I have recently been introduced to the site called God is imaginary, and the material presented there have been described as hindrances to biblical faith. And of the “50 simple proofs” presented there, the first is the one which I will look at today: “Proof #1 — Try praying.” I will do my best to give a defense of prayer both for the benefit of others and that Christ would be glorified in the defense. If anyone can add to this defense, please leave a comment. As is appropriate, quotations from Proof #1 will be block quoted with my responses following. Warning: This could get lengthy.
What would happen if we get down on our knees and pray to God in this way:
Dear God, almighty, all-powerful, all-loving creator of the universe, we pray to you to cure every case of cancer on this planet tonight. We pray in faith, knowing you will bless us as you describe in Matthew 7:7, Matthew 17:20, Matthew 21:21, Mark 11:24, John 14:12–14, Matthew 18:19 and James 5:15–16. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
We pray sincerely, knowing that when God answers this completely heartfelt, unselfish, non-materialistic prayer, it will glorify God and help millions of people in remarkable ways.
Will anything happen? No. Of course not.
That’s quite a prayer, and the best response would be looking at each of those verses to see if they are being used properly or not. Biblical truth is foolishness to unbelievers, and it is exceedingly rare that I see Bible verses used correctly in arguments against Christianity. That is probably the case here as well, but I will let you draw your own conclusions.
Looking at the verse references themselves, it is notable that seven of the eight occur prior to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; this means that they were given in a situation where the Old Covenant was still in force. Very often, a failure to note that the New Testament doesn’t begin with Matthew 1:1 but with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is a cause of error. That may or may not be the case here, and we’ll find out as we examine the verses.
And even though they quoted James, one of the New Testament epistles, I can already tell you that they failed to consider anything the verse actually says.
This is very odd. Jesus makes specific promises in the Bible about how prayer is supposed to work. Jesus says in many different places that he and God will answer your prayers. And Christians believe Jesus — according to this recent article, “54% of American adults believe the Bible is literally true.” In some areas of the country the number goes as high as 75%.
If the Bible is literally true, then something is seriously amiss. Simply look at the facts.
If you want to examine Bible verses and test God thereby, you would do well to remember something else Jesus said, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Matthew 4:7). If you are not willing to believe Him but would rather test Him, what obligation has He to answer any prayer that comes from your lips?
In Matthew 7:7 Jesus says:
Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
If “every one who asks receives”, then if we ask for cancer to be cured, it should be cured. Right? If “our Father who is in heaven gives good things to those who ask him”, then if we ask him to cure cancer, he should cure it. Right? And yet nothing happens.
This is far from a blank check for prayer. Jesus encourages believers to prayer to the Father just as a child would ask his earthly father for things. Should an earthly father spoil a child, giving them each and every thing they ask for or seek? Of course not! Why expect God to do the same? The cross reference of Luke 11:13 specifies that it is the Holy Spirit which the Father gives to people who ask.
In Matthew 17:20 Jesus says:
For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.
If “nothing will be impossible to you”, then if we ask to cure cancer tonight, cancer should disappear. Right? Yet nothing happens. Note that if we take the Bible less-than-literally here, the statement “nothing will be impossible to you” becomes “lots of things will be impossible to you,” and that would mean that Jesus is lying.
This He spoke to the disciples and their unique ministry. However, the disciples did not move mountains; what need would there have been for such a task? The Lord uses hyperbole to communicate that with even a tiny amount of faith, seemingly impossible and arduously difficult tasks are possible.
In Matthew 21:21:
I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.
If “you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer”, then if we ask to cure cancer tonight, cancer should dissappear [sic]. Right? Yet nothing happens. Note again that there is not a non-literal way to interpret “you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer”, unless you replace “whatever” with “nothing” or “little.”
Even if literal mountains were meant (and we have no reason to believe so since the apostles never demonstrated such a feat), the context is Jesus speaking to the disciples. This is not a general command to every believer in the world. Jesus spoke in a context relevant to the Kingdom of Heaven, the Jews, and other things closely related by not identical to the Kingdom of God and the church. Such distinctions are vital, for if they are not made we end up with people mocking God due to their own failure to comprehend the Bible.
The message is reiterated Mark 11:24:
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
If God says, “believe that you have received it, and it will be yours,” and if we believe in God and his power, then what should happen if we pray to cure cancer tonight? It should be cured. Either that, or God is lying.
Considering this verse comes from Mark’s report of what was happening in Matthew 21:21, the explanation above applies here as well.
