It is good to see that Heather Mac Donald is still raising good questions about God. She raises good questions about petitionary prayer. (three other types of prayer are thanksgiving, contrition, and adoration). She says she would “really” like to know why God wills a cure for one cancer victim and allows another to die — is it their moral “worthiness” that makes the difference? And do scores of people praying for the same thing work better than one person’s prayer — and is God so inattentive that people need to trick Him into noticing?
Two comments: Reflection will show Heather that she is imagining God as if God were a sort of ghostly human being; her image is roughly that of the Roman gods of antiquity, behaving like humans. A literalism, an antropomorphism that all serious believers have rejected at least since the days of Abraham.
Second, if Heather “really” wanted to know, she would look up some good books on prayer, on which there are thousands.
She might also begin with a slow, meditative reading of the Book of Job, to see how little “moral worthiness” counts in the sufferings (or the relief thereof) that humans endure. God’s ways are his ways, not ours. Everything that happens –everything, good and bad — springs from his will. That is why the great classic prayer of all the prophets and saints, and of Jesus, as of Mary, is (in one form or another) “Thy will be done.” We petition, but we also bow before the inscutable will of God.
There is so much beauty and goodness and reason in the world as it is that we sense that God is good, acutely aware of beauty, reasonable (though by standards not measured by our reason) — and kindly disposed toward his creation. We sense this by reason alone. (Even Heather believes that the laws of historical process are essentially benign, for that is why she has such a hopeful view of human progress, especially through science). This instinct of ours is confirmed by the self-disclosure God makes, to the Jewish people first, and it is in a way picked up by and carried worldwide by Christians. “A kindly Providence,” George Washington called it. Washington had much experience both of how harsh and how blessedly benevolent the “inscrutable” judgments of God could be. And so did Lincoln. And so does Heather, but without recognizing it as such.
I do wish our atheist brothers and sisters would learn a little more than they now know about the profound and thoughtful sorts of believers that surround them, by the millions. Otherwise, they cut themselves off from many vital sources of human sympathy, and fail to be sufficiently skeptical about their own unexamined ideas — about religion, for starters.I suspect that Heather will keep asking questions, and for a long time — for all time.