UNANSWERED PRAYERS

Recently, a colleague endured the unthinkable—she lost her 17-year-old son in a car accident. As a parent I can hardly think of a more unbearable burden than outliving my children.

It is disasters like this that challenge us in our faith; those of us that profess to have it. Even the most devout believer must struggle to explain the dissonance between an omnipotent, caring God and the tragedies that befall us. The ones we don’t bring on ourselves we’ve even nicknamed “acts of God.” It’s akin to, and tied in with, the touted paradox of God’s omniscience and our free will.

Garth Brooks penned, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” To the mother who has lost a child, the sentiment must sound blasphemous. To those of us that have yet to carry such a burden, or who have gotten beyond the open wound of their grief to the forever-aching scar of unremitting loss, it provides hope. But to understand it we must, at least for the sake of argument, accept the concept of an eternal soul.

The atheist/secularist/empiricist will likely bristle at the idea of a soul. It’s odorless, tasteless and colorless. There isn’t a single iota of scientific proof that it exists. Yet it is as essential to the discussion of faith and God as the brain is to the mind. My own belief, in part, stems from the unimaginable complexity revealed to me each day in the study of medicine. Each new discovery, the existence of yet another set of complex interactions between heretofore unknown substances in an unimaginably delicate and precise water ballet in the cytoplasm of our cells, reinforces my faith. Others state that this “anti-entropy” is simply the result of random events occurring over an unfathomably long period of time. We can argue this point until time ends and reach no resolution. Because the only argument is faith.

So, if we hypothesize that the purpose of this worldly existence is to nurture and develop our souls, then the true tragedy resides in its loss, not the life that housed it. The body becomes a vehicle for something much greater, and events occur only to help shape it. Free will, decision-making is inherently necessary, for without it, everything is pointless. You can’t improve something that is already predestined to be what it is. To the empiricist, this argument, and faith, are nothing more than delusions we use to make the unbearable more palatable, immaterially different from primitive superstition. But, be you atheist or agnostic, let’s suspend disbelief for the moment, for the sake of moving this discussion forward, just as we do when we entertain ourselves with an episode of Star Trek or Mission Impossible (which, truth be told, go down less easily than the idea of faith).

I’ve often maintained that in the material world the ideological difference between the left and the right hinges on the former’s crusade for equality of outcomes and the latter’s emphasis on equality of opportunity (and those of you who aren’t visiting for the first time know on which side of that divide I stake my tent). The same could be said of the metaphysical universe: The purpose is to provide each soul with opportunity, giving it what it needs to strive for perfection. He, or She, does so in “mysterious ways,” at least to us, but the decisions are, and must be ours. And, as we demonstrate every day, they are not always the best ones. There can be no guarantee of success. In my “Faith Trek” universe souls return again and again for burnishing, unless they move so far beyond salvation that they must be destroyed. Oblivion, the ultimate tragedy.

The empiricist sees death as oblivion. The (deluded?) faithful define this as destruction of the soul.

Faith is hard to find and even harder to maintain. Some people use religion as the vehicle. Secularists often confuse religion, and the missteps taken and atrocities committed in its name, with faith. We live in a world where, for many, science has supplanted rather than reinforced the concept of faith. I made the personal decision, for better or worse, to abandon organized religion many years ago. But I never abandoned faith.

Life without it is a journey toward oblivion.

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4 Responses to “UNANSWERED PRAYERS”

  1. Ira Says:

    Does faith require a god?

  2. Ira Says:

    Sounds like a bumper sticker. It’s an old rhetorical trick to link fundamentally disparate ideas to some ill-defined, but presumably repugnant concept. I, for example, an avowed secularist who has a distinct distaste for politicians and an over-extended government, am offended. All of our problems suffer from a lack of nuance; don’t make it worse.

  3. David Says:

    You’re right. I shouldn’t have painted all secularists as big government supporters any more than all conservatives should be labeled as racists. To answer your question, faith, in the sense I was using it, referred to God.

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