Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - The line is drawn
Chapter 2 - The mystery of God
Chapter 3 - The Standard Model of God
Chapter 4 - Facing the paradox
Section 1 - Prayer
Chapter 5 - Why Won't God Heal Amputees?
Chapter 6 - Why do you need health insurance?
Chapter 7 - Why can't you move mountains?
Chapter 8 - Why do bad things happen to good people?
Chapter 9 - Who gets to go to the prom?
Chapter 10 - Why do battlefield prayers sound so convincing?
Chapter 11 - Reviewing the evidence about prayer
Section 2 - The Bible
Chapter 12 - Who wrote the Bible?
Chapter 13 - Why does God love slavery?
Chapter 14 - Why does God love animal sacrifice?
Chapter 15 - Why is God so sexist?
Chapter 16 - Why does God massacre millions of children?
Chapter 17 - Reviewing the evidence about the Bible
Section 3 - Jesus
Chapter 18 - Was Jesus the son of God?
Chapter 19 - Why didn't Jesus move a mountain?
Chapter 20 - Why doesn't Jesus appear to each of us?
Chapter 21 - Why do we eat Jesus?
Chapter 22 - Why do so many children live in poverty?
Chapter 23 - Was Jesus' coming prophesized?
Chapter 24 - Why does Jesus need your money?
Chapter 25 - Reviewing the evidence about Jesus
Putting it all together
Chapter 26 - Why did I write this book?
Chapter 27 - When we die, we die
Chapter 28 -Goodness, Morality and the Ten Commandments
Chapter 29 -In God We Trust
Chapter 30 -Love your neighbor as yourself
Chapter 31 -The Meaning of Life
|Chapter 1 - The line is drawn|
It would have to be a teacher's worst nightmare.
Imagine that you are a high school English teacher. You are standing at the front of the classroom working through the day's lesson. Perhaps you and your students are studying verb conjugation, or analyzing one of Shakespeare's plays. It is another normal day in the American education system, and you have a lot of material to cover.
Then the sound fills your classroom. Gunshots. And screaming. A gunman has entered the school and is shooting at people as he makes his way down the hallway toward your classroom.
What would you do?
If you were English teacher Neva Rogers at Red Lake high school, you would take immediate action. You would shut off the lights in the classroom. You would close and lock the classroom door. [ref] You would tell your students to crouch in a corner of the classroom to get out of harm's way. Then you would stand in the middle of the room and begin praying to God. According to student witnesses, Ms. Rogers prayed, "God be with us. God help us."
The gunman walks to Neva Rogers' classroom door and finds it locked. He shoots out the glass panel next to the door and it explodes in a shower of tiny crystalline fragments. The gunman reaches in through the hole he has created, unlocks the door and shoves it out of the way to enter the classroom. Dressed completely in black and measuring six feet tall, he is a huge, hulking apparition.
He crosses the threshold of the classroom and looks at Ms. Rogers as she prays. He is armed with a massive 12-gauge shotgun. He raises the gun with both hands so it is pointing straight at Rogers' head.
What should God do?
What do you think God should do in a situation like this? Step back for a moment and look at this from God's perspective. God is sitting on his magnificent throne in heaven. God is all-knowing, so he is certainly watching Red Lake high school as events unfold. He hears Neva Rogers' prayers, and sees the gunman pointing the shotgun at her head. Jesus has promised that God will help, and Jesus is sitting at God's right hand.
Clearly a line has been drawn. On one side of the line is pure evil -- a sixteen-year-old who is obviously insane. On the other side is a deeply devoted, 62-year-old woman of unbending faith in God. This is a showdown between good and evil if there ever was one.
Think of all of the possibilities that an all-powerful God has at his disposal. Perhaps the easiest thing would be to strike the gunman with a freak heart attack, aneurism or stroke right then and there. Hundreds of people die of heart attacks in the United States every day, so if God struck him with a heart attack it would be completely undetectable. Non-believers would chalk it up to coincidence, but God's followers would understand what really happened.
If God has a desire to be a bit more spectacular, there are other possibilities. For example, he could cause an earthquake. He could send an angel to stand between the gunman and the teacher and deflect the bullets. A meteor could crash through the ceiling, or a bolt of lightning, and strike the gunman dead. Or God could cause a police officer to burst into Ms. Rogers' classroom just at this moment and kill the gunman on the spot. There are a million things that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God could do to answer Neva Rogers' prayers.
