Contrary to appearances, the recent spate of angry denunciations of prayer are not really directed at Christians. The fist-shaking of those who deny the efficacy of prayer are angry that God is not a tame God.
After tragedies, many people tweet, post on Facebook, or otherwise share on their various social media accounts that they are praying for the victims and their families. This latest tragedy, the mass murder in Sutherland Springs, Texas, has been no exception. Aching for their grieving brothers and sisters in Christ, concerned Christians have promised to pray for those affected by the tragedy.
Sadly, as to be expected in this day and age, scorn and mockery, as well as accusations that Christians are only feigning concern, were lobbed at those promising prayer. This time around, many of the scoffers claimed that since the tragedy took place in a church, this is proof that prayer doesn’t work. In other words, considering that prayer was undoubtedly a large part of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs’ worship service, God would’ve stopped the shooting if prayer actually worked.
That charge belies the actual darkness and rebellion that lies in the hearts of the scoffers.
Christians do not believe that God is a magic genie who grants wishes. Nor do we believe that God is a friendly grandpa in the sky waiting to dole out favors to those who would just ask. Likewise, Christian theology does not allow room for a God who can be manipulated by the words of humans.
God never promised His people a “get out of jail free” card in reference to pain and suffering. In fact, in His sovereign wisdom, God often uses trials to sanctify His people and make them more like Jesus for His glory.
C.S. Lewis put it well in The Chronicles of Narnia when he wrote, “Aslan is not a tame lion.”
To pull Lewis’ words out of their analogous setting, “God is not a tame God.”
One of the best examples of this is found in the buckled knees of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Matthew recorded the event as Jesus took his disciples to Gethsemane to pray. He wrote, “Then [Jesus] said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will'” (Matthew 26:38-39).
We know the rest of the story. “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10).
Facing immense suffering, both physical and spiritual, Jesus was in agony in the garden. Emotionally overcome by what lay before him, Jesus pled with his Father. However, and thankfully, unlike our first parents in another Garden at the beginning of time, Jesus, the second and final Adam, refused to submit to the temptation and submitted his will to the will of the Father. And so, he mounted the cross, taking the punishment for the sins of God’s people on himself.
All the way back in that first Garden, after our first parents rebelled and sinned, God promised a deliverer; a Savior to defeat the serpent-Satan and win salvation and a restored relationship with their Creator for God’s people — those who repent of their sins and place their faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
If God the Father had bowed His will to that of Jesus’ human frailty, mankind would’ve been lost. Salvation would be impossible, and all of humanity would be consigned to eternal punishment in hell.
Humans are to bow their will to God’s will, and not vice versa. Any expectations to the contrary signal that you wish to tame God; you wish to make God in the image of your liking. The belief that prayer is some sort of magic wish that helps determine the outcome is molding God into a false idol. An idol that serves you, and not the other way around.
The prayers of God’s people for the victims of the tragedy are not pleas to reverse the tragedy. The prayers are an expression of our desire for God to magnify His name through this, and to continue to make His children into the image of Jesus. It’s the request for God to wrap His hurting children in His love and give them the grace to look to Jesus for their full and final hope in this life.
The mocking and derision being heaped on those prayers is evidence that unbelievers are upset that God is not a tame God; that God does not bow His will to the will of His creation. Unbelievers do not want to submit to God. They do not want to admit their guilt of sin before Him and their utter dependence on Him in life and in death. They want a God who serves them.
Suffering is hard to comprehend. That’s because God created everything good. Human rebellion, known as sin, broke God’s good creation. Even though humans broke it, God promised to fix it. That’s the Christian response to suffering. One day, those who have placed their faith in Jesus and submitted their will to the will of God the Father will enter God’s new and fully and finally good creation, the new heavens and new earth. The suffering in this life is a product of sin.
Those who mock prayer reveal that they have hearts that believe that sin shouldn’t have consequences. Those who mock prayer reveal that they want God to submit to them. Those who mock prayer reveal that they want to decide who God is and what He looks like; they want to tame God.