The conundrum of prayer

Last Saturday, the New York City Police Department  experienced the worst misfortune that can befall a police department: one officer mistakenly and fatally shooting another.  The loss of Officer Omar Edwards to friendly fire is an unbearable tragedy, for which the entire city grieves.  (Despicably, New York’s race hustlers, including the New York Times, are trying to turn the incident into a racial one, as I describe here.)  In the wake of Edwards’s shooting, New York Daily News columnist Michael Daly discussed another friendly fire incident in  2006, in which an off-duty NYPD officer with a gun was also shot by his fellow officers:

On learning that [Officer Eric] Hernandez had been shot, the entire [precinct] football team assembled at St. Barnabas Hospital. They kept a vigil day after day, but all their prayers could not save him.

Daly is using a commonplace expression, of course, but one that in its very frequency carries ponderable significance. Isn’t it the least bit puzzling to believers why some prayers get answered and others don’t?   Theology and metaphysics are serious disciplines, we are told, worthy of deep study.  Surely the divines can explain what distinguishes the moments when prayers do save someone from those when they don’t.   Is it the targets of prayers that are distinguishable, or the people doing the praying?  Perhaps someone could keep tabs and analyse the results, in the spirit of scientific inquiry.  Or does God just have priorities wildly different from ours?  But who can possibly imagine a reason why God wouldn’t respond to prayers to save an officer’s life, but would respond to the petitions that we are regularly told have produced a divine affirmative—to get someone out of debt, say, or to cure someone of illness? 

I take it that believers do not ascribe such inconsistent results to capriciousness on God’s part, but rather to their own limited capacities to understand God’s ways:  “Thy Will be done.”  But why continue directing any psychic energy to a being so lacking in sympathetic correspondence to human needs and values.  It will not do to say: “God does respond to our prayers, but in ways that we cannot fathom.”  Saving a child from cancer and letting a child die from cancer cannot both be a sympathetic response to prayer; if we had wanted a stricken child to die in order to secure an earlier entry to heaven, we would have said so.  And if premature death from cancer is such a boon, why doesn’t a loving God provide it to one and all?

It is humans who work with passion and commitment every day to try to save their fellows (and a range of other creatures)  from suffering and sorrow.  Emergency room medicine is constantly evolving to try to ensure that gun shot victims and people crushed by cars survive.  Doctors and hospital staff work frantically throughout the night to try to revive a failing heart or a shattered brain.  They do so out of love and compassion, while God, who could restart an exhausted heart in an instant, demurs.  The only source of love on earth is human empathy.  Transferring our own admirable traits onto a constructed deity just obscures the real human condition: we are all we have, but that is saying a lot.

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