The gunman looks directly at Neva Rogers with his 12-gauge shotgun pointed at her skull. He pulls the trigger. Nothing happens. There is a click, but the gun does not fire. It seems like a miracle. Surely it is the hand of God.
Unfortunately, the gunman has a backup weapon and he does not even hesitate. He pulls out a pistol. He points the pistol at Ms. Rogers' head as she prays and squeezes the trigger. The pistol performs according to its specifications. He shoots Neva Rogers three times in the head and then once in the face for good measure. She dies instantly, falling into a pool of her own blood on the floor right in front of her stunned students.
According to Time magazine, what the gunman does next is remarkable. He aims his gun at one of Ms. Rogers' students in the corner and asks, "Do you believe in God?" By doing this, the gunman recreates a scene from the shootings at Columbine. At Columbine the student answered, "Yes" to this question and was shot to death. At Red Lake the student answers, "No." The gunman spares that student's life and starts shooting other students. [ref]
A total of ten people died on that day at Red Lake before the gunman took his own life.
A situation like this is deeply paradoxical. For any thoughtful person, the questions come in a flood. Why does an all-powerful God completely ignore the prayers and allow ten people to die? Why does God save the student who denies God's existence? Why doesn't God strike the gunman dead at the scene, or help him earlier in life so as to completely derail the situation before it ever happens? How could a loving God allow such perverse, needless and useless suffering when he clearly has the power and authority to prevent it? Why would Jesus make an unambiguous promise to answer prayers in the Bible, and then renege? How can God have answered millions of other prayers all around the globe on that day, while at the same time ignoring this huge tragedy and refusing to answer any prayers there?
It is hard for us, as human beings, to know what to think because Neva Rogers' death is senseless. We have no easy way to penetrate the mysteries of the Lord.
What we do know is that these deeply paradoxical situations happen all the time, and there must be a reason for that...
Chapter 2 - The Mystery of God
What happened to Neva Rogers? She prayed, but God completely ignored her. If you truly want to understand God, you owe it to yourself to ask a simple question: Why didn't God protect Neva even though she prayed and asked for God's help?
You may have noticed this same pattern in your own life. It is quite common for God to ignore prayers. And that seems odd, because the Bible is clear about how prayer is supposed to work. In Mark 11:24 Jesus promises:
Even when a prayer does seem to work, it is often shrouded in mystery. For example, in the May, 2004 issue of Guideposts magazine there is a fascinating story about a huge wildfire that swept through San Diego, California. Steve Homel lived in a subdivision engulfed by that fire. Steve prayed and God answered Steve's prayer, so Steve's story offers a glimpse into the way that God works in our world.
Steve saw the fire approaching and it was terrifying -- "an eighty-foot wall of flames rolling down the ridge that overlooks our street." He and his wife evacuated to the home of Steve's grown daughter about 15 miles away. There, as he watched the news on TV, Steve actually saw the flames reaching his neighborhood.
What is the appropriate thing for a person to do in such a situation? As with Neva Rogers, the answer is prayer. Steve, however, decided to take an innovative approach. According to the article: "Suddenly Steve grabbed a piece of paper. 'God bless this house and the firemen who protect it,' he scrawled." Steve then faxed that sheet of paper to the fax machine in his home.
Days later, Steve and his neighbors were allowed to return to their subdivision. What Steve found when he arrived was absolutely amazing. Despite the raging inferno, Steve's house stood completely unscathed. Even the trees in the yard were protected. It was as though there had never been a fire near the neighborhood.
They found Steve's prayer in the tray of his fax machine. The fax machine had received the message, and obviously God did too.
Since Steve prayed and his house survived, believers know what happened. Having heard Steve's prayer, God reached down from heaven into our world and worked a miracle. When God acts on our earth so obviously like this, it is a source of hope, a testimony to God's grace and a shining example of the power of prayer. This story about God's blessings gets written up in magazines and sent to millions of believers: God saved Steve's house!
The Mystery in San Diego
Steve's story certainly sounds miraculous. But if we probe into this situation just below the surface, we run into another paradox not unlike Neva Rogers'.
