Midweek Musing 9/7/23 - Why Doesn't It Work?
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Matthew 18:19-20 (NIV)
The text above has so many concepts and ideas and meanings that can be expounded upon. These words are a splendid example of how deep and rich the Biblical texts are and why study is so important in the walk of faith. Sadly, sometimes without this study and only a twisted surface glance this text which should be one that offers hope has been used as both weapons by both non-believers and believers. One way that has occurred is by mocking believers in God because prayers are not answered on demand. Of course, this same mocking can occur between Christian groups claiming one group is true believers and others are not when a prayer is or is not answered. Alas, there are also many other ways this text has been misused to hurt others. However, that is not the point of this musing so I will stop.
As I said there is certainly a lot going on here and there are numerous critiques that have been made by scholars as they study the passage and consider its theological impact.
However, perhaps my favorite thoughts about this text and response to folks who say God is not real or has abandoned our generation is the recognition that while we as humans want immediate answers to requests that often God takes the long view.
In fact, often only with hindsight can we see that God answers prayers and does so more wonderfully that we might ever imagine.
There is a wonderful illustration shared by Anglican Priest Janice B. Scott which beautifully illustrates this idea.
Why Doesn't It Work?
By Janice B. Scott
They were huddled together leaning against straw stacks in a corner of the old barn, where they wouldn't be disturbed. They each had their eyes tightly shut, and were keeping their hands held firmly together.
"Please, God," prayed Ruth, "give us a dog of our very own."
Her sister and brother nodded in fervent agreement. "Yes, God, please," added Tim, for good measure.
Amanda thought she'd better say something too, in case God thought she wasn't part of it. "I want one too, God," she said.
Then they opened their eyes and looked at one another.
Tim glanced around the barn. "I can't see one yet," he said.
"Stupid!" scolded Ruth, who was the oldest and therefore more sensible than the other two. "You've got to give him a chance. Even God can't produce dogs out of the sky, you know. But it's my birthday next week. I expect he'll make sure I get a puppy, but it'll be for all three of us, not just for me."
Amanda gazed at her with shining eyes. "I can't wait," she said gleefully.
All three of them were up early on Ruth's birthday. They listened carefully for tell-tale sounds of whining, or perhaps a squeaky, puppy bark. But they couldn't hear anything. "Never mind," consoled Ruth. "I expect Mum and Dad have hidden it. Perhaps it's in the barn, or perhaps they've left it with Granny."
But when Mum and Dad got up, they gave Ruth a new bike for her birthday. She was very excited by it but kept looking round for the puppy. In the end, Tim couldn't bear it any longer. "Where's Ruth's new puppy?" he demanded.
Mum and Dad looked at each other. Then Dad squatted down to Tim's level and said gently, "Sorry, son, we did tell you all months ago when you were on about a dog. We can't have one. It would be too much of a tie."
All three children stared at him incredulously. "You mean - you mean there isn't a puppy?" asked Amanda.
"'Fraid not," said Dad. "You've got hamsters and a cat and a gerbil. We just can't manage a dog as well. Forget about a dog, it isn't going to happen." Later that day the children gathered in their favorite spot in the barn. "We didn't do anything wrong, did we Ruth?" asked Amanda anxiously. "I closed my eyes ever so tight, and I put my hands together."
"And there were three of us, that's just the right number it says in the Bible," added Tim. "'If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.' That's what it says in the Bible."
Ruth nodded miserably. "I guess it just doesn't work," she admitted. "It's like lots of grown-up things. It just doesn't happen like they say it will." But they gradually forgot their disappointment when they discovered Mum had arranged a surprise birthday party for Ruth, and lots of friends came bringing birthday presents with them.
Years later, when Ruth was nearly grown up, the old lady who lived a few doors away rang her to ask whether Ruth could walk her dog. "I'm too old to walk much now," she said, "but Mischief still needs his exercise."
Ruth, Tim, and Amanda walked the dog every day after that and became great friends with the old lady through Mischief. When the old lady died, they took the dog home and Mischief became part of the family. Ruth enjoyed the dog so much that she went off to college to train as a veterinary assistant.
"Do you remember, Tim," asked Amanda one day, "that time we prayed in the old barn? We thought the prayer didn't work, but now I'm not so sure. If we'd had a dog, then perhaps we'd have grown bored with it. Now we're older, we've all really enjoyed Mischief. And we got to know old Mrs. Robinson, and she was really sweet. Perhaps it all turned out for the best, after all."
Tim nodded thoughtfully. "Isn't there somewhere in the Bible which says, 'No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.'? Perhaps when you ask something of God it does happen, but almost never in the way you expect. Perhaps we just need to learn to look out for God's answers, because they're different to our expectations."
And after that, Amanda, Tim, and Ruth were all very careful about their prayers, for they knew that somehow, somewhere, sometime, their prayers would surely be answered.
The long view. May those with ears hear.
Have a blessed week.