As I skimmed Facebook status up-dates from my friends, I was surprised to run into this statement:
“Let me be blunt. If you do not actively support (X’s) campaign to be the next president of the United States of America—if you do not pray on a daily basis for his success—then you are a fool.”
To be fair, the statement was not originally written by my friend but taken from another source. And, yes, I’ve omitted the name of the candidate. That’s not the part that really struck me about this statement.
When it comes to this statement, it’s not the zeal for a candidate that surprises me. It’s another party of the statement that I find curious: “pray on a daily basis for his success.” This statement leads me to ask various questions: Does God, assuming that’s to whom one prays, care about the outcome of an election? To ask it another way, does God make one candidate win and the others loose? If so, does God somehow cause success and failure in our lives?
The same question can be asked about other things. Does God want one sports team to win and another loose? Does God like Tom Brady (quarterback for the New England Patriots) better than Tim Tebow (quarterback for the Denver Broncos)? Does God prefer some people to be rich (the 1%) and others of us to be not-rich (the 99%) or even poor (in the US, about 15%)? Since China’s economy has been growing at a rate of about 10% each year, does that mean that God likes the Chinese better than Westerners?
Belief in an all-powerful deity is tricky business. To what degree does an all-powerful deity interfere with human events or the course of nature? Why is one person’s home or the church building of a particular congregation destroyed in a tornado or hurricane while another is spared? Is it faith? Or special care from the deity? Or do such questions merely reflect a kind of magical thinking about God?
As you might guess, my answer to these questions is that the questions themselves represent an understanding of God that is magical and a bit childish. (Note: my choice of words is “childish” rather than “child-like.” Child-like conveys a sense of innocence, while “childishness” conveys a level of selfishness.) Such questions about faith suggest that the person asking is somehow more important or more significant than others.
I do have faith in the existence of the encompassing entity commonly called God. But I really don’t think that God alters the universe to make me happy let alone make my favorite sports team win. Instead, I affirm that faith is a two-way street: I have faith in God’s providence and God has faith in humanity.
We, as human beings, have been given amazing abilities to think, observe, reason, and reflect on our experience. We can use these abilities to draw conclusions and make decisions about how to live in a world that is a source of great bounty. I contend that God has faith in us to use the abilities we have been given to live for the benefit of ourselves, each other, and the world.
Just as the outcome of a sporting event is based on how the players use their abilities, so too the outcome of the events of our lives has a great deal to do with how we use our abilities. When we belittle the mental abilities we have been given and allow our minds to be dulled, it becomes easy for us to use magical thinking as the solution to our problems. Affirming the ancient story from Genesis that we have been created in the image and likeness of God, when we fail to use our abilities for rational thought and prefer magical thinking, then we degrade both ourselves and the God in whose image we have been created.
At the same time, I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting that all of our problems can be solved by us as individuals. While personal responsibility is a factor, it is just one factor. On my own, I can’t change social problems like a downward economy or exorbitant health care costs. Addressing those problems takes the cooperation and support of others. That gets back to my analogy of winning a sporting event: it takes a team working together to solve the problems that face the world, not just one star player.
I believe in God. And I believe that God has entrusted us with abilities to create a world in which people can live well with one another. We see that in times of natural disasters or other events that inspire people to work together for the good. Yes, people have an amazing ability to work together and solve problems when they choose to. But, day-to-day, we often don’t work to with others to make the world a better place. I have to wonder: when we don’t work to make the world a better place, what does that say about God? And what does it say about us?
In the end, maybe it IS better to pray everyday with the hope that God will intervene and make the candidate of my choice the next president of the United States. That way, when the next president disappoints me, I can just blame God for not solving the problems we created. Isn’t that how magical thinking about God’s intervention really works?
© 2012, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.