The problem is simple: Every other house on Steve's Street burned to the ground in the fire. According to the article, "The only things standing were a few brick chimneys. The rest had been reduced to ash." The 39 other houses on Steve's street were completely and utterly destroyed.
If God reached down to bless Steve by saving his house, did he not choose to curse Steve's neighbors by letting their homes burn to the ground? Why would a loving, all-powerful God save only one house when it would have been just as easy for him to save all 40?
This is where the "mystery of God" comes in. We have no way to understand why God would protect one house while destroying the other 39. In order to understand why the other 39 houses burned down, we are forced to imagine scenerios that are not particularly appealing:
What if Steve had prayed "God bless this nation and the firemen who protect it"? Would every fire in the entire country immediately extinguish itself? If so, could we save billions of dollars per year by closing every fire station in the nation and relying on Steve and his fax machine to take care of us?
Most of us understand that closing every fire station in America would be irresponsible. But why? It brings up an interesting question: If you believe that God answered Steve's prayer, then why don't you believe that God would answer a nationwide prayer from Steve as well? Keep in mind what Jesus said in Mark 11:24:
The Gumball Machine
Many people respond to that question by saying, "God is under no obligation to answer prayers. God is not a gumball machine granting every wish." Yet, if you interpret the Mark 11:24 (and other similar verses) in a normal way, it does seem that God promises to answer prayers. So what is going on? (The article Understanding the Gumball Machine [BELOW] explores this question in more detail).
What is God thinking when he allows things like this to happen to some people but not others, even if both are fervently and faithfully praying? What was God thinking when he let Neva Rogers die? We can say, "It is all part of God's plan," but what sort of plan is that? It can become uncomfortable if you think about it -- what if God's plan is to shoot you in the head tomorrow, or burn your house to the ground? How do we make sense of that?
What if you could resolve the mystery of God? What if you could completely explain this mystery in San Diego, and the mystery at Red Lake, and the many other mysteries that we witness each day?
Before we can probe into the mystery of God completely, we should take one small detour. We need to have a clear understanding of who God is. We need to establish the Standard Model of God.
Understanding the Gumball Machine
It is quite common for people to pray and for God to completely ignore their prayers. For example, Chapter 5 talks about the plight of amputees. No matter how many people pray, no matter how sincere they are, and no matter how deserving the amputee, God neverrestores the lost limbs of amputees through prayer. People believe that God is solving all sorts of other medical problems in response to prayers -- eliminating cancers, curing viruses, reversing the effects of poisons, etc. -- yet God never helps amputees with their lost limbs. Why not?
Examples like these are easily dismissed by many people. "So what?" they say. "God is not a gumball machine. He is under no obligation to answer prayers. What if his answer to the prayer is, 'No' or 'Not Right Now?'" These seem like valid points, until you read the Bible.
What God says about prayer in the Bible
Jesus and the Bible do actually say, in many different places, that God will answer your prayers. The whole notion of the gumball machine is biblically based. Here are ten examples:
In Matthew 7:7 Jesus says:
And you yourself know that you can pray about all sorts of things and God will completely ignore you. Even though the Bible says, "Nothing will be impossible for you," and "I will do it," it is far more common for prayers to be ignored than for them to be answered.
Look at this article about God. The article discusses common Christian concepts about how God answers prayers in our world today. The article was published in 2006 in a magazine read by millions of people. Compare that article to God's treatment of amputees. The contrast makes no sense, does it?
People have many different ways to explain why these ten verses in the Bible do not work. They will say things like this:
A perfect, all-knowing God would know that normal people will be reading the Bible and interpreting it in normal ways (he would speak clearly).
A perfect, all-knowing God would know that when you say, "Nothing will be impossible for you", that what it means is, "Nothing will be impossible for you" (he would speak the truth). If God says it, it should be true -- otherwise he is not perfect.
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.
How do we explain this?
The Scientific explanation
Here is the factual explanation for the evidence that we see in our world. The fact is, God does not answer any prayers. The entire idea that "God answers prayers" is an illusion created by human imagination.
