Do you believe that God intervenes in the world?

I was asked a really good question on Twitter last night. It was this:

@thurible As the most knowledgeable and wise Christian I follow, can I ask you a question? Do you believe god intervenes in the world?

I gave a quick answer, but it might be worth my saying a bit more about it on here without the constraints of twitter’s 140 character limit.

Stepping with a blush over the comments about my own knowledgeability and wisdom, here’s the answer that I gave.

there does not seem to be much evidence of direct intervention…However, God does seem to affect the world through the activities of God’s people.

This led to the following question, which is also a good one:

@thurible so do you ever pray for healing or anything like that?

It seems to me to be obvious that God does not intervene in the way that atheists always want to mock Christians for believing in. After all, if God was in the business of rearranging the molecules in someone’s body to miraculously free them from cancer, for example, then surely God would go the whole hog and eliminate cancer itself in a puff of divine altruism?

Do I believe that God changes the world because I pray? – I don’t think that I do in the sense that I don’t think that God is helpless to act unless I add my prayers to the pile. That just doesn’t make much sense to me.

Yet, the answer to the question – “do I pray for healing?” is unequivical. Yes, of course I do.

So what is going on?

It seems to me that the business of prayer is part of being human. It seems to be part of the human experience to tell someone one cares about that one will be thinking about them at a particular moment or because of a particular sense of love or care. When I do that in a religious context, I’m holding that person in my mind in the presence of God. It matters to me to be able to do so and it clearly matters to other people (and they say it makes a difference to them) to know that I’ve done so.

Do I pray for magic? Do I cast a spell?

No, I don’t think so. I think I am simply holding that person, with the greatest of care, with the greatest of love that I can find within myself, in the light of Christ – the holiest, most thoughtful, most gentle mental place I know.

Now, Christians differ about these questions. Some people clearly do believe that God answers prayers in a more mechanical way than I believe. Some people want to leave themselves open to that possibility even if they don’t experience that every day.

It is a pity that we didn’t learn from being able to hold these fundamental differences about prayer amongst us that we could hold fundamental differences about sexuality amongst us. However, the days for doing that are probably over. The sexuality argument is now a battle royale in society and a winner takes all argument. Those opposed to LGBT rights seem to me to be daily losing the right to be thought to hold that view with any sense of compassion and public integrity. Once upon a time I would have said that we needed to learn to live together with our differences. Now though, I think it is probably the case that even that notion – that it is OK for me to support people in their negativity is as unacceptable in society as arguing that it is OK for people to be racist in private. It isn’t and I think we all know that.

However, I digress a litte. Back to prayer.

Do I believe in prayer. Yes I do.

Do I think that prayer is about me getting God to do things – well no I don’t.

Do I think I am changed by prayer – yes I do. Prayer may be about getting me to do things but more often it is about getting me to sit still.

Do I think the world is changed by God’s praying people – yes, again I do.



  1. Mark Chambers says

    I think this is probably the best way to think about prayer. When you say the world is affected by praying people, are you saying there is a link between prayer and improved behaviour or increased charity etc ?

    • Well, I guess if I think that I’m changed by prayer, I probably hope that it affects me for the better.

      I might even be prepared to say that unless prayer changes the person praying, it probably isn’t being done right at all.

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful piece.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly that prayer is about me being silent before God for a moment. Such a silence is so necessary in the midst of our busy lives and busy minds.

    But I do believe in healing – physical, emotional, and spiritual. I have no experience of physical healing but I have plenty of experience of the emotional kind. As someone who was left very angry and full of shame following an episode of abuse as a young child, I have certainly known God’s love wash away those feelings as I have been prayed for by friends.

  3. Ruth Richards-Hill says

    Before I ever ventured into the concept of prayers being answered, my journey took me to a place where I asked myself “who or what is this G-d I am communicating with?”

    My idea of g-d has nothing to do with an old man with a long beard sitting in the clouds looking down on us, but rather a positive spiritual consciousness that we are all connected to.

    When I pray I tap into this consciousness and often prayer, when used as a form of meditation, brings to me the answers I need, even sometimes realising that they are not rhe answers I want.

    Does g-d intervene? In my interpretation definitely yes. But not necessarily in the way we traditionally expect. Intervention from G-d in my life has always involved realisations as to how I should deal with the very personal things I pray about and for. I have often cleared my mind for prayer in Church and found unthought of solutions to my problems come rushing into the void.

    As for tangible interventions such as g-d curing cancer, I think we find ourselves dealing with similar spiritual issues such as destiny, freedom of choice and the like which become interwoven with our concept of prayer and its use and usefulness.

    I do believe prayer brings healing too, but I could write a blogpost of my own about that.

    The question is a huge one, and if we can accept that the answer we get is not always the one we’re seeking then the value of prayer becomes priceless, regardless of our religious/spiritual path.

    I dont comment often, but I couldnt resist replying, sorry for the long reply.

  4. Rosemary Hannah says

    What do we mean by ‘intervene’??

    Not perhaps a foolish question. Let me put it another way, or rather let me borrow from Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaiman the words they put in the mouth of their sorely tempted (to save the world) Christ figure, a small boy: ‘Seems to me, the only sensible thing is for people to know that it they kill a whale they’ve got a dead whale.’ I am fond of saying that God lets us run around barefoot in the snow until we see the good sense in wearing wellies in it. The only way the world works is if it has consequences.

    That said, I think there are ways he does intervene.

    As regards prejudice – I’m with Shaw and Pratchett on that too – thoughts are too powerful to be let to run into paths which corrupt and anything that stops us seeing the equal worth of the life and love of another is downright evil. While people are made miserable, or made to suffer consequences, because their skin is one or another colour, or they love their own gender, or anything else which stops us valuing the person before us, then we can never let such attitudes breed in ourselves, or go unchallenged when they pass before us, whatever the cost. This is a quite different thing from disagreeing on matters which are almost certainly so complex that we struggle to understand them almost as much as my dogs struggle to understand when happens when I to work, and how that links into the bowls of food which turn for breakfast each day.

  5. Mark Chambers says

    Far be it from me to say what is and isn’t god or to doubt your experience but it could be said that your example of intervention is a common result from any meditation, religious or otherwise.

    • Yes, that’s right.

      But that doesn’t prove a great deal either. It could simply show that God is with those who least suspect that God is with them. (Which would fit rather with some of the ways in which Christians do understand God).

  6. Just came across this…
    Lord, I do not presume to tell you what to do,
    or how and when to do it.
    I simply bring before you
    people who need your love,
    and needs which your grace alone can meet.
    Let love reign, O my God.
    Let grace avail.

  7. Rosemary Hannah says

    All the same, I do not wholly discount the possibility that God might have so structured things that he does actually need our help in praying for actual events (healing eg.)

    IF there IS ‘non-medical healing’ (and plenty of people believe in it) it would be just like God to so structure it that it is hard for him to do alone. He has, after all, structured justice that way, and absolutely enjoined us to join him in pursuing it. (FWIW, I believe that in the parable it is God who is the Importunate Widow).

  8. I’m inclined to agree.

    Panentheistic immanence implies God is already *in* (and, indeed, permeating through) the world so the idea of intervention becomes moot.

  9. Rosemary Hannah says

    I believe that above all God really really wants us to grow up, take responsibility and help in his work – I believe most things are set up to draw us into this.

  10. Rosemary Hannah says

    I like that Tim – I think that yes ‘intervention’ fails to grapple with immanence.

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