A viral photo has been passed around social media this week, mocking Vice President Pence and the Coronavirus Task Force. The photograph shows the group in prayer.
Mocking Christians is hardly an original idea. Ridiculing prayer has been a popular pastime since ancient times. So forgive us when we roll our eyes at this supposed great gotcha moment. Perhaps the disdain has less to do with prayer, and it’s really about politics and searching for another reason to throw mud at the current administration. Whatever the motive, may I suggest that you haven’t quite thought through the logic of this attempted smear.
I understand that for those who hold the belief that there is no God, prayer would seem like a foolish use of time. Of course, this conviction has little to do with the efficacy of prayer but with the firmed a priori belief that prayer is wasted breath. As though, I don’t accept that this medicine will save my life, therefore I refuse to take it!
The commentary pinned to this photograph reveals a wallop of smugness and a waft of superiority breathing over those who practice prayer, as though the truly wise and smart amongst us know that prayer is a useless activity.
If praying was the only thing this task force completed, then we’d have reason to complain. Or is it the fact that they first gathered to pray and then proceeded to work, and to use all their knowledge and wisdom to put together an action plan? Has praying hampered their duties? Has spending a few moments in prayer defused them of the ability or desire to work effectively for the good of the American people?
In what is an interesting twist, the Bible does on occasion empathise with Thomas Chatteron Williams. In Isaiah ch.44, God mocks the idea of praying to wooden statues and gods of human creation.
“From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says,
“Save me! You are my god!”
They know nothing, they understand nothing;
their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,
and their minds closed so they cannot understand.”
The question about prayer is, does the God to whom we pray exist and does he hear our prayers and can he answer them?
Prayer is not an irrational response to situations facing us, but is perfectly legitimate in light of the biblical view that there is a God and he is truly sovereign. This is the conclusion that only for those men in the room, but for hundreds of millions of people, including many of the most revered minds of our age.
Few tirading twitterers will admit it (or perhaps even realise this simple fact), that many of the smartest people in history (and of today) believe in God and pray to him.
Try standing in front of Francis Collins and call him stupid. Or tweet a photo of William Newsome praying and add the tag, “we’re screwed”. I reckon the really intelligent people among us should create a meme about Nobel Prize winning physicist, Antony Hewish, jeering his belief in God. Of course, It’s not so easy to smear the intellectual credentials of people when we take politics out of the equation.
In fact, a case can be made that without those Bible believing and praying Christians over the last 2,000 years, civilisation would be screwed! Many of the vital scientific and medical breakthroughs, socio-political advances, and ethical foundations that we rely upon today are ours to enjoy thanks to those praying Christians.
But here lies the problem, evidence doesn’t support the thesis that prayer indicates lack of intelligence or capability to perform one’s job. My own church has several members who teach at universities in Melbourne, others are doctors and lawyers. This is not a point not boasting, for the intellectual aptitude of church members does not signal the ‘success’ of a church in any way. I’m simply making the point that intellect does not cancel out belief in prayer. A high IQ or position of great authority and responsibility does not equate to or necessitate a-theism. Belief in prayer has nothing to do with intellectual ability and everything to do with humility. Prayer is for both the genius and the simple, who are both sufficiently wise to know that we can trust God.
Perhaps there is another misunderstanding at play here, as though prayer is currency used to collect what I want out of God. The Bible’s view of prayer is far richer and deeper and more meaningful. Prayer is a gift from God, that we might commune with him and share with him. As Jesus taught, God is Father and like a loving Dad, we can approach him and ask him anything. Also, like a wise Father, he sometimes says yes, sometimes no, and sometimes the answer is to wait. It makes sense to pray to an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good God. But does he exist? More important than any the opinions of any scientist or politician or journalist, the person of Jesus Christ says yes. And by his life, words, and deeds, he has demonstrated the reality of this God.
The success of these prayer mocking warriors has failed to evidence high functioning cognitive ability. All it shows is a high level of epistemological narrow-mindedness infused with pride.
I thank God for his gift of prayer, and I’m thankful to see people from all walks of life being humble enough to ask God for wisdom and help.