Prayer and the Corona Virus

Yesterday someone on an Internet social media discussion site wrote, “With the whole world praying, is a miracle about to happen?

“I’m sure all churches, all monasteries, most people from all religions are focusing their energy and prayers on this pandemic. Isn’t this enormous collective effort of belief, a moment that should prove the power of prayer?”

Already I think it’s fair to see a smirk on the writer’s face. Since he or she self-identified as an atheist, he doesn’t believe in God, and he doesn’t believe in prayer. So this question is almost certainly a insincere taunt: if your God doesn’t show up now, He really doesn’t exist.

Someone asked him, “Suppose a treatment for the virus appeared tomorrow. Would you attribute it to God?”

He replied, “No, only if it disappeared without medical assistance.”

In other words, he would only accept it as a miracle if all medical personnel backed off and didn’t do anything more. That’s just not a realistic expectation. He has already stacked to deck to guarantee that God will lose.

My question is, “Why is it unreasonable to think God had intervened in the minds and work of the researchers? Why would it only have to be without medical assistance?” See, not only is the deck already stack to guarantee that God will lose, but it’s also that’s a misunderstanding of how prayer works and how God works.

Then he added, “We could only call it a miracle if it were against all the laws of physics, science, medical knowledge, chemistry, and nature.”

This shows the unreasonableness of the atheist’s argument. He wants something natural to happen (the cessation of the disease), but he won’t accept any answer that has any connection to the natural world. Does everyone else see the explicit contradiction in that? It has to be natural to work, but it can’t be natural or he won’t accept it. To me, that’s like asking it to rain, but he won’t accept any downpour that’s composed of water. It’s like asking God to create a circle, but it can’t be round.

So this person is saying that if God uses any natural means, he won’t accept it as a miracle. But if He uses unnatural means, he won’t accept it as a miracle either, because somewhere the miracle has to intersect the natural world.

And if God uses people in the process, he won’t accept it as a miracle.

What in the world kind of reasoning is this? So maybe it would qualify as a miracle if, coincidental with everyone being cured (since that’s not enough by itself), all the cats in the world also turned to chickens so we could eat them. But for some populations of the world that wouldn’t make a difference, because they eat cats anyway. But you can’t get Buffalo wings off a cat, so maybe that would make it a miracle.

Or, here’s the miracle: at the same time everyone is healed simultaneously, Elizabeth Warren wins the Democratic nomination, decides to eliminate all student debt out of her own bank account, and then a 12-pack of toilet paper mysteriously appears in everyone’s pantry. Maybe that would qualify as a miracle.

But there are even more misunderstandings here. Yes, all religions are praying, but it’s not like there’s a divine conference table somewhere surrounded by Allah, Krishna, Yahweh, and Jesus—and they decide to work together for once and answer the world’s prayer. I sure hope people realize what I’m about to say, but if not, let me explain. It’s impossible that all religions are true, because they explicitly contradict each other. At best, one is true and the others are fakes. Even in this atheist’s question, though, is implied that one of the Gods is real and true. So we move forward on that premise.

It’s also impossible that all roads lead to the same God. It’s simply not possible. These “roads” go in completely different directions. They can’t all lead to the same place.

So we have to understand what that means is that 75% of the world’s population is praying to no one, so it really doesn’t matter that the whole world is praying. It’s just a meaningless set up.

OK, so seriously, here is three-fold answer to the person’s question.

Here’s how God answers the prayer:

  1. God often uses human means to accomplish His goals. He helps researchers, doctors, and technicians think well and come up with a solution. There are plenty of times in the Bible when a miracle is God working through normal processes, but it’s the timing that shows us it’s a miracle. For instance, in the conquest of Jericho, it could easily have been an earthquake. Jericho actually lies on a fault line. But that it happened precisely when the Israelites blew their trumpets is what leads us to the interpretation. And, for instance, when God parted the Reed Sea, the text says a wind blew all night long. So there’s no problem with God using very natural processes to do His miracles.
  2. God works with a strategy called common grace. He built into humanity immune systems and the ability to fight off disease. That’s why only a small percentage of people who get the disease die from it, and the people who die do so because of other vulnerabilities in their overall health, like we see in the elderly or those with respiratory problems. God is always at work through “life as usual,” and the fact that our bodies are so wonderfully made is a work of God just as much as or more so than parting the Reed Sea.
  3. God is entitled to make a sovereign decision. He’s not our Santa Claus to give us our wish list or our slave to do our bidding. There are possible reasons He wants to allow the virus to continue a little longer, one of which could easily be to help a very hostile world come together for a change over a common enemy. Even the fact that the entire world is praying is incredible. The fact that the world is working together to conquer this is a miracle all by itself. 

This person who asked the question has set up impossible criteria for God to meet—I mean REALLY impossible criteria where there is no answer he will accept as an answer. No wonder he doesn’t believe or can’t make sense of it. Even if the virus disappeared from the Earth instantly right now, he wouldn’t accept it as an act of God. In contrast, we have to use our brains, think logically, and also understand what prayer is and how God works. It’s very possible a miracle is happening even while I speak.

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