"While You Were Out"

It's refreshing to read a commentary on prayer without an agenda.

Posted by John Ballard at July 16, 2005 11:02 AM

By God, I think you're on to something.

Midway through your article, I closed my eyes and said a little prayer of thanks and, as always, ended with "thy will be done."

Posted by Moneyrunner at July 16, 2005 12:35 PM

Welcome back, Mr. Van der Luen.

Wonderful piece here. You are bang on (little pun, o.k.?) with the artillery example, too. I've never been under a barrage, but I did end up under the muzzles of a howitzer battery one moonless overcast night in the Mojave. No blizzard of steel, thank goodness, but the flash/boom/concussion repeated from across a hundred meter front twelve or eighteen times was enough to scatter my patrol across several hundred meters of desert and fill more than a few sets of boxers.

I know that God answers prayer. He's answered a few of mine, and the "thy will be done" part is actually an elementary component of living well once you understand what it really means.

I don't submit. What should I submit to? I live for my higher power. Not enough of the "multiply" sometimes, but the "go forth" thing - that's a snap.

I agree: I think an omnipotent being with a predeliction for soaps would be bored stupid by a bunch of Not So Smart Monkeys trying to hasten their Eternal Reward by ignoring the Life part of eternity. Life is the one slice of eternity where everything you do can be new and interesting. I can't imagine the afterlife as having much in the way of challenge - immortality takes away that kick the living face every day the sun comes up.

That's not to say that eternal existence won't have it's own set of challenges and rewards. We're just not wired to comprehend what form they may take.

So Carp that Diem. Doubt that there is a Master of All Creation? Cool. One might have to have an extreme an experience as the barrage thing, like you said. I just look at the desert stars on a moonless night. Or start calculating Pi with my PC, and using higher and higher accuracies to perform calcs.

Pi is a ratio; it can never a perfect value. NEVER. But it works well enough for us to use it as a tool to better understand the world around us, and well enough for us to impose ephemeral change on some parts of it from time to time.

There's also kittens, the moment I first held each of my daughters, and the feel of salt on my face after a day's work... all sorts of things I can wonder at.

Thanks for reminding me, sir. Drop me a line next time you are heading to Moab.

Posted by TmjUtah at July 16, 2005 2:47 PM

What a great response and comment. I shall most certainly alert you the next time I'm going to Moab.

Posted by Gerard Van Der Leun at July 16, 2005 4:03 PM

Mr. Van der Leun:

Very good post, thank you for it.

On freewill and seeing the future, I like C.S. Lewis's idea: God sees human history like a mural, or the Bayeaux tapestry. It's all there at once for him, he sees it all simultaneously, and he's doing everything he does in this universe at the same time. We're the ones who see it as one thing after another.

And it's good to have you back, sir.

Posted by Stephen M. St. Onge at July 16, 2005 6:33 PM

I had this problem. After a sudden change in attitude a friend told me to pick my own conception of God, as I understood Him. I thought that it's impossible to understand God, even though I knew that's not what was being asked of me. Then a friend said he turned his will and life over to the care of God as he doesn't understand Him. That broke the mental logjam for me.

Sometime later another friend read the Summa Theologica and said Thomas Aquinas wrote the same thing, God is beyond our understanding. Yet when I pray daily and repeat something I heard some monks say during their prayers, The God Who is, Who was and always shall be, I have a sense of understanding.

Anyhow, through the years, I found He can't be manipulated, no is an answer and I'm alive and at peace by His Grace.

Posted by Dennis at July 16, 2005 7:46 PM

Wow...if this is an example of what you produce after a break, by all means take breaks. This is exceptional even by your normally exceptional standards.

God bless

Posted by Phillip at July 16, 2005 8:05 PM

Gerard, did you ever study process theology? I wrote a very basic outline here, and the Center for Process is an excellent resource.

Good essay - the efficacy (or not) of prayer is an important and vexing topic for many of us. Myself, I tend no longer to pray for outcomes but for conformity to Christ, come what may.

Posted by Donald Sensing at July 16, 2005 8:20 PM

God's not no special brief for Republicans, but He hates to see Democrats pontificate. It He liked that sort of thing ...

If you can fix those typos you'll have achieved semi-perfection.

Posted by stickler at July 16, 2005 9:34 PM

Good catch. Thank you very much. Copy editing always appreciated.

Posted by Gerard Van Der Leun at July 16, 2005 10:56 PM

Welcome back, Gerard. One of my favorite authors, Neal A. Maxwell, had interesting things to say about the various "omni's." If you're so inclined, feel free to visit the ol' blog.

I suppose the quotes I cite would be considered commentary with an agenda (Mormon, to be precise); hence my invitation rather than simply proselyting on your blog.

Missed ya, man. Glad you're back.

Posted by ccwbass at July 17, 2005 12:51 AM

". . . thank you for the miracle of creation and for letting me witness one more day of it, . . . "

Kind of like the Blue Angels on a cosmic scale. In their daily preflight briefings, each pilot prefaces his first remarks to the commanding officer with "Glad to be here, Boss!" in recognition of the extraordinary privilege they've been given.

Outstanding essay. Wecome back.

Posted by JCR at July 17, 2005 11:36 AM

God hears all our prayers.

It's just that sometimes the answer is "No".

Thanks for the essay, and thank everyone for not smoking.

Posted by David at July 17, 2005 7:07 PM

After a lapse of a few weeks...okay perhaps a month or a little longer, this morning I got down on my knees once again and thanked God for my life and another day. Asked for a bit of spiritual "go juice" and walked into this a few hours later. Prayer answered. Thank you my friend.

Posted by Brad at July 18, 2005 8:01 AM

What subtle humor, and gentle sarcasm.

