Prayer for an Atheist

Dear Russell and Friends,

Recently, J’s brother became suddenly and severely ill.  Russell texted me that she was going to say goodbye as he was in a coma and not expected to live.  Some of J’s family believe.  Some don’t.  As she stands in the middle it can hurt.  Whether you believe or not, whether they believe or not – – when someone you love is hurting, you hurt.  That is part of love’s definition.  I said that I would pray.  I wrote it down so that my promise would not be hollow.  Then I ran.  That is where I do much of my thinking directed to God – – prayer if you will. Then I wrote.  That is where I write letters to God and leave a record of his answers and how they have changed my life.  I write several times a week in a large journal.  The entry is below.  I’ve addressed it Dear Father as I usually do – – my title for God.  As a father myself, I’m haunted and pricked each time I write those words.  So many incomplete fathers.  I am one of them.  One father who balances discipline and love.

I’ll end with the letter’s actual sign off.  Before I begin:

1)  Believers – – do you pray for skeptics?  How?

2)  Skeptics – – would this prayer offend you?  Would any?

Pascal – – 1:16

Dear Father,

I told a friend that I would pray this week for her brother who is severely ill.  He is an atheist.  She doubts.  His sudden fall has sent waves through a family and community.  A middle aged man scaling a noble cliff fell suddenly.  His back is broken and he writhes in blinding pain.  Will he walk again or even live?  I don’t know him, but I love him.  We’re the same age.  I too have fallen before.  I too have been rebuilt.  But what if I hadn’t.  What if I never recovered the sentience to hear your whisper of presence and reassurance?  What if I never thanked those who loved me despite my far flung successes and foundational failures?

I believe that you made and gifted this man.  I believe that you used his gifts to enrich men whether he knew you or not.  I think his metal is like mine – – an alloy of base and precious.  I think his heart is like mine – – a dividing line between good and evil.  I think his family is like mine – – loving him, hurting deeply, hoping for a chance to reconnect perhaps reconcile.

What if he doesn’t wake up?  If he was right about you then he’ll live in the memories he constructed.  His family and his work will stand as a testament to what he built and how he built it.  If I am right about you let me beg you this – – when the veil is lifted, when the choice is clear – – then let him choose.  You know that my heart has grown for those who deny you and even for those who hate me for following Christ.  We know it is illogical to hate the non-existent.  But it does make sense to hate Christ followers – – especially if they have hurt others by twisting your words or following a broad rather than narrow path.  I’ve done that.

I haven’t met this man, but I love him.  Please bring him back to the family that needs him.  I suspect that he has much to say and that they are needful of hearing it.  Please especially strengthen his sister – – my friend.  She thought, perhaps thinks, that she shares his atheism.  Comfort without you is thin.  Please comfort her.  I’m not sure what my good friend her husband thinks.  He is so hopeful that science will soothe the sting of death.  In my work with the dying I knew he was wrong.  I sit with families facing death from different perspectives – – four this week alone.  It is different.

I’m not asking for a deathbed conversion for a mind that may grasp nothing.  I do not understand completely how you will save all men through the work of Christ, but I know that you will.  And if this man lives to die another day please let me meet him and offer my admiration and compassion in person.

Love,

Pascal

12 comments

  1. Thank you, friend. I am not offended by this prayer, although I do think there are prayers that might offend me—this was true even when my faith was strong. Your prayers were comforting, even though I didn’t have the benefit of knowing the words you assigned to them during that week. I knew you were praying, and I trust your heart. That was enough.

    My brother did live, as you know, and that wasn’t even the most incredible part of that week. I’m working on my follow-up post, but I’m having such a hard time organizing it. So far I have 8,000 words—cutting it down to around 1,500 is proving challenging. So much to say, and it’s too big for my vocabulary.

    Thank you so much for this, and for being a brother to me when my brothers couldn’t or wouldn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I regularly have believers tell me they are praying for me, and my response is usually quite simply, “I appreciate your kind thoughts.”–because I do. Does it bother me that people pray for me? No. I understand that this is your way of processing information, sorting out emotions, and/or trying to help. I don’t view prayer as being any more effective than if you were offering to sacrifice a chicken on my behalf, but if you are wanting the best for me, I can appreciate the thoughts. You seem to have a tremendous amount of love for people, and I can respect that