How do we know that "answered prayers" are illusions? We simply perform scientific experiments. We ask a group of believers to pray for something and then we watch what happens. What we find, whenever we test the efficacy of prayer scientifically, is that prayer has zero effect. It does not matter who prays. It does not matter if we pray to God, Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, Ra or any other human god. It does not matter what they pray about. If we perform scientific, double-blind tests on prayer, and if the prayers involve something concrete and measurable (for example, healing people with cancer), we know that there is zero effect from prayer. This fact is discussed in detail in Section 1 of this web site. Every single "answered prayer" is nothing more than a coincidence. Both scientific experiments and your everyday observations of the world show this to be the case every single time.
This is why God doesn't heal amputees. If God answered prayers as described in the Bible (see the ten verses previously mentioned), we could restore amputated limbs through prayer. What we know is that God never restores amputated limbs. There is no documented case of prayers spontaneously regenerating a lost limb. This is compelling evidence showing that "answered prayers" are an illusion. If the prayers were actually being answered, as God clearly says they will be in the Bible, we would see limbs being restored all the time.
If you look at both the scientific and experiential evidence, you will see that what the Bible says about prayer is not true. It is not that "God is not a gumball machine." It's that "God does not answer any prayers, ever." See Section 1 for details.
Chapter 3 - The Standard Model of God
Who is this being that billions of people believe in? Who is God? If you consult the dictionary, here is the first definition of God that you will find:
This summary makes one thing clear. When you ask, "Who is God?", the answer is: "God is an utterly amazing being." This is the conventional wisdom, and a large majority of the people in the United States believe it.
There is something that is remarkably comforting about the thought of an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful being watching over us, answering our prayers, protecting us and welcoming us into heaven when we die. He sees us in our struggles and pain on this planet. He lends us his strength and compassion, and helps each of us to find our way. We would all like to believe in, and put our faith in, such an amazing being.
And yet, you have to wonder. You realize that the standard model of God sharpens the paradox. Given this definition of God, the violent murder of Neva Rogers is uncomfortable. The reason why it can be uncomfortable is because it does not seem to fit with what we believe about God. There is something about the death of Neva Rogers that is not quite right.
Let me give you another example to bring the paradox into focus...
Chapter 4 - Facing the paradox
As we saw in the previous chapter, it is hard to argue with a being who is all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal, timeless, omnipresent and perfect. And yet, you still have to wonder...
When something big like September 11, 2001 comes along, you wonder. That is completely natural. If God can see everything that is happening, if he is omnipotent and omniscient, and if he is reaching down and answering billions of prayers on earth each day, then how does something huge and ugly like 9/11 happen?
Big paradoxes like this appear with some regularity. Any thoughtful person who takes a few moments to ponder our world can see them. For example there is the Holocaust, where more than 10 million people died [ref]. There is the December 2004 tsunami, where 200,000 people died in less than a day. There is the AIDS epidemic, which has killed more than 20 million people in the last 25 years. Why doesn't God help these people? There are many smaller things as well. For example, it is not uncommon to wake up, open the morning newspaper and find a story like this:
Raleigh News and Observer
By Anne Saker
WAKE FOREST - They had driven together lots of times, the old man and the little girl. He picked her up every morning and took her to the brick church where she spent her days. In the afternoon, he came to the door of her classroom in the day-care center, and she slipped her hand into his. Then he took her home.
It all happened just that way on Monday, for Tim Day and Ranika Clifton, and so it resumed on Tuesday, until about 7:30 a.m., when a tragic forgetfulness seized control.
Day, 63, a quiet retiree from Maryland, left Ranika, 2, belted into her car seat in a Ford Econoline van at the Corinth United Church of Christ near Wake Forest. Seven hours passed before anyone realized she was missing. When they found her, still in her car seat, she was dead.
Think about this innocent little girl as she suffered and died in the church van which was sitting under God's sun in a church parking lot. She is strapped in her car seat unable to escape. The temperature in the van rises rapidly. She screams and cries but no one hears her.
Saving Ranika would have been easy. For example, God could have helped Mr. Day to be less forgetful. God could have caused anyone in the day care center to think about Ranika's absence. God could have brought clouds and rain to keep the van cool. God could have sent an angel to roll down a window in the van. God could have spoken to Ranika's mother and encouraged her to stop by the school for some reason.
God had a million options, but God did not do any of these things.
