I’ve been thinking about death lately, first because of the situations of two of my racquetball buddies, Jerry Davidson and Dale Snesrud, and then because of the sad drama of Luke Bucklin and three of his sons whose bodies were found after their small plane disappeared over a week ago in Wyoming.
I loved seeing the community and family support activities for the Bucklins (Star Tribune: Holding on together), the posts and comments to the company blog, and the messages of support from around the world for the search and rescue teams. Likewise, the outpouring of affection (and fundraising for medical bills) from Northfielders for Dale (photo album).
It’s pretty common for people to "pray for a miracle" in situations like these. Dale Snesrud told me a few months ago that his pastor and some members of his church gathered in the sanctuary, laying their hands on him while asking God to intercede on his behalf in his fight with cancer. It’s likely that at several area churches today, local ministers led their congregations in prayer for Jerry Davidson’s safe return. The Prayers for Luke site has several of these prayers posted, for example:
Pray for a miracle – that the search and rescue team is able to quickly locate the plane.
Pray for Saturday’s search. There will be three ground search teams in addition to the surveillance aircraft in the area. Pray that they would see more and that the weather system predicted to move in would hold off and allow a full day’s search.
But it’s always troubling to me when people pray for a miracle in situations like these. Why?
What’s the seed that often takes root in people’s heads when the miracle doesn’t happen? God couldn’t be bothered. They/I didn’t deserve God’s intervention. Despair. Faith shattered. Talk to any level-headed member of the clergy and they’ll tell you that many of their counseling sessions deal with bad reactions to unselfish unanswered prayers.
More importantly, I think prayers for miracles bring God down to the level of Santa Claus, Wizard of Oz, and Far Side cartoons in people’s minds, contributing to the incorrect interpretation of Jesus’ words, "Ask and ye shall receive." People then miss out on the power of true prayer, like the Serenity Prayer and variations. And agnostics and atheists assume that prayer has nothing to offer them because of its association with the idea that God can intervene in the physical universe and human affairs, an anathema to them.
And that’s bothersome to a spiritual atheist like me.