Jul 28, 2008

Small Miracles?

I'm not one to get my wisdom from cartoon TV shows on Prime Time, but something interesting was said last night on a repeat of American Dad (a show which I loathe, but without internet at home, I needed background noise). The episode was about the Dad being frustrated with a friend of his who had everything in common with him, except that this friend was an athiest. The Dad goes to all lengths to try and drive his friend to believe in G-d, eventually driving him to suicide, which fails. The friend ends up in the hospital and the Dad prays to G-d that if the friend should live, he'll accept him no matter what he believes. Just then, the friend wakes up and tells how G-d kicked him down to Hell where he sold his soul to Satan to return to earth.

Somewhere, I forget precisely where, in the episode, someone tells the Dad that G-d doesn't work like a vending machine. You don't put in a couple prayers and get something immediate in return.

This, as I've mentioned before, is my philosophy on small "miracles" and chances of random luck: avoiding getting a speeding ticket, a squirrel getting out of the street before you hit it, getting the right numbers in the lottery, running into the right person at the right time. These things, to me, are the wrong kinds of things we pray for and thus attribute immediately to G-d when they happen to work out. It's like reading your horoscope and mysteriously you find some way to make it fit into the way your day or week is going.

Maybe it's because of my "Christian" background, where if you wanted something you simply said a prayer and hoped for the best. I'd pray for a new toy or for so-and-so to ask me out or to get an A on a test I'd already taken, like somehow G-d could magically change the grade just because of my prayer.

As I've blogged about before, prayer isn't meant when we're asking for things. Prayer is meant for bigger things -- strength, healing, understanding, etc. G-d isn't a vending machine, and we can't plug quarters in and expect or even hope for a bag o' chips.

Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, or mend a broken bridge, or rebuild a ruined city; but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will. -- Gates of Prayer (Siddur)


Christopher said...

We Christians aren't supposed to do the 'vending machine' thing either. In fact... well, I don't know what the exact use of the rest of the Christian Old Testament is within Judaism, but wasn't Solomon's prayer a good counter to this approach? It was our first reading last Sunday...

from 1 Kings:

In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, "Ask something of me and I will give it to you."
Solomon answered: "You have shown great favor to your servant, my father David, because he behaved faithfully toward you, with justice and an upright heart; and you have continued this great favor toward him, even today, seating a son of his on his throne.
O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act.
I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted.
Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?"
The LORD was pleased that Solomon made this request.
So God said to him: "Because you have asked for this--not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right--
I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you.

...Because you have asked for this--not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right--I do as you requested.

I figure sometimes the good Lord does grant an A on a test, or a squirrel's safe passage across the street, or a new toy, or a new job. But that's probably just a way of getting somebody's attention... bigger things as they come, and He knows what he's doing, no? Children may pray childish prayers, but hopefully the grown-ups learn more and grow in their faithfulness to God. "Thy will be done", after all, is what our Gospels teach us to say--not "can I please have a...".

Just my own perspective, of course. ( :

Peace to you, my friend,


chaviva said...

Ahh! Christopher! That is absolutely brilliant. I was unfamiliar with that passage, but it so hits on what I meant. Thank you for posting it :)

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