Friday, June 18, 2010

Empericism vs. emotion.

A well-known Christian recently announced she was pregnant. She also explained how surprising that was, given that she and her husband were told it was unlikely they could ever conceive naturally. The reason why they have their first two children is because of fertility treatments.

I think it's thrilling that someone who wants kids and is told they're pretty much incapable of doing so finds themselves pregnant through no scientific intervention. But that was quickly overshadowed by my, for lack of a better word, "logical" nature. I'd like to think that if I ever engaged with this person face-to-face, I wouldn't be so quick to critique. However, I'd be somewhat lying to myself, because it's a lot easier for me to latch onto the logical implications of a statement than the emotional ones.

For instance, when she was describing the infertility of her and her husband, she said that it was a costly process that involved lots of shots. But, thanks to God, it worked and He gave them two miracles.

My first reaction? "No, it was the fertility treatments that allowed you to have your first two children. It was scientific knowledge of how the reproductive system works that allowed you to have your first two children."

Granted, my reaction is countered with the fact that this pregnancy did occur through natural means. In this case, I understand why it's referred to as a miracle, because it was highly unlikely.

But she went on to mention that the reason why the pregnancy occurred was because "with God, all things are possible." And then used the pregnancy to encourage others in trusting God, because God is the one in control, and can make anything happen. Only that doesn't necessarily mean that God will give someone the miracle they want, for His ways are higher than our ways. But God is still great.

I think what's bothering me about this (other than my inability to just be happy for someone in this situation and my mind's inability to shut off the "analysis" mode) is a) assigning God all the credit for the first pregnancy when it wouldn't have occurred without human intervention, period. Given how powerful God is, and what God can overcome, why was human intervention necessary? Why were fertility treatments needed in order for God to bless the parents?

and b) using the second pregnancy as a way of demonstrating how powerful God is, and how He can overcome anything, and we can rest in this. Only this doesn't mean that God will do everything we pray for Him to do, as "His ways our higher than our ways." It's pretty much a contradiction. She obviously wanted children, she's obviously thrilled, she's obviously using this situation to demonstrate that anything is possible with God, no matter what physical constraints one has, and that He always has "the last word in our lives."

But then goes on to say that this doesn't mean we'll always get what we're praying for. Then why use a scenario where God essentially did provide a prayed-for miracle, to show that all things are possible with Him, only to turn around and say that this doesn't mean that God will, in fact, do everything? How does one rest in the fact that God will have the last word in your lives, based on a prayer that God answered, when one is also told that the very example that proves all things are possible with God doesn't mean that God will, in fact, granted someone the impossible with each prayer?

If such a concrete example can be used as proof of God's last word, then shouldn't a lack of an example be used as proof of God lacking the last word in one's life? It's like saying that person A proves her parents loved her because they fed, clothed, and sheltered her. Those physical examples are the proof of love. But if person B's parents didn't do any of those things, that actually can't be used as proof. It just means that person B's parents ways are higher than the ways of person B. The standards of proof aren't consistent. Rather, they're relative to what occurs in each situation. And that's why this bothers me.

11 comments:

ethinethin said...

Believers like to have it both ways: if a prayer is answered, it's a miracle; if a prayer is ignored, it's all part of God's plan. With these two possible answers, a believer sees God in their life no matter what the outcome of their situation.

It leads me to question what the point of praying is. In fact, I questioned the value of prayer when I was a believer (ask anyone, I was not a "true christian"). No matter what happens, the world is going to turn at the speed of God's plan. He knows what I want and need, so why should I even vocalize it? My mother used to pray for me before long car trips. Would God have exposed me to more danger if my mother hadn't prayed for me?

I'm sure there's some therapeutic value to the act of prayer. I imagine it can put a mind at ease. That alone is hardly a ringing endorsement for the divine power of prayer.

ethinethin said...

I just remembered this...

A friend's mother recently had a heart attack or something. Said friend went on Facebook, explaining what happened and asking all of her friends to pray for her mother. I wondered what the point of that was.

Did God need to be reminded how many people cared for this woman? Did he need to hear a requisite amount of pleading before letting her live? What if it was God's plan to let her die and no amount of anything would help her? Wouldn't it simply be more pragmatic to trust in the skill of doctors who fight mortality rather than the God who created death and suffering?

Possessing a modicum of tact, I didn't post my questions, so I'll never know.

Andrew said...

Christians believe this kind of talk is a confession of faith to unbelievers, but everyone outside the community (and many within) hear it as the double speak that it is. Rather than a confession of Christ, it sounds like childish babbling.

Jon said...

To put it another way, their faith precedes any of these events. They see God in everything, irrespective of the outcome, but they don't believe because of that, they believe for a completely different reason.

I think I'm the same in that respect, actually. Even though like you I'm critical of the value of events like these as "evidence", and question the value of intercessory prayer in much the same way as Ethinethin, I still go on believing. Why is that? Well, its certainly not because of this kind of evidence.

OneSmallStep said...

ethinethin,

I have the same questions. I'm always coming across situations where Christians ask other Christians to pray for someone in trouble. When the situation is resolved well, the Christian thanks all the others for their prayers.

But the implication behind these statements is that there wouldn't have been a good resolution without those prayers. That the prayers have some sort of power to influence the outcome, and that if this is an answered prayer, then an unanswered prayer is one where the outcome is poor.

OneSmallStep said...

Andrew,

Agreed.

OneSmallStep said...

Jon,

The problem I'd have with that is even if the faith precedes it, the examples provided are still used as justification for the faith they have. And would be used as a way to demonstrate to unbelievers why the faith isn't wrong or misguided.

the chaplain said...

an unanswered prayer is one where the outcome is poor.

Ah, but we all know there's no such thing as an unanswered prayer; sometimes the answer is "no."

If anyone ever figures out how to tell the difference between getting no answer to prayer, and getting no as an answer to prayer, feel free to fill me in. From where I sit, the results look the same either way.

Lorena said...

LOL! And you managed to think all that and say nothing? I wish I could do that.

I always like to look at the flip side of things. Non-Christian couples undergo successful fertility treatments all the time. Did the devil give the children?

When I was a Christian I despised the folks that went around thanking god aloud and publicly. I didn't know why at the time, but looking back, I realize that doing that is a form of boasting.

It's like saying, "My father god blessed me. I'm sorry he didn't bless you, unlucky bastard/bitch. I suppose he helped me because I'm better than you."

In many ways that's lack of compassion. How is it better to boast that god helped you than boasting that you make a lot money when talking to unemployed people?

Something is really twisted with that biblical order of having to give glory to god for everything.

Anonymous said...

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Ahab said...

It's easy to get tied up in knots when trying to reason why fundamentalist Christians think the way they do. We need to remember that these beliefs are not necessarily based in reason, but devotion and feelings. That's why they strike us as irrational.