Some prayers were answered this week. The Women’s Marches were successful, peaceful, powerful, and beautiful… and despite what our president may say, they were huge. Prayers are being answered. And because of this, we find ourselves in a theological quandary. Bear with me – you may not see the quandary. The problem is, when things go well, we will feel that we have already accomplished something. When our prayers are answered, then tomorrow we will forget to pray. When we feel the swelling gratitude from being part of a joyful crowd, we may sit back and take a break from calling our senators.
Here is a tale that is passed around as an old Jewish riddle. Its origins are dubious, but its claim is spot-on.
“Do you believe,” the disciple asked the rabbi, “that G-d created everything for a purpose?”
“I do,” replied the rabbi.
“Well,” asked the disciple, “why did G-d create atheists?”
The rabbi said: “For their acts of kindness. Because when an atheist sees a person suffering, he doesn’t say,
‘G-d runs the universe. G-d will take care. G-d knows what is best.’ He does everything in his power to relieve that suffering as though there is no G-d. So too, when you see a person suffering, you should become an atheist in G-d’s name.”
After a few weeks of saying a quick prayer every time my phone pinged me with an “emergency blood shortage” notice, I finally made an appointment (in the middle of a Tuesday – how utterly inconvenient) to send my precious A-negative blood to people in need. Because prayers won’t cut it for those who need transfusions.
What can we do to answer our prayers? In this new era of American politics, we need to pray hard, and we also need to put boots on the ground. The next few years may – for example – find us protecting the water at Standing Rock, charitably funding programs whose governmental funding has been withdrawn, and calling our legislators with increasing frequency as the laws of the land get changed. I’ll be leading a “Women’s Coffee and Conversation” in a few weeks on the questions of what we do next, and both Ben and I will have these questions in our minds as we preach. Let us prepare to become the answer to our prayers, even as we turn to God for guidance and strength.