Monthly Archives: May 2015

Thoughts on Answers to Prayers

I’ve had two recent events that got me thinking about prayers and answers to them. One of them was a conversation over lunch on my last day at Space Access. I can’t remember all at the table, but at one point someone brought up the concept of prayers and that he felt he had had some of his answered over the years. One of the other gentlemen at the table mentioned that as humans subject to confirmation bias, we tend to remember events which reinforce our beliefs, and forget those that don’t, and that if you pray for help in various situations that you’re more likely to remember the times when the thing you asked for happened, and forget the times when the thing you asked for didn’t happen. More recently, a recent twitter friend of mine, who is a fervent atheist made the claim that 90% of surveyed scientists do not believe that prayers get answered, as though that was an indication that faith was somehow unscientific. He also claimed that faith is belief in something without proof or evidence.

As for me, I have no doubt that I’ve received answers to my prayers–not just when I asked for something I wanted and got it, but literal answers sometimes. Some of the answered prayers were semi-miraculous, where I can’t think of a legitimate scientific explanation for what happened.

Like when we had our garden in Loveland protected from a hailstorm as a child after my mother had us pray for help. The prophet had told us we ought to plant gardens if we could. We had done so, and now a massive hail storm was coming, so my mom gathered us children around, and we said a prayer telling God that we had done what he had asked and that we needed his help to protect those crops. The hailstorm came, and while there was so much hail that it had looked like it snowed in our backyard, and while most of the trees in the neighborhood took severe damage, almost no hailstones fell on our garden plants. The walkways between the raised berms in the garden were deep with pebble-sized hailstones, but the plants weren’t harmed, and in fact we had the best harvest from that year’s garden that we ever had in my childhood memory. I don’t know of a realistic scientific explanation for how hail would fall inch deep in the paths and in the yard, but wouldn’t touch the four raised beds of the garden.

Or on my mission in the Philippines, I had several experiences (at least one in Bolinao and at least one in Binmaley) where we needed to find someone in a part of town I had never been to, and didn’t have a map for. We had prayed for help, and I saw a map in my mind, clearly marked showing where the person was. We’d go to that place, find roads exactly where I had seen them, and find the person there exactly where I had thought. In some cases, when I later found a map of the area, some of these roads weren’t even shown on the maps. How do you scientifically explain seeing a vision in your mind of a map of an area you’ve never been in, that accurately predicts exactly where the person was?

The weird thing though was that of these more tangible answers to prayer, where I can’t think of a legitimate scientific way to explain away the answer, most of these events weren’t actually that spiritually consequential. The 2-3 times I saw the map in my mind’s eye never led to teaching someone who accepted the gospel, in fact in both instances we met with the person and they weren’t interested and we never came back. The only one of these tangible answers to prayer that seemed to have any spiritual significance to me at all was the incident described above with the hailstorm in Loveland, and that’s probably because we were asking God in faith to protect something we felt he had asked us to do through the prophet.

On the other hand, many of the most meaningful answers to prayers that I’ve received have been ones that a scoffer or skeptic could easily brush off as some sort of delusion or wishful thinking–times when I felt that God had literally answered my question I had been trying to get an answer for. I remember my freshman year at BYU praying to know if the Book of Mormon was true. I had been raised in the Church, but had plenty of doubts, and many of my internet friends I had made that year were also agnostic or atheistic. It would’ve been rather convenient at the time had I not received an answer. But if you’re ever with me on BYU campus, I can show you where I got my answer. It wasn’t some glorious vision or tangible miracle–I just felt a voice tell me “You know it’s true. You’ve always known it’s true. Wherefore can you doubt?” This happened in a busy hallway in the Eyring Science Center in between classes. There was no audible voice that anyone else heard, but I knew my prayers had been answered, and I had no excuse for further doubt. And really there’s never been any going back for me. But a skeptic could easily claim that I had dreamed this up or imagined it.

Why is it that my experiences that a skeptic who had experienced them would have the hardest time brushing off weren’t usually that meaningful to me, while the ones that could be easily brushed-off were the most life-changing ones? I don’t know. But I know my prayers have on many occasions been answered. I know it, and I’d be dishonest to myself and the evidences I’ve seen to claim otherwise.


Filed under LDS Mission, LDS Philosophy

Service and the Atonement

If you ask an LDS church member to name a scripture related to serving others, one of the ones you’ll likely here the most is from the Book of Mormon, specifically Mosiah 2:17, which states:

And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.

In some ways this parallels the Savior’s teaching in the New Testament, in Matthew 25:31-46 (specifically verse 40), which in the KJV states:

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

I think it’s easy for us to take these verses metaphorically. That serving our fellow beings is furthering God’s goals. Or that doing something (good or ill) unto “the least of these our brethren” is like we’re doing it unto Christ. But what if these verses are less metaphorical than we think?

Isaiah, when he testified of the Messiah in Isaiah 53:4 (repeated by the prophet Abinadi in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 14:4) stated:

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.

And the Book of Mormon prophet, Alma, testified about Christ (in Alma 7:11-12), saying:

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people…and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

Basically, a lot of times we forget that in addition to the paying “for our sins”, and the “dieing and being resurrected so that we can live again” parts of the Atonement, Christ also somehow willingly experienced all of our pains, sorrows, frustrations, loneliness, guilt, shame, feelings of inadequacy, rejection, and in short all of the injustices and challenges we face in life. Not just those brought upon ourselves by our own poor decisions, but those that come as a result of living in mortality with imperfect bodies, and those caused by the carelessness or willful malice of others. Christ is able to understand us and empathize with us, not because he also had a rough life and bore griefs that were somewhat analogous to our own, but because he experienced the whole of human suffering as part of his Atoning sacrifice.

On the flip side, did he also experience all the small acts of kindness, and service, where people went out of their way to “lift up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees”? Did he experience the joy that the lonely feel when one reaches out to them to let them know they matter and are cared about? Did he feel the hope restored when we visit someone who is sick or in prison and cheered their hearts? Did he feel the relief of the overwhelmed when someone paused to share their burden with them? Did he feel the relief we feel when someone forgives us of our screwups and mistakes, or when someone shows us undeserved mercy?

I’m not sure how profound this really is, but it was an insight I had this morning that I felt was worth sharing. It definitely put the concept of service in a new light for me.


Filed under LDS Philosophy