Magazine article The Christian Century

My Doubts about Prayer

Magazine article The Christian Century

My Doubts about Prayer

Article excerpt

SINCE I WENT public about my brain cancer a couple of months ago, I've had many people of many faiths offer prayers for me. Some said they were hoping to nudge the Almighty to heal me.

I appreciate every such message. After all, glioblastoma is tough. The median survival rate is only a few months more than a year. Maybe my friends could offer God some reasons to boost my survival odds?

But I've been a reporter for a long time. I chew on any such broad claim, thinking about whether there are valid rebuttals.

So for me this has been a wry reminder of what I've read in the book of Job, a rollicking narrative that includes colorful settings, sarcastic arguments, and an answer that turns away from a lot of Jewish and Christian traditions.

Job is a pious and wealthy guy with a big family who has done many good things for other people. One day, God points out what a great and good fellow Job is to one of his divine subordinates.

"Ha satan" is not like the Satan in other faith traditions. He's an adversary, yes, but something like a prosecuting attorney. There's zero hint of him being evil or supervising an eternal hell. This Satan tells God that Job may be doing the right things only because he's so comfortable.

God, who doesn't respond that divine omniscience means always winning a bet, gives ha satan permission to test Job by whacking his wealth, killing a lot of his family, and ruining his health.

Job never blasphemes in response. Not even once. Some of his friends show up to discuss what's going on. …

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