Soaking in Prayer

My in-laws have a list blu-tacked to the tap end of their bath, a prayer list, which I admit I’ve read every time I’ve stayed and bathed in the last 25 years. In that time, I’ve prayed for family, their friends, ministers, people I don’t know, and – after our first visit to Durban 11 years ago – the Indlela Children’s Village.

Our family first met Joan and Tich Smith – founders of what would be Lungisisa Indlela Village (LIV) – on a two week mission trip in 2006.  There was no village back then, just a big vision and a few sketchy plans.  Building only began in 2009 when Joan and Tich secured 83 acres; seven years after they’d begun feeding children in Amaoti, one of our larger informal settlements.  As Soul Action prepares to establish an affordable, excellent, integrated and multi-sensory school, we  look at Joan and Tich’s example, and are reassured that it takes time to birth anything out of the ordinary and exceptional.  With another 120ha for two more villages nearby – and plans for our four other Provinces – 154 children currently benefit from state of the art facilities at LIV.

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Why do bad things happen to good people?

In the same week as the bombing in Manchester (UK), the community around LIV were protesting about the lack of employment of non-locals.  Similar protests have happened at housing developments and shopping malls near to our home.  Like thousands ‘praying’ in reply to LIVs Facebook posts, I prayed i) protesters would be pushed back, ii) that damage to property would be minimal, and iii) children / mums would be protected.

With atrocities the world over seemingly increasing, and the UK reeling from recent attacks in London, one can’t help wondering why an all-powerful, all-knowing, good God, would choose to create a world where so much evil appears to be ‘allowed’ to exist.

To an extent, I have found some solace in Alvin Plantinga’s explanation of evil’s existence as a consequence of God’s choice to allow us free will:

‘As it turns out, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil’ (1974:22)

Do we pray expecting divine intervention?

As a boy, I loved 80’s TV series like the A TEAM; how – whenever their pursuit of justice got them into bother – an escape plan would miraculously come together based on what ‘happened’ to be at hand.  Similarly, just when you think the writers of Greek tragedies are in a corner, they will lower a ‘god from the machine’ or deus ex machina onto stage to literarily ‘save the day’!

Although the protesters broke through LIV’s entrance, they stopped short of the mums and children.  I’d like to think it was divine intervention.  If so, why didn’t God stop the UK attacks? Christians in bomb disposal or counter terrorism must pray – surely?  Burnyeat argues:

‘God cannot – logically cannot – both leave [people] free to decide their own actions and bring it about that all their actions are good rather than evil’ (1984:420).

So, do we pray expecting divine inspiration?

Rather than relinquish free will, at times, prayer acts more like a request for inspiration from the ‘author of life’ (Acts 3:15), who doesn’t take over, but empowers us to pursue ‘the highest good’ (see Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, Kant, et al).  Manchester responded to evil with acts of bravery, faith-based solidarity, jobs, etc.  Whilst LIV “heard the genuine cries of our community” and Tich was filled, “…with even more love for them.”

God’s love endures, forgives, honours, hopes, is kind, patient, rejoices in truth, trusts, isn’t angered easily, boastful, envious, proud or self-centred (1 Cor 13:4ff).  God’s love ‘doesn’t delight in evil’ either, but in order to be free to ‘choose’ the highest good, we also have to be free to ‘choose’ the worst.  As I set out on my brief foray of free will, I never imagined that evil might actually prove God’s love:

knowing what could possibly go wrong, God still chooses to create us with freedom of choice.  Rather than control us, God chooses to empower us for good.  Now, that is true love!

Whatever ‘corner’ of the world you find yourself in, pray God would bring out His best as you love Him, yourself and others.