What is going on here? The whole thing with Neva Rogers getting shot in the head did not feel right. Watching Steve Homel's 39 neighbors lose everything they own didn't feel right either. And now this -- little two-year-olds baking to death in church parking lots. It is easy to say, "It must be God's will" or "It is all part of God's plan." But what does that mean? What if God plans to shoot you in the head tomorrow? What if he plans to bake your child to death? What if he plans to burn your home to the ground? What good is it to pray if that is what will be happening anyway?
As you can see, the paradox of God can be mystifying. When we look at the cases of Ranika, Steve Homel and Neva Rogers, what is actually going on?
This book contains the answer to that question.
Does God answer prayers? According to believers, the answer is certainly yes.
For example, at any Christian bookstore you can find hundreds of books about the power of prayer. On the Internet you can find thousands of testimonials to the many ways that God works in our lives today. Even large city newspapers and national magazines run stories about answered prayers. God seems to be interacting with our world and answering millions of prayers on planet Earth every day.
God's power often can be quite dramatic. Take, for example, this story from Marilyn Hickey Ministries:
How Prayer Works
For believers, it is obvious why so many prayers are answered. In the Bible, Jesus promises many times that he will answer our prayers. For example, in Matthew 7:7 Jesus says:
The miracle of Jeanna Giese
There are so many examples of the power of prayer, but one in particular deserves special consideration because it is so well documented. In December of 2004 a girl named Jeanna Giese survived a bite from a rabid bat through prayer. Hundreds of newspapers (including the Raleigh News and Observer in my home town) ran stories about the miracle of her recovery with headlines such as "Rabies girl in miracle recovery." In Raleigh, the headline was "Web weaves global prayer circle - Petitions circle the world as girl beats rare case of rabies." [Source: by Sharon Roznik, Raleigh News and Observer, December 17, 2004]
The summary of the story goes like this. Jeanna was in a church service in Wisconsin when a brown bat fell into the aisle. She picked the bat up and carried it outside. No one gave it a second thought.
A month later it was obvious that something was wrong. Soon Jeanna had a full case of rabies. No human has ever survived this disease without being vaccinated. Up until 2004, full-blown rabies had been 100% fatal.
According to the article, a global prayer circle helped Jeanna survive. Once she got sick, Jeanna's father called friends and asked them to pray for Jeanna. People around the world heard about her story through the press and by word of mouth. They prayed. They sent emails. They passed the word along. Millions of people heard about Jeanna's plight and they said prayers for her.
And the prayer circle worked. Through the power of God, Jeanna recovered. Jeanna was the first human to survive rabies without the vaccine.
Dr. Charles Rupprecht of the CDC in Atlanta called Jeanna's case a miracle. The family and everyone in Jeanna's huge, global prayer circle know that God heard their prayers and answered them.
This is amazing stuff. The dictionary defines a miracle as "An event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God." [ref] So we must ask a fundamental question: Did an all-loving, all-powerful God hear the prayers from Jeanna's worldwide prayer circle and then reach down from heaven to help Jeanna? Did God actually interact with Jeanna's body, making the impossible happen and curing her case of rabies through a divine miracle?
Or did something else happen?
We can actually answer this question with a simple experiment....
A simple experiment
For this experiment, we need to find a deserving person who has had both of his legs amputated. For example, find a sincere, devout veteran of the Iraqi war, or a person who was involved in a tragic automobile accident.
Now create a prayer circle like the one created for Jeanna Giese. The job of this prayer circle is simple: pray to God to restore the amputated legs of this deserving person. I do not mean to pray for a team of renowned surgeons to somehow graft the legs of a cadaver onto the soldier, nor for a team of renowned scientists to craft mechanical legs for him. Pray that God spontaneously and miraculously restores the soldier's legs overnight, in the same way that God spontaneously and miraculously cured Jeanna Giese and Marilyn Hickey's mother.
If possible, get millions of people all over the planet to join the prayer circle and pray their most fervent prayers. Get millions of people praying in unison for a single miracle for this one deserving amputee. Then stand back and watch.
What is going to happen? Jesus clearly says that if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. He does not say it once -- he says it many times in many ways in the Bible.
And yet, even with millions of people praying, nothing will happen.
