sufferings of those around me, and of other people in the world. I wonder whether I have been less than empathetic to the plights of others before the start of my own suffering. It wasn’t like I didn’t try to be empathetic, but I may not have been so intuitively pricked in my consciousness of such suffering. I believe I was a little more simplistic in the way I believe that God would be sufficient for those in suffering, without being aware that suffering can be a struggle even with that fact. It is not unheard of for me to hear people say in church that they are not afraid of suffering because they believe that God would sustain them through it. I too might have said to myself that if I ever were in similar suffering, I would not be perturbed, but maintain an easy serenity to myself because God would be with me. And that belief might have quite subconsciously made me less than empathetic to the possible emotional turmoil that those in suffering undergo. I might have told at least one or two of such people I know who lament about God through their suffering alot that they should count God’s blessings, rather than focus on their misfortune. On hindsight, I guess that might have been insensitive, even as it is well-intentioned.

I think I might be unfairly caricaturizing my past self here, because I remember that I did try my best to be empathetic to those in suffering, but such belief-system mentioned above might have been in mind, somewhere in the subconscious perhaps. Perhaps suffering brings such thoughts that lie in the subconscious to the fore, and make us realize their folly, or uncaring nature. Perhaps one such thought could be that when we read of someone else in suffering, even as we express pity, we might have the subconscious belief that such plight only happens to others and not to ourselves. Perhaps when we suffer, even if just a little, and not as much as those we had initially read about, we might come to realize that we are actually as susceptible to such misfortunes as they are.

That said, I still find myself angst at God. I ask God why he doesn’t just tell me what he wants me to know if indeed my suffering is a trial to make me a better person. And I can’t help but wonder whether this idea of suffering being a means by which God imparts wisdom is a vanity in itself. There are people who experience such suffering of the most extreme sort, such that it robs them of the ability of conducting a basic decent life. What comes to my mind was this video I saw on youtube of a boy who experience something called the butterfly syndrome. His skin would tear and bleed at the gentle rub of its surface. My heart certainly grieved for him when I saw the documentary of his daily routine. Living through every single day is nothing short of an arduous challenge for him. And I doubt he would ever be cured of it. I doubt he can ever look upon his ordeal, and tell himself that it is simply a way for God to teach him wisdom, after which he would be healed. And I guess I can’t help but also feel that even if it were the case that God intends to teach the boy wisdom through suffering, he is being quite cruel.

So I find myself flip-flopping in my faith at times as I reflect upon suffering. They flip flop according to the prevailing thought that may be in my head at the moment. There are times when I find myself pretty assured that the good Lord is simply giving me a temporary trial to teach me wisdom. And there are times when I feel quite the reverse, that God is malevolent, uncaring, or simply non-existent because I find it hard to reconcile the existence of suffering with that of a good God. Moreover, this chronic daily tension headache has been with me for a long time now, about 3 years.  And for the most part, I find myself just being unsure of which is the truth. It is not that I am comfortable with agnosticism, but I find myself more uncomfortable with professing complete certainty of either the truth of Christianity, or of atheism. I still go to church, and I still pray, though not as regularly as I used to, and not as fervent and convicted in them as I may have used to be. I guess I find it hard to put a label on myself at the moment regarding my religious beliefs. It is a little of all three – Christianity, atheism, and agnosticism. Quite a change from the exclusive Christian label that I would think of myself in the past.

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