In John chapter 14, verses 12 through 14, Jesus tells all of us just how easy prayer can be:
“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” [ref]
Look at how direct this statement is: “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” This is the “Son of God” speaking. Have we taken him “too literally?” No. This is a simple, unambiguous statement. Have we taken his statement “out of context?” No — Jesus uses the word anyone. Yet Jesus’ statement is obviously false. Because when we ask God to cure cancer tonight, nothing happens.
If you read this as a blank check, you do not know Christ or very much about His nature at all. He acts only in a manner according to the Father’s will, His glory, and the greater good. Humanity does not define the Father’s will, His glory, or the greater good, so one would expect many petitions made to be ignored by God, and rightfully so. Could you imagine the state of the world if every prayer ever uttered with “in Jesus’ name” tacked on the end was actually answered? That would not be a world I’d want to live in. Remember that Jesus taught us how to pray, and He explicitly mentioned to pray that God’s will be done. In other words, regardless of what our desires are and what our petitions are, we should expect and desire God’s will above all else.
We see the same thing over and over again…
In Matthew 18:19 Jesus says:
Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
As we are to pray for the Lord’s will, it isn’t surprising that the Lord’s will should be done. Think not that we can simply pray anything at all and expect it to come to pass. Prior to any and all of these verses quoted thus far, Jesus told us that our prayers should be of a certain pattern. Prayers designed to test God’s promises do not fit the pattern. Prayers designed to get your own way or to glorify man do not fit the pattern. Praying for the Lord’s will and waiting upon Him… Now that fits the pattern!
In James 5:15–16 the Bible says:
And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
Conveniently, verse 14 was not referenced. After all, it qualifies the following verses by referring to those who are sick and come before the elders of the church to be prayed for. That is the prayer of faith that will save the sick. Sadly, there are so few biblically qualified elders in the world (see 1 Timothy 3:1–7). Don’t expect every church in town to have one (let alone multiple elders, as the passage in James requires).
The conclusion I’m already drawing based upon the mock prayer and handful of verse references is that the objecting party either has no interest in actually understanding what the Bible teaches or is simply blind to the truth due to being spiritually dead. Or both.
In Mark 9:23:
All things are possible to him who believes.
In Luke 1:37:
For with God nothing will be impossible.
Both passages have direct reference to actions of the Lord; in Mark the belief was connected with Jesus’ casting out of an unclean spirit, and in Luke we find Gabriel explaining how it would be possible for a virgin (Mary) to conceive.
Okay, so we’re done with the rundown of verses. Please make note that while objectors will pick and choose verses to suit their goals, they rarely pick ones which effectively ruin their argument right from the beginning. I point you to Matthew 4:7, at which point Jesus reiterates an Old Testament command that “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” The word “tempt” means to “test thoroughly” according to Strong’s Concordance, and is not praying a prayer simply to see if it’s answered a test of God’s faithfulness to His Word? God is not our guinea pig. Who is the created to test the Creator? We are dirt. Sinful, unworthy, and impure dirt. (Praises be to God that He is able to change us into a son of the Most High!)
Nothing could be simpler or clearer than Jesus’ promises about prayer in the Bible. Yet, when we pray to eliminate cancer, nothing happens.
Those hearing Jesus speak of prayer would be well familiar with a notable portion of His most influential sermon: Matthew 6:9–13, the model prayer. In addition to whatever other petitions we may offer up before the Lord, they are secondary to the core elements of a prayer (it is notable that the oft added “in Jesus’ name” is not part of the Lord’s model prayer; “in Jesus’ name” is a heart attitude, not a verbal repetition). When we pray for God’s will to be done while expecting God to answer any list of requests we could come up with, we are being hypocritical and lying to God. Do you want God’s will be done? Then pray it, and don’t get upset when whatever you want and request doesn’t come to pass. That is the condition by which God answers prayer: His will be done!
And keep in mind that this is Jesus talking here. These are not the words of human beings. These are not the words of “inspired” human beings. These are supposedly the words of God himself, incarnated in a human body. Jesus is supposed to be a perfect, sinless being. And yet, it is obvious that Jesus is lying. What Jesus says is clearly incorrect.
What Jesus says stands. You simply are incapable of understanding them properly (John 1:5). Shall I fault the artist because I cannot understand his message? Or the programmer because I cannot make heads or tales of a program? Then why fault God for your own blindness? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be cured of your spiritual blindness now and forever!
If you would like additional proof, gather a million faithful believers together into a giant prayer circle. Have them all pray together in Jesus’ name that God cures every case of cancer on the planet tomorrow. Pray sincerely, knowing that when God answers this completely heartfelt, unselfish, non-materialistic prayer, it will glorify God and help millions of people in remarkable ways. Now, we certainly have two or more people gathered together, and they have asked in Jesus’ name, and we have not one but a million faithful believers who, by definition, have faith and believe. We have fulfilled every one of Jesus’ requirements.