No matter how many people pray. No matter how sincere those people are. No matter how much they believe. No matter how devout and deserving the recipient. Nothing will happen. The legs will not regenerate. Prayer does not restore the severed limbs of amputees. You can electronically search through all the medical journals ever written -- there is no documented case of an amputated leg being restored spontaneously. And we know that God ignores the prayers of amputees through our own observations of the world around us. If God were answering the prayers of amputees to regenerate their lost limbs, we would be seeing amputated legs growing back every day.
Isn't that odd? The situation becomes even more peculiar when you look at who God is. According to the Standard Model of God:
You can see that the amputee experiment reframes our conversation. No longer are we talking about "religion" or "faith". What we are talking about here is more fundamental.
At the beginning of the chapter we highlighted a number of promises that Jesus makes about prayer in the Bible. Summarizing, here is what Jesus promised:
By looking at amputees, we can see that something is wrong. Jesus is not telling the truth. God never answers prayers to spontaneously restore lost limbs, despite Jesus' statements in the Bible. Accepting this piece of factual information, rather than denying it, is the first step in understanding something extremely important about how prayer really works.
Even if you take a liberal rather than literal stance on the Bible, this feels strange, doesn't it? You may not literally believe that "nothing will be impossible for you" nor that "faith can move mountains," but I think we can agree that there is something very odd about the way that God treats amputees. No matter how many people pray. No matter how sincere those people are. No matter how much they believe. No matter how devout and deserving the recipient. Nothing happens when we pray for amputated limbs. God never regenerates lost limbs through prayer, even though Christians believe that God is answering millions of other prayers on earth every day.
Does God answer prayers? If so, then how do we explain this disconnection between God and amputees? What should we do with the piece of empirical data that amputees represent? We need to somehow explain why God would answer millions of prayers on earth, yet completely ignore prayers for amputated limbs. Let's examine the possible explanations one by one.
Here is an explanation that you might have heard or used before:
In a similar vein, many believers will say, "God always answers prayers, but sometimes his answer is 'no.' If your prayer does not fit with God's will, then God will say 'no' to you." This feels odd because God's answer to every amputee isalways "no" when it comes to regenerating lost limbs. Jesus says, "If you ask anything in my name, I will do it." He does not say, "If you ask anything in my name, I will do it, unless you are praying about an amputated limb, in which case I will always reject your prayer." Jesus also says, "Nothing will be impossible to you," and regenerating a limb should therefore be possible. The fact that God refuses to answer every prayer to regenerate a lost limb seems strange, doesn't it?
This short video offers a perspective on the "no" response to prayers.
To understand how strange it seems, compare God's treatment of amputees to the concept of God described in this article.
Here is another explanation that you might have heard: "God needs to remain hidden -- restoring an amputated limb would be too obvious." We will discuss this idea in more detail in later chapters, but let's touch on it here. Does God need to remain hidden?
That does not seem to be the case. In general, God seems to have no problem doing things that are obvious. Think about the Bible. Writing the Bible and having billions of copies published all over the world is obvious. So is parting the Red Sea. So is carving the Ten Commandments on stone tables. So is sending your son to earth and having him perform dozens of recorded miracles. And so on. It makes no sense for a God in hiding to incarnate himself, or to do these other obvious things. Why send your son to earth, and then write a book that talks all about his exploits, if you are trying to hide?
In the same way, any medical miracle that God performs today is obvious. The removal of a cancerous tumor is obvious because it is measurable. One month the tumor is visible to everyone on the X-ray, and the next month it is not. If God eliminated the tumor, then it is openly obvious to everyone who sees the X-ray. There is nothing "hidden" about removing a tumor. So, why not regenerate a leg in an equally open way? If God intervenes with cancer patients to remove cancerous tumors in response to prayers, then why wouldn't God also intervene with amputees to regenerate lost limbs?
Why, then, does God ignore the prayers of amputees? (see Chapter 19 for a complete discussion of the "hidden God" theory)
Some people might say, "Everyone's life serves God in different ways. Perhaps God uses amputees to teach us something. God must have a higher purpose for amputees." That may be the case -- God may be trying to send a message. But, again, it seems odd that he would single out this one group of people to handle the delivery. To quote Marilyn Hickey once again:
Some people ascribe the problems that amputees face to free will. They will say, "Well, if you go into a war zone and get your legs blown off, that is your own free will. God gives us free will. You made a free choice to be a soldier. It is not God's fault, and therefore he has no obligation to repair the damage." This logic is fascinating. What about all the people who are born with missing limbs, or the people who lose limbs to diseases through no fault or choice of their own? How are these people any different from cancer victims, who, supposedly, are constantly being healed by God?
