Saturday 25 July 2015

When you pray for help - and no help comes...

The efficacy of prayer is not something which can be established empirically, because there is always another explanation for anything - in extremis anything, no matter how apparently miraculous, can be explained-away by mental illness, mass delusion or lying.

But the validity of prayer does need to be confirmed inwardly and personally by each person - and this is typically by a prayer being grated in such a way that we are convinced (even if, as is usual, we would not be able to convince others - that does not matter, because the prayer was of the nature of a private communication between the prayer and God).

However, not all prayers are granted. Why is this?

In a bigger picture, prayer is one way that we are helped in this life - by the interventions of divine powers. And asking for, and getting, such divine help is one of the important rocks of faith. But why do we not receive more help, since life is so difficult?

Such a question can only be answered if we understand the basic purposes of mortal living, and in particular, why life is some kind of struggle for most people most of the time. If we are able to appreciate that life is a kind of educational process, then we may realise why help is provided, and not provided, in the way it is.

When someone is learning there is a time for help - that is what teachers are supposed to do - and there is a time for solitary struggle - for practise, for grappling with problems, for try, try, try again.

So, one important reason that prayers are not answered will certainly be that we are being required to do something from our own resources, because that is the only way we can learn. In effect, in the unanswered prayer, we were asking the divine powers to 'do our homework' - when this homework was vital to our learning.

Now, this is not the only reason, nor is it always the reason, prayers are unanswered - but it is surely one of the reasons, and perhaps a neglected reason: prayers are not answered, help is not given, when it is important that we do something without help, for our own good: when we have asked for help instead of participating in the learning process that is life.

This does not mean we should not have asked for help in the first place, because we can't always know the nature of the situation (if in doubt: ask); but it does mean that when we have asked for help and received a negative answer, we then acknowledge the validity of that reply, and act accordingly.



Bruce B. said...

The way I understand it God grants our prayers if it's for our (spiritual and ultimate) good. Sometimes it's for our good if we have to bear a cross when he doesn't give us what we ask for.

David said...

@ Bruce and other bloggers: Why is suffering, or bearing a cross, a good thing for spiritual growth? Is it not more likely, in the extremes easily found in the examples of mortal human beings lives past an present, to reduce the sufferer to despair or uncomprehending diminution of faith or alienation within a hostile mortal experience? Tough question I know but an important one we are all forced to consider by life at some point e.g. a young man dying of cancer and leaving his wife and two small children behind (v common and I have known personal examples) or a family loosing a cherished business, house, experiencing an achievement of a dream that is the cruelly lost forever because of circumstances, etc. Some thoughts on this would be welcomed

Bruce Charlton said...

@David I have found William Arkle to be of incomparable help in this matter - for example his lecture audio here

One thing we must bear in mind, is that each of us is unique and has unique needs for our time in mortality. What may be necessary experience for one person is not necessary for another. Some people - sadly but we all know this from experience - require tough experiences in order to learn. To some extent this was the case in my life. The longest period of low-grade misery and hopelessness was necessary in order that I did not waste my life on selfish hedonism - If I had been allowed to be happy, I would not have made the necessary changes to my life. I needed to be made miserable in order that I was forced to admit that my life was grossly misguided. Of course, nobody can be compelled against their will, but my continued misery eventually brought me to my senses, and I changed my priorities - then it was as if a door had been flung open.

Bruce B. said...

Not a blogger, just a reader here. Suffering in general isn’t a good thing. Suffering for Christ’s sake is a good thing. I could answer by saying “because Jesus said so.” My guess is it’s a matter of disciplining us to look past earthly things and towards ultimate things. I think the suffering has no spiritual benefit for the non-believer.

iffen said...

I remember praying for God's help in finding a lost toy harmonica when I was about 6-7. I looked and looked but could not find it. I finally found it outside about 6 months later; it was rusted and corroded. I remember wondering why he went to the trouble at that late date. It didn't ruin me though; I prayed well into adulthood. (More meaningful and less selfish prayers, too.)

David said...

@Bruce - Thanks for the Bill Arkle podcast link. It was fascinating to listen to and helped clarify a few things for me wrt to the previous question. It was interesting to note, however, that his speculations on the spiritual purpose of mortality as a kind of a "University" for souls to gain experience and "grow-up" explicitly included a process of reincarnation and repeated exposure to different mortal "classrooms" or learning experiences, depending on the individual students requirements. He did mention Christian beliefs in passing but his overall belief system seems to incorporate elements of eastern regions and/or new age elements (Specifically wrt vibrations or frequencies of different planes of existence). I know that you do not hold the same view of the role of reincarnation and have written about this in previous posts, but I am still left wondering how Arkle's 'Intuitive' approach to discerning the truth has resulted in this set of conclusions, with obvious Mormon elements (e.g. referring to deity as She/He interchangeable lenses but not necessarily as two distinct individual deities) and what, if any, of his beliefs are in direct conflict to Christian beliefs. I have had a life long 'intuition' or tendency to belief in reincarnation that is hard to shake. I sometimes find that I have to take it on the authority of others, since becoming a Christian, that reincarnation plays only a limited role in the process of theosis, which is counter to my 'personal hunches ' on the subject. It does make sense to me at least, and apparently Bill Arkle, that one trip to planet Earth is likely to provide limited experience of mortality in most instances compared to several return trips. If I died in early childhood, like most historic humans, the opportunities of marriage, family, devoted mature love, etc. Would presumably be lost to those who were not reincarnated? Or would there be post - mortal opportunities for this? The subject raises many interesting questions...

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - I don't agree with or want to defend everything that Arkle says, but he does place a considerable emphasis on reincarnation so that certainly requires comment.

My understanding is that Arkle (much like Steiner) 'saw' premortal spirit existence, and post mortal spiritual progression, and *misinterpreted* these as reincarnation (not knowing anything about Mormon revelations, as I assume he did not, he would never have even considered these possibilities).

It is easy to misunderstand what you have 'seen' when you lack any theoretical framework for interpretation.

But reincarnation is not ruled out by Christianity, after all John the Baptist was a reincarnate - rather it is portrayed as unusual, and not the norm or the usual.

I see no reason why some people would not be given the chance of a second time around - but I think most people live long enough and get the experiences that they need - because their specific premortal souls were placed by God into circumstances which offered the greatest probability (but no guarantee - because of free will) of the experiences they would most benefit from.