Have you prayed for God’s will? If not, you have not met all of Jesus’ requirements. You can’t talk about prayer and Jesus without talking about the prayer Jesus told us to pray. Keep that in mind.
Will Jesus answer the prayer now? Of course not. Your prayer will go unanswered, in direct defiance to Jesus’ promises in the Bible. In fact, if you pray for anything that is impossible, your prayer will always go unanswered.
It is notable that quite often, miracles in the Bible did not produce faith. This can be seen throughout Scripture. How faithful were the Israelites after all the miracles God employed in freeing them from Egypt? After all of Jesus’ miracles, how many were left standing for Him at His crucifixion? Even Peter had betrayed Him as the others walked away!
And you want miracles? If you will not believe in Jesus Christ through the testimony of even the Old Testament Scriptures, you won’t believe in Him even if a man is raised from the dead!
Sure, the early church exhibited miracles. They followed the apostles ministry. But the miracles were phased out as the church was established and the New Testament canon was completed to serve as confirmation as God’s message.
Regardless, if it is not God’s will to do something, no amount of prayer will change that. Truly, our Father knows best, even if that does involve leaving cancer uncured. We all have our part to play in His glorification!
If you are an intelligent, rational human being, all of the examples mentioned above show you that the God of the Bible is imaginary. What Jesus says about prayer in the Bible clearly is not true.
And what the objector says about what Jesus says in the Bible about prayer is clearly not true. If one does not begin where Jesus began on the subject, one lacks the basis for understanding. Just as rejecting the truth of Genesis will lead to all sorts of errant interpretations throughout the rest of the Bible, so does ignoring the Sermon on the Mount result in errant understandings of everything else Jesus said.
Understanding the Rationalizations
A favorite Christian rationalization for why God does not answer our prayer to eliminate cancer is because “it would take away free will.” The logic: If you pray and God answers your prayer, then God would have revealed himself to you, and you would know that God exists. That would take away your free will to believe in him. Of course, if this is true, then by default all of Jesus’ statements about prayer in the Bible are false. It means that God cannot answer any prayer. Also, why is a God who must remain hidden like this incarnating himself and writing the Bible?
This rationalization indeed doesn’t make any sense. God is sovereign and perfectly able to act within the lives of man. He healed numerous people during the Incarnation; others He left sick. He spiritually heals multitudes through salvation; others He allows to remain in their sins. Why? It isn’t because of free will!
Whatever will we do possess, it in no way is a restriction upon God. Can a pot talk back to the potter? Can the pot resist being moved, painted, or broken by the potter?
Can the created determine the Creator’s actions? Such a thought is absurd!
If Jesus is God, and if God is perfect, why aren’t all of Jesus’s [sic] verses about prayer true? Was Jesus exagerating [sic]? Was he fibbing? If Jesus is perfect, why wouldn’t he speak the truth? Why doesn’t a prayer to cure cancer worldwide tomorrow work?
If you are such an expert on the Bible and know it well enough to point out “holes in the plot,” why have you ignored pivotal material, such as the model prayer in the Sermon on the Mount or James 5:14?
Believers have many different ways to explain why all these verses in the Bible do not work, even if you are praying sincerely, unselfishly and non-materialistically, and even if the answer to your prayer would help millions of people and glorify God in the process. They will say things like this:
“You need to understand what Jesus was saying in the context the first century civilization in which he was speaking…”
You simply need to understand Jesus’ teaching on prayer holistically; taking subsequent verses without the initial verses avails nothing. Remember that during the Incarnation, Jesus was focusing on developing a small group of disciples so that they could be the apostles of the church. His doctrine, like that of any teacher, was progressive, building upon past teaching. Ignore the basics, and the rest lacks coherence.
“When Jesus talked about ‘moving a mountain’, he was speaking metaphorically. When someone says, ‘it is raining cats and dogs,’ no one takes him literally. Jesus was using a figure of speech rather than speaking literally…”
Whether Jesus’ speech was literal or figurative still requires that a request be in line with the will of God. That is basic and fundamental to everything else Jesus said about prayer.
God is not a thing. He is a being. He has a will. He has desires. He relates to people. He has personality traits. Prayer is a fancy word for talking to God. God, who knows everything, even before we say it, knows the difference between our thoughts and wishes, and when we are actually addressing him. He hears our prayers and responds. His responses are based on his personal decisions. We cannot predict how he will respond to our prayers… [ref]
That is actually quite true. The only prediction I would ever make regarding my prayers is that His will shall be done. Why I would actually need anything beyond His will escapes me!