We know that God ignores all amputees, regardless of the cause of the missing limb. Why doesn't God heal thalidomide babies, who are by definition completely innocent? Or the innocent children who lose their limbs in mine fields? Why would God heal millions of other diseases, but completely ignore any disease that results in a lost or missing limb?
Some believers say, "God does help amputees - he inspires scientists and engineers to create artificial limbs for them!" This logic is interesting, especially if we look at other examples. Take the case of smallpox. Millions upon millions of people died of smallpox until the vaccine was invented in the twentieth century. If God is the one who inspired the scientists, why did God wait until the twentieth century to do it? Why would God want to be the source of the massive suffering that smallpox caused prior to the twentieth century? And why do we pay the scientists, given that their work is simply God's inspiration? (we will discuss the question of divine inspiration in more detail in Chapter 7)
Someone might say, "Thou shalt not test the Lord. It says so in the Bible." This is hard to swallow because every prayer is a test. Either God answers the prayer or he does not. There is no difference between praying for an amputee and praying for Jeanna Giese and her rabies.
Note also that many believers track their prayers with prayer journals. See, for example, prayer-journal.com. Why not pray to God to heal an amputee, and then track the results of the prayer in a prayer journal?
Some people might say something like, "Jesus never says when he will answer your prayers. Maybe your prayer will be answered in the afterlife." But that seems uncomfortable. Jesus is answering millions of prayers for everyone else in the here and now. Clearly that is what he means with all his verses in the Bible. Why single out amputees for treatment in the afterlife when Marilyn and Jeanna get their prayers answered almost instantaneously?
Someone might say, "God will answer your prayers, but not immediately. You must be patient." They will point to a situation like that found in Mark 6:47-51:
A believer might say, "You are taking the Bible literally." But how else are we supposed to take it? Jesus clearly says, "If you ask anything in my name, I will do it." When Jesus says that, what does he mean? Presumably, Jesus means that if you ask for anything, he will do it. What else could he possibly mean?
Believers often respond with, "Look, Jesus was using poetic embellishment when he said, 'nothing will be impossible for you,' and 'faith can move mountains.'" Which leads to the following question: What prayers does God answer? It is the response to that question that is fascinating. Because the response inevitably is, "God is omnipotent, so God can do anything."
Which leads us right back to the question, "Why won't God heal amputees?"
Finally, there is this oft-used chestnut: "There is no way to understand the mysteries of our Lord. People have believed in Jesus for 2,000 years, and there must be a very good reason for it." This feels like a sad point in the conversation. On one side of the conversation is a person who is defending the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving creator of the universe. This person's position should be unassailable. Yet, if God exists, and answers prayers as described in the Bible, there is no explanation for what we see in the world around us. The Bible is silent in this case. God is silent. There is not a good, comfortable explanation for the situation faced by amputees except to say, "We cannot understand the mysteries of the Lord. We have no explanation for why God refuses to answer prayers to regenerate lost limbs."
Explaining the case of amputees
Just for a moment, I would ask you to consider the possibility of another explanation. If you believe in God, then this explanation will initially appear to be complete nonsense. However, it is interesting in light of the conversation we will be having in this book.
One explanation for the evidence that we see before us is this:
In response to this proposal, a thoughtful person might say, "Just because God never answers the prayers of amputees, it does not mean that he does not answer other prayers. I agree with you that it is unfair to amputees, and I agree with you that it contradicts what Jesus teaches in the Bible, but God has his reasons. For some reason, it is not part of God's plan to help amputees by regenerating their lost limbs. There is no way to understand the mysteries of our Lord, but he does have his reasons and they will become clear to us when we die and go to heaven." That is one possible explanation, but words like "unfair" and "contradicts" feel, somehow, uncomfortable. They do not fit with our mental image of an all-loving and perfect God, nor with the words of Jesus in the Bible. Why would God have such a problem with amputees that he completely ignores their prayers to regenerate lost limbs, while at the same time he is answering all of these other prayers millions of times a day? When it comes to amputees, why would Jesus renege on his promises to answer prayers in the Bible?
