There’s a parable, or joke, told by Christians about a man who was caught in a flood. He’s standing on the roof of his house, and the water’s up to his knees as he prays to God for help.
Some people come by in a boat and offer to help him. He says, “That’s all right, the Lord will save me.” Soon the water is up to his waist. A second boat comes by and tells him to hop on, and he says, “No, the Lord will save me.” Presently the water is up to his chest, when a helicopter flies overhead with a ladder hanging down. He waves them off and says “I have faith, the Lord will save me.”
Before long he drowns. He asks why God didn’t answer his prayer, and God says, “Are you kidding? I sent two boats and a helicopter.”
This is a fairly stupid parable, I’m afraid, for two big reasons. I’m going to list the second one first.
The second reason is that when you presume God works this way, it gives you an easy path to blame people for their problems. I prayed for something and God didn’t help me? Well, shame on me then, you say! You tell me God must have sent help, but I just wasn’t looking, and if I prayed more humbly seeking God’s will instead of my own, the help would come.
The first reason is that no person who believes in God and prays to God would turn down a boat or a helicopter after asking for God’s help. In fact, it’s the opposite: once a man has prayed, he will take the boat as a sign from God and talk as though he were rescued by angels in a flaming, flying chariot instead of by human beings.
It happens like this:
Man is trapped in a flood, he cries out for God’s help. A man with a boat sees him, and though he’d be safer rowing like crazy for high ground, he stops to help the trapped man. When they reach safety, instead of thanking the boat man, the rescued man raises his hands to the heavens: “Thank you, Jesus!”
Man is driving too fast on slick roads when a child runs in front of his car. He cries out to God, slams on the brakes and steers. The antilock brake system, designed by humans trying to save other humans’ lives, engages and modulates the braking pressure. This means the man can steer while braking instead of going into an uncontrollable skid. The tires also have been specially designed—shaped by engineers through a thousand controlled experiments to get the best possible grip—and they manage to keep hold and steer the car clear of the child.
But now the car is headed for a tree. As the car hits the tree, the human-designed seat belt tightens up to keep the man from smashing his head into the windshield, or flying out of the car. The air bags—very expensive, sophisticated devices—sense the collision and deploy, further lessening injury. The crash-tested car body is designed (by humans) so that the front section crumples in a crash, absorbing the majority of the impact that would otherwise be transmitted into the passenger compartment.
These systems and a hundred others result in an unhit child and an unhurt man. The man gets out and says, “Thank you Jesus! It was a miracle!”
Man gets cancer and prays to God, then visits a doctor. The doctor spent eight years in medical school learning the human body inside and out, often denying herself fun and pleasure to concentrate on her studies. She practiced medicine for twenty years in spite of immense barriers. She kept up through patients who wouldn’t listen to her, patients who accused her of not caring, patients who made wild claims about their own illness that were not true. She’s known, over and over, the pain and hopelessness of the terminally ill patient; of looking someone’s father, brother, or little boy in the eye and knowing there’s nothing she can do to save them.
This time, she finds a treatment that works. The cancer completely disappears, and the man lives on. The man says, “Thank you, Jesus!” and donates half a million dollars—not to the hospital or the doctor or the underfunded laboratories which made his cure possible, but to his favorite church, which uses it to build a new gymnasium so they can better reach out to the youth.