Atheist Parables: Recognizing God's Help

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.

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Comment by Strega on August 27, 2013 at 2:29pm

You remind me of the story where a man falls over a cliff and grabs a branch on the way down from a tree growing out of a cleft in the cliff.  He cries for help, calling "Is anyone up there?"

A voice comes down to him, saying "Yes, it is me, Jesus!  I will save you!  Just let go of the branch and a big hand will materialise and catch you, lowering you gently to the ground"

A moment of silence ensues.  Then the man calls out

"Is there anybody else up there?"

Comment by Aiken Drums Sister on August 27, 2013 at 11:50pm

Here's my best friend's story:

36 year-old father discovers he has a brain tumor, very big and in an area that can't be operated on.  I should have noticed all those Petite Mal seizures when we lived together in college.  Now they're full-on debilitating-for-the-whole-day seizures.  The first docs say this type won't respond to chemo or radiation... just get ready to die in a few years.  Thanks for playing.

Guy's mom says "Oh, Lawd, I'll get the Bishop to come around and pray upon your noggin", and she does and he does.  The guy himself is in dire straights and will do anything, including Eastern potions, Western crystals, oddball prayers, goofball herbs, wishful thinking, and finally distraught crying.  

Three years pass and nothing works, but everything has gets worse.  On the plus side, he gets married so he could keep his health insurance through the new wife when he has to quit working soon (and they really loved each other, but they hadn't planned on that being the reason or the urgency for their marriage.)  He sees something about a doctor in Houston who's had some success with tumors just like his... a novel combination of invasive brain surgery, and aggressive chemo and radio done at the same time.  He makes a call.

He goes to Houston for a screening later that week, then goes down again the next month with the wife, and folks, and friends and has his noggin tapped open and his brains... sculpted... that's really the only word.  The surgeon knew his medium, my friend's brain, and knew where and what to cut, and did it all with microscopes and microtools and micro-everything.  A brain tumor is not a smooth, spherical marble.  His was a golfball-sized mass with long Kushball tentacles that stretched into many parts of his brain, including his optic lobe.  This surgery might get rid of the cancer but it might leave him blind.  That's what was at stake if everything went well.  It was brain surgery so the real stakes were, basically, getting off the table at all.

He did get up off that table.  He called me the next day, a little goofy, but he insists it was me being goofy because I was crying.  He's probably wrong about that, you know, 'cuz he has a hole in his brain.  He got out of that surgery 5 years ago and had a few seizures until they finagled his meds to the right combo.  He hasn't had a seizure in 3+ years, he's able to drive again, he's able to be take care of his kid alone again, he's able to work again.  In the last 3 years, they haven't found any traces of cancerous material on the MRIs.

My friend's mom has the stupidity to say: "Praise the lord for such a great healing!!".  My friend said "Shut the fuck up mom, it was doctors and science and if god had anything to do with this I wouldn't have had a fucking tumor would I!!!!.

It's been a boon to our friendship because we can blame the hole in his brain for when he does or says the most inappropriate stuff.  Or he talks me into inappropriate stuff.  It's almost like being in high school again, which ain't bad for 47.  We can afford to be ridiculous now.

Comment by Physeter on August 28, 2013 at 1:16pm

Thanks for sharing Aiken, I love that story too. So happy to hear he came out all right, and also interesting that he doesn't blame a god who did nothing for his scientific recovery.

Comment by Strega on August 28, 2013 at 1:43pm

Spiritual Cat

When the spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. So the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice. Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up. Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.


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