8/04/2010 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Larry Spencer --
Recently, I was at my former church to pick up one of my daughters. One of the members engaged me on the way in by saying, "I haven't seen you in a long time! I've been praying for you!" I thanked her and continued with my errand.
Image by may the circle remain unbroken via FlickrThis woman, whom I will call Polly, is a very good person, and has been a faithful friend of our family. She meant her remark in the warmest, most loving way.
Nevertheless, it irritated me a little. I mean, had she ever asked me what she should pray for on my behalf? Did she know why I had left the faith? Had she made a reasonable effort to understand my situation? No, no and no.
Suppose I were to visit a psychiatrist for the first time and he were to say as soon as I walked in the door, "I know what's wrong with you. You made some very bad choices recently, so of course you're depressed." I would respond, "How can you say that? You don't even know me! I've made no choices that I regret, and I'm not depressed at all. In fact, I'm only here to deliver a package." I felt that was the situation with Polly, no matter how sweet she is or how earnest her intentions.
What follows is what I would have told Polly if she weren't such a nice person and if I were a little quicker on my feet.
Thank you for praying for me, Polly. I know you want me to return to the Lord, so may I make some suggestions for your prayers? If these specific prayers are answered, I will return to God.
First, pray that I will get faith. Hebrews 11:1 says that "faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see." Pray that my mental constitution would change so I can be certain of things I merely hope for, in the absence of any evidence. In fact, John 20:29 says that those who believe without evidence are more blessed than those who believe based on evidence. I want to be among the blessed. Pray that I would be as ignorant as possible, yet 100% convinced of the correctness of my Christian beliefs.
"…sure of what we hope for…" That reminds me of the next thing I'll need: hope.
Here's an inspiring story of hope. A missionary we know, Polly, sent us a newsletter a few months ago describing his fight against human trafficking. He and some other missionaries were going to meet in Europe to pray that trafficking would cease. He was understandably upset that tens of thousands of innocents are sold into sexual slavery every year. I further thought of the tens of thousands of relatives they leave behind -- all of them in unspeakable agony of soul. The sex slaves and their grieving relatives are no doubt asking God to return the slaves to their families. God has chosen not to grant their prayers -- even the prayers of those who have the right theology. Yet, our friend thought that a few days of prayer by some people with comfortable lives and relatively little stake in the situation would somehow cause God to change his mind. Now that's what I call hope. Pray that no matter what evidence there is to the contrary, I would always have hope that God cares and will grant my prayers.
"Faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13). "'Love the Lord your God' ... is the first and greatest commandment." (Matthew 22:38,37)
Polly, it's hard for me to love God sometimes. Pray that I would be able to love a God who would kill an infant because his father sinned (2 Samuel 12:15-18), and who would deliver that man's wives to be publicly raped as further punishment for his sin (2 Samuel 12:11); who would stone a man to death for picking up sticks on the wrong day (Numbers 15:32-36); who would burn people alive because they complained too much (Numbers 11:1); who would discriminate against the congenitally handicapped because they "desecrate" his house (Leviticus 21:16-23); who would put an animal down not swiftly nor humanely, but by slow torture (Exodus 21:32); who would command his people to enslave whole cities that were minding their own business and had agreed to peace (Deuteronomy 20:10-15); and so on. Yes, it's hard for me to love such a God.
But I am even worse off than that. Hebrews 11:6 says that in order to please God, we must "believe that he exists...." Polly, I have a hard time believing that the God of the Bible even exists. There are just too many logical contradictions. How can God be both perfectly just and a genocidal maniac who condones war crimes (Numbers 31)? How can he predestine people to heaven or hell "before they had done anything good or bad" (Rom 9:11) yet hold them accountable for their sins (Rom 9:19-20)? How can he be so repulsed by sin that "the wicked cannot dwell with him" (Psalm 5:4) yet, when incarnate, be a notorious "friend of sinners" (Mathew 11:19)? Polly, pray that I would be able to call these things glorious paradoxes rather than obvious contradictions, so that logic will no longer be a barrier to belief in God.
More than one person has suggested that I deconverted because of some character flaw: pride, rebellion against God, foolishness in reading the wrong books, or something else. It's obvious to them that I did not leave my faith because I thought things through objectively. In fact, Psalm 14:1 proves that I am a fool, corrupt and vile, since I say there is no God. The Bible says my deconversion was tied to my foolishness and corruption. So, Polly, my final prayer request is that I would be more like the Christians I have known.
Some of them are very good, but since my unbelief is proof that I am spiritually inferior to the worst of them, let me be more modest in my aspirations.
Pray that I would be as unfair and abusive to my children as several of the teachers at their Christian schools. Pray that I would be as faithful in my marriage as my pastor who committed adultery with a member of his congregation, or the headmaster of the Christian school with one of his teachers. Pray that I would have the discernment of the leadership board of a certain Christian organization, who prayerfully hired someone who nearly destroyed that organization, doing great harm to my family in the process. Pray that I would have the unwavering faith that the head of that board had when he insisted that the man they hired was "God's provision" in spite of all that had happened. And while we're on the subject of never allowing even the possibility of a mistake made in faith, pray that I would be able to lie convincingly, just like the young-earth creationists whose books I read to my children. I do wish I could be better liar.
If, as a first step, I could just be as good as those Christians, I feel I would be off to a good start.
Pray for me. Thank you, Polly.