The problem is, all of these rationalizations miss two important points:
- God is supposed to be an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect being.
- The statement, “Nothing will be impossible for you”, along with the other Bible verses quoted above, are false. The fact is, lots of things are impossible for you.
But living out the Lord’s will is not impossible for us. An all-powerful, all-knowing being that grants us our hearts desire is known as Santa Claus. An all-powerful, all-knowing being who has His own purposes and His own will which are far above our own… That is God. Sadly, there are many similarities between Santa and God, so the confusion is understandable, but you should really take the time to get to know God before seeking to say He was wrong while ignoring the verses which defeat your entire premise.
If a perfect being is going to make statements about how prayer works in the Bible, then three things are certain: 1) He would speak clearly, 2) he would say what he means, and 3) he would speak the truth. That is what “being perfect” is all about. A perfect, all-knowing God would know that people would be reading the Bible 2,000 years later, and therefore he would not use first-century idioms (he would say what he means).
Upon what basis do you come to these conclusions? You are seeking to create a god to your own specifications, comparing it with the true God and complaining that He doesn’t measure up. God incorporated the idiom and culture of the day throughout the Bible; remember that the Bible is inspired by God, not dictated by Him. The personalities of those He used to pen its words can be seen throughout the pages. Even Jesus used the culture around Him during the Incarnation to get His points across; for example, I have yet to see a coin with Caesar on it, but I’m still able to understand what Jesus was talking about when He mentioned it.
Jesus said exactly what needed to be said to the disciples, which is evidenced in the success of the early church in such a short span of time, all under the leadership of the apostles.
You don’t have to understand it. You don’t have to like it. But what He said got the job done because God’s Word does not return void.
Besides all of that, your three points apply just as much to the Sermon on the Mount’s model prayer as they do to the verses you have chosen to highlight. God’s will be done.
He would know that normal people will be reading the Bible and interpreting it in normal ways, so he would speak in such a way as to avoid mis-interpretation (he would speak clearly). He would know that when you say, “Nothing will be impossible for you”, that what it means is, “Nothing will be impossible for you” and he would make sure that the statement “Nothing will be impossible for you” is accurate (he would speak the truth). If God says it, it should be true — otherwise he is not perfect.
Without considering the whole of Scripture, many verses are easily mangled to support whatever an imagination can devise. The Lord expects us to know the Scriptures. Such is admonished so often within its pages.
And what one finds when searching the Scriptures and studying in order to be approved unto God is a little verse tucked away in Proverbs 16. Verse 9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”
If the Lord is directing my steps, I can be assured that nowhere He will lead me will be impossible for me to go. See how well this works out when the Bible is considered as a whole?
Unfortunately, the fact is that thousands of things are impossible for you no matter how much you pray, and no one (including Jesus) has ever moved a mountain.
Jesus formed the mountains; I find that a bit more remarkable than moving them. Job 9:5 testifies that God (Jesus) removes mountains, and goes on to list other displays of God’s power. Sure, Jesus could do all sorts of things to prove to you He is God, but even if He did, you still wouldn’t believe. The human heart is a very deceptive thing in that way. And the spiritual dead have a tendency to like being spiritual dead.
Speaking fluently in unknown foreign tongues is an impossible feat, but it was done. Raising the dead is an impossible feat, but it was done. Surviving a deadly snake’s bite without harm is an impossible feat, but it was done. Walking on liquid water is an impossible feat, but it was done. Prophesying the future is an impossible feat, but it was done.
The Lord does allow the impossible to be done. That doesn’t mean you’ll accept it. Objectors rarely will accept the truth when it’s presented to them, which is why the Romans didn’t all immediately convert after the crucified and dead Jesus was once again walking their streets. How hard must their hearts have been! How hard is yours?
In order to see the truth, you need to accept the fact that all of the above verses are wrong. The fact is, God does not answer prayers. The reason why God does not answer your prayers is simple: God is imaginary.
God cannot be tested. Any attempt to tempt or provoke the Lord will not be met with bountiful blessing, so why bother?
Aside from that, the formula of prayer that the test is designed to prove or disprove is not at all Biblical and therefore God would be under no obligation to answer it, whether it was a test or not. Pray the Lord’s will, and remember that when you don’t, God can and will say “no” to you.
Thanks for reading. I apologize for the length, especially since much of the material was repetitive (such is the case when the same error is made repeatedly on the objector’s part).
I do hope others are able to offer further defense of the faith; I certainly don’t claim my defense to be flawless! And I welcome any feedback or questions which you may have.