You can see that what we have here is a paradox:
A cascade of problems
It's not like I am revealing some hidden truth here. The funny thing about amputees is that this evidence is obvious to everyone. We have all seen that God ignores the prayers of amputees. This evidence has been plainly visible for centuries.
Amputees are not the only ones either. For example:
Ambiguity and coincidence
The question, "Why won't God heal amputees?" probes into an extremely interesting aspect of prayer and exposes it for observation. This aspect of prayer has to do with ambiguity and coincidence.
Imagine that you pray for something -- It does not really matter what it is. Let's imagine that you have cancer, you pray to God to cure the cancer, and the cancer actually does go away. The interesting thing to recognize is that there is ambiguity in your cure. God might have miraculously cured the disease, as many people believe. But God might also be imaginary, and the chemotherapy drugs and surgery are the things that cured your cancer. Or your body might have cured the cancer itself. The human body does have a powerful immune system, and this immune system has the ability to eliminate cancer in many cases. When your tumor dissappeared, it might be a coincidence that you happened to pray. Drugs, an immune response or a combination of the two might have been the thing the cured you.
How can we determine whether it is God or coincidence that worked the cure? One way is to eliminate the ambiguity. In a non-ambiguous situation, there is no potential for coincidence. Because there is no ambiguity, we can actually knowwhether God is answering the prayer or not.
That is what we are doing when we look at amputees.
When we pray to God to restore an amputated limb, there is only one way for the limb to regenerate. God must exist and God must answer prayers. What we find is that whenever we create a non-ambiguous situation like this and look at the results of prayer, prayer never works. God never answers prayers if there is no possibility of coincidence. We will approach this issue from several different angles in this book, but Chapters 6 and 7 are particularly important.
The fact that prayers are never answered when the possibility of coincidence is eliminated meshes with another fact. If we analyse God's responses to prayers using statistical tools, what we find is that there is never any statistical evidence for prayer. In other words, when we statisically compare prayer to coincidence for explaining any situation, they are identical. For example, this article points out:
Whether you are religious or not, you have to admit that what we see here is incredibly interesting. Despite the fact that billions of people around the world believe in God, in this chapter we have seen a credible piece of evidence that indicates that God is imaginary.
We also have many other pieces of evidence that indicate the same thing. Let's step back and look at several of them.
First of all, we have this fact: there is no scientific evidence indicating that God exists. We all know that. For example, God has never left behind any physical evidence that shows that he is real. None of Jesus' miracles left behind any physical evidence either. God has never taken over all the TV and radio stations and broadcast a message to mankind. There is the Bible, but as we will see inSection 2 the Bible has problems of its own. And so on. So let's agree that there is no empirical evidence showing that God exists:
Simply think about the world around you. First, if there were conclusive statistical evidence that God answers prayers, that would provide scientific evidence that God exists. Second, we can see that there are not two laws of probability -- one for Chistians who pray and one for everyone else. There is a single law of probability that applies equally to everyone. Prayers have zero effect in any statistical study.
Fourth, we have the fact that all of the gods of the past truly were imaginary. We all know with certainty that the Egyptian gods, the Roman gods and the Aztec gods were completely fictitious. Otherwise we would not have started to worship Jesus. We would be worshiping Ra or Zeus rather than Jesus if Ra or Zeus were real.
Now we can start adding pieces of new evidence showing us that God does not exist. For example, we have the case of amputees as described in this chapter. If God is real, it is apparent that there is something very odd about amputees. God is supposedly answering millions of prayers on earth every day, but he completely ignores amputated limbs and refuses to restore them. That makes no sense according to the Standard Model of God and Jesus' statements in the Bible. God's treatment of amputees is inexplicable if God exists, but makes a lot of sense if God is imaginary.
We have all of this evidence to show that God is imaginary. If we were in a court of law looking at this question, the judge would quickly rule that God is imaginary. There is no concrete evidence that God is real and lots of evidence that he is imaginary.
If you are a thoughtful, curious person, the case of amputees really makes you wonder: Is God real or is he imaginary? Let's try looking at another example and see if it sheds any light on this situation...