Monday, February 18, 2008

Bending Spoons and Truth

Not to offend any spoonbenders out there, but I thought this was pretty dang funny. At least I did right up until the part where he said, "Yes, well, maybe the psychic energy does flow through my hands." I got the joke, but I couldn't help but think of my last thirty years of hearing prayer requests and their corresponding answers.

We pray for so much, and we receive so much. But how many of those answered prayers are only the natural result of people and things working the way people and things normally work? How much of it simply has to do with the fact that we live in an industrialized nation with so much abundance that even the poor are richer than much of the world?

Prayers went out daily for my 26-year-old sister to be healed from cancer. And she was! After a mastectomy, six rounds of chemo, a new wig, extensive reconstructive surgery, and hours upon hours of painful physical therapy. Was that an answer to prayer?

Many people at my church prayed for the "car situation" of a man whose wife had left him with three children and an increasingly nonfunctional car. It would be very expensive to repair, so they prayed. And God answered! After thousands were donated, repairs were made, the car died again, and another one was purchased. Was that an answer to prayer, or a fine example of philanthropy?

My cousin prayed and prayed to have a baby. And she did! She had two! After years of trying, money and time spent visiting doctors, in vitro fertilization with multiple embryos, bed rest, and a premature delivery. Was that an answer to prayer, or was it a barely achieved triumph of medical science with the assistance of the insurance company?

More importantly, if my sister had died, the car had broken down on the freeway, or the twins had never been conceived, would those have been answers to prayer, or would they simply have been another path that chance could have taken? The standard Christian answers to these questions are simple and often repeated. God works through the doctors and the surgery and the chemo, he inspires the anonymous donors to give money to the car fund, he is the one who finally makes the babies grow in the womb. And if he hadn't, then it would have all been part of the larger plan. The answers are simple, but there is nothing easy about them.

These good things happened, and I am glad that they did. But I am no longer convinced that they are works of God, any more than I believe that Hugh Laurie can bend spoons with his psychic powers. At some point, if the invisible force itself cannot accomplish what it intends without a strong and independently functioning conduit, one must question the power of the invisible force.

On the other hand, if there are any spoonbenders out there whose telekinetic powers extend to disentangling hopelessly knotted necklace chains, I'll reconsider.

(My thanks to Amanda at Skepchick for posting this video there and making me laugh.)

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