Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Strange Prayer

For a long time now, a close friend of mine has been content to call himself agnostic. We don’t talk about it often, but we did a couple weeks ago. I had a long conversation with him via Facebook, going back and forth on various things. Nothing seemed to sink in: It seemed as though we ended the conversation in roughly the exact same place we had started it: firmly planted in agnosticism.
“That’s a dangerous valley you’re in, dude,” I told him.
“Well, that depends on who’s right,” he said. “But I understand what you mean.”
Then he said he had to go and thanked me for the talk. I told him I’d pray for him, and he said he appreciated it.
But I’m not so sure he would still appreciate it, if he knew what I had prayed for.
Later that day, I found myself  hunched over my steering wheel in a Bank of America parking lot, praying that God would give my friend notpeace, but an unsettling, uneasy, frantic desire for truth. I’d never prayed for something like that before (except for myself). I’d never prayed for someone to become less calm, to be more unsure about things.
I’d never thought about it before, but I think the prayer stuck me as so unusual because we tend to see “comfort” as something that’s always good, and nervousness and anxiety as something that’s always bad. “Don’t worry, be happy,” says the secular world, and Paul tells us, “Don’t be anxious about anything, but with prayer and thanksgiving bring your requests to God.”
The world tells us not to worry because worrying doesn’t really help much. It reflects a certain Ecclesiastical fatalism: Everything might not work out alright, but worrying won’t help it, so we might as well be happy. This may well be the best answer the world has, but it’s still not a good answer. But the Church tells us not to worry because of who and where we are, as Christians.
As Christians, worry over our outward circumstances betrays a fundamental misunderstanding concerning who and where we are.  We are Christians; we are, in a very real sense, in Christ, and our position in Christ is so completely and utterly secure that Paul can go on at length over the many and various things that can never separate us from the love of God, including all of creation visible and invisible, natural and supernatural.
The same cannot be said for the non-Christian. The same cannot be said for the one hedging towards agnosticism. And indeed, it seems to me that agnosticism is infinitely more dangerous for the subject that even outright atheism.
This is because an outright atheist is, in many important ways, closer to Christianity than an agnostic. Atheism is, at least, an active position. It requires an active affirmation of certain beliefs, a certain intellectual engagement with those beliefs. The atheist at least believes that the existence or non-existence of God is an important subject, one worth thinking about and arguing over.
Not so for the agnostic. The agnostic (at least, this particular agnostic) simply doesn’t care all that much. Atheism has points in its favor, as does Christianity: Further research into the matter may yield more information, but who has the time? The agnostic simply doesn’t care enough about the matter, can’t be bothered to think seriously about it. He is settled and at peace.
And so I prayed in the bank parking lot. I prayed not for peace on earth, but for unrest and discord in the mind and soul of my friend. I prayed for God to make him restless, uncertain, even frightened of his position. I prayed that he would care so much that it would drive all other concerns out of his mind. Only then, I think, will he be able to once again seek God and find Him.

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