On the front page of today’s USA TODAY there’s a photograph of two women standing in a public square and praying. The New Testament tells Christians not to make spectacles of themselves in public demonstrations of prayer; nevertheless we see these two women putting on quite a display. Their hands and elbows are inclined just so; their heads are bowed to the horizon just so; their eyes assume the preferred not-quite-closed status.
The event sparking this prayer spectacle is the sad disappearance of a seven year-old boy. That seven-year-old boy later turned up very sadly dead. What went wrong? Were these women’s hands not placed in proper orientation in relation to the Zodiac? Were their eyes not shut properly? Did they simply not pray hard enough, not want that little boy to be alive hard enough? If prayer can work wonders, is it the fault of these women that the seven year-old boy is dead?
If it is not the fault of the women who prayed for this poor boy’s safety, then is it the fault of God? God is all-knowing and all-seeing. God was well aware of the mortal danger facing this young boy. God received the prayers of these two women and presumably thousands of others. God could have done something about it; he is omnipotent, after all. So why didn’t he? Is God an asshole?
Or is intercessory prayer without effect? Is God either indifferent to suffering or nonexistent? Is the main function of public prayer to make ourselves look good and feel better when bad things happen to other people?
Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.