    The one thing I take issue with is the line, “Comfort without you is thin.” First, even if this were true, comfort does not necessitate truth. There may be many beliefs which are more comfortable than reality, but they are still false. Second, atheism can actually provide a great deal of comfort in situations like these. Without God, there is no need to beg; there is no need to be angry; there is no need to question ‘why?’ Death is perhaps the most natural part of life. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always pretty, but there is comfort in knowing that it is a simple part of existence.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for writing with us here. I respect and am starting to better understand your viewpoint. You are, of course, right. Comfort without you is thin were my words to my father. There are indeed different paths to comfort. Death ends or begins life depending on your perspective. I am the greediest of men, loving life too much to see it end. That could be my greatest denial. Truthfully – – your comment embodies what I had hoped for the blog – – an invitation to smart, respectful people with different perspectives – – opponents worthy of argument. Not enemies.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think we’re all greedy in that sense. It’s bad enough to think that someday the party is going to end, but it’s even worse when we realize that the party is still going on… we just have to leave. To me, atheism is just another reason to cherish and make the most of every moment I have here, for the moments are all I have.

        Great objective for the blog though. I know it’s an intense and impassioned subject for many people, but I’ve never understood why there can’t be more honest and open discourse among people with differing (or no) religious views.

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  3. For me, the situation, intent, and sayer of prayers has a lot to do with how I feel about them. On the one hand, I recognize that praying is how many believers show they care. Many times, it is one of the only conduits available for the feelings one is dealing with.

    I have heard and been the receiver of prayers that were condescending and selfish. I have heard prayers that are heartfelt and well-intentioned. When praying for others, I think it is vital to consider what that person would think about it.

    Regardless, I’m relieved to hear that J’s brother is still with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your care for J’s brother. I think that you would enjoy meeting J in person. As to your perspective on prayer, thank you. As a follower of Christ I am instructed to pray personally and not publically – – more like a conversation on a run or a letter in a journal. I hope that I didn’t break the intent of that directive by sharing my words here – – I don’t think so.

      I hear you say that it depends if the person actually loves you to discern whether they are sincere or only preaching in disguise. If that is indeed your view, then I couldn’t agree more. Again – – thank you for giving me a second chance. I really like to converse with a book addicted home-schooling Mom. (All of those are compliments in my world).

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I love this post and I connect with you on many points. To answer the question you pose, I pray for non-believers by asking for God’s Will in their lives, as I pray the same for believers. I also, pray they have the same kind of face-to-face encounter with Jesus that transformed me from unbeliever to believer. In the book of Job it says that God allows evil so we will turn back to him. I hope what has happened to your friend’s brother has that desired affect.

    I also, have experienced the change in me that comes from praying for others. It is in agonizingly, praying for some very dear nonbelievers and not-sure-believers that created the capacity for understanding that causes me to consider the ‘all men’ portion of God’s plan. He changed my desire to be like His desire, “that none should perish”. I know God is able to fulfill His desires and I don’t think He’ll surrender any of His Creation to Satan. He’ll redeem it all. I do have a scriptural understanding of how He will accomplish it but I’m not a theologian. I’m just a grandma who loves Jesus. No one will be changed by my understanding of God’s plan but if Jesus reveals Himself to them, they will be transformed, as I am being transformed.

    Bless you for writing this post. It was nice to wake up to.

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    1. Pam — welcome. You wrote something that resonates well with me. No one may be changed by your understanding, but you are. I’m with you in not understanding the hows but having a deeper appreciation of how much God loves all people, and how that should affect my action.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. As a believer, I often pray for non-believers as well as believers – friends, people I run across on the internet, etc – but I rarely say that I am praying because I think that may sound patronising or be offensive. I ask that God would make himself and his love clearer to them and that he would show me how to be more loving and sensitive.

    Like others, I really appreciated this post and the feelings that were behind it.

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    1. unkleE – – thank you for this reply. Yes – – rarely announce the prayer, but commonly offer it to the God you serve for the people you love. That’s right.

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  6. There are three basic categories of people in the world, Christian believers, those who definitely do not believe, and those who are unsure.

    Generally a Christian who prays for a non-believer is making a loving sacrifice of sorts in a hope to bring a benefit to that person (I am ignoring Paul’s comment in Romans 12:20). If one has a long prayer list it can be an effort at times to pray for people in a concerted way.

    The atheist response can be either, I don’t mind, but I don’t see it will have any effect, as per Jon Darby’s approach. But then there is a second category of atheist who sees religion as harmful and might resent such a prayer.

    Finally I come to the third category, the unsure. Such people would generally welcome prayer as what they really want is their uncertainty removed. If there is an all powerful God then surely it is better to have that God on your side, rather than against you. Of course if there is no God then we come back to the Jon Darby scenario it makes no difference.

    Since I have struggled with my own crumbling faith and doubt that there s any God there, I have still welcomed the prayers of those who are concerned to pray.

    I would like to think that the prayer offered by believers for non-believers to be a act of gracious love and care. Of course the big issue is ‘does it have any effect?’ – if we only we really knew.

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