Even Baha'is can laugh here, and THEY believe that "God Loves Laughter"

Posted by Carridine at July 19, 2005 6:33 PM

Reading your very profound post here reminded me of my not-so-serious post a few years ago along the same lines.

Love your stuff, Mr. Van Der Leun. Thanks much.

Posted by Cap'n Yoaz at July 20, 2005 8:48 AM

If we're going for the typos better change
"whip up some batter, let is bake, expand, and set"

Posted by Deborah at July 20, 2005 9:15 AM

Got it. Thanks.

Posted by Gerard Van Der Leun at July 20, 2005 9:55 AM

Proverbs 1:7

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Van Der Leun you write well, you're very imaginative too.

Posted by roj at November 1, 2005 10:11 AM


On completing his tract the philosopher purred,
"This treatise will alter the way that God thinks."
God heard, but demurred; then averred "That's absurd!
In fact I believe your philosophy stinks."

The philosopher bristled, "But this is unique.
The words travelled straight from my heart to my quill."
"You danced when I whistled." said God in a pique.
"Please learn to accept that your work is my will."

"If that is the case," said the sly slippery sage,
"For my 'odorous cojecture' you carry the blame
If you prompted the words that appeared on my page."
God grinned. "Yerrss, I know. But that's part of The Game"

Posted by Frank Pulley at April 4, 2008 5:35 PM

No, dear Gerard. Prayer is always answered, because every sincere prayer has a subtext: "Not my will but Thine be done."

Jesus Himself prayed to be spared the fate that awaited Him. If the Son of God was willing to put His life in His Father's hands, it couldn't have been a pointless thing.

If we ask humbly and sincerely for the right things -- moral courage, fortitude when in danger, perseverance at trial -- we always get what we ask for. But even our "mundane" prayers, for specific worldly benefits, are answered in some way. I think it's mostly our limitations as beings trapped in time that causes us to think otherwise.

Posted by Fetiche Nouvelle at April 4, 2008 6:08 PM

I don't call myself religious, and I doubt anyone who knows me even slightly would disagree. But I have my moments. Look at the first buds of spring, or a kitten, or a new baby, or look upwards into the night sky on a clear night when our pollution of even the sky doesn't show, and tell me that there is nothing else out there. If you tell me that, I will not believe even that you mean it.

That's all it takes. Look at the sky, for example, really look - and feel the foot-long needles tipped with liquid helium embed themselves in your brain. To use an analogy from the master of space opera, Doc Smith.

None of this, of course, means that He who runs everything from superstrings to superclusters is looking at what you're doing. Do you really want Him to?

Posted by Fletcher Christian at April 4, 2008 6:41 PM

"find a war, dig a hole, and sit in it under an artillery barrage for an hour or two."

Make that a minute or two.

Posted by Donald Sensing at April 4, 2008 7:08 PM

All prayers are answered, just not always in the way WE want or think they need to be.


Try thinking of prayer as YOU tuning your inner radio to God's signal, and not a phone call to God.

God is everywhere and aware of our every cell and thought.

It us who need prayer to tune into Him and His wishes fir us and each other.

God wants us to turn to Him and to embrace the path our soul needs to follow.


Posted by reliapundit at April 4, 2008 7:51 PM

You state, "Indeed, it has occurred to me, in my very dim monkey brain, that prayer can work even if God Himself does not exist. (Yes, He's just that clever.) Prayer seems to be a need hard-wired into our limited cortex. If you doubt this, please go out, find a war, dig a hole, and sit in it under an artillery barrage for an hour or two. Then come back to continue this discussion." So you've demonstrated that humans are afraid of death and will do silly things in response to such stress; including prayer and the delusion that there is a "being" that cares about them and their non-existent soul.

You state, "After all, if You were God and were going to create and run an entire universe, You wouldn't really want to be running around it all the time doing hands-on alterations on everything from quarks to galaxies. Micromanagement is boring and doing a bunch of handwork on the entire universe for all eternity can get old really quick. It's much better just to create a process that will essentially hunt and peck along for order across billions of years and, sooner or later, come up with a life form that can both apprehend You and make a hot-fudge sundae at the same time." I seem to remember, oh not that many decades ago, the vast majority of Christians taking a literal belief in the creation story. I see you've jetisoned that and are now adopting from science. So if I understand your view, the laws of science can explain the workings of the universe but you just think that a "God" is in there, somewhere in the background, pulling the strings so to speak?

Look, science can answer the "how"...at least to the extent that our limited brain power can figure things out. Science cannot address the "why." You insert a God to answer the why questions. That's fine but it is a belief with no evidence. Once you declare yourself a person of faith you are moving beyond rational discussion. Facts are no longer the determining factor; it is what you want it to be.

Posted by Barnabus at April 6, 2008 5:27 AM

"...science can answer the "how"...at least to the extent that our limited brain power can figure things out..."

science is simply our attempt at provisional and testable and rational exposition. the "how" has changed - and this is fine; this is how science works.

there is a realm of absolutes which transcends our poor ability to dissect or extract with logic.

the universe hasn't changed, but our understanding of it has; it was and remains imperfect and provisional.

what is right and true and good and just are immutable and eternal regardless of our imperfect abilities at knowing and doing what is right and true and good and just.

science cannot ever prove why it is better to be good than evil.

Posted by reliapundit at April 6, 2008 8:03 AM

I stand at the gate of the cosmos.

Is it in me to absolutely declare what is rational, and what is not, based on that which I am able to observe?

I think not.

I don't know much. But I know that what I don't know is probably more important than I could ever imagine. So I'll just move forward, and try to pay attention...

Posted by TmjUtah at April 6, 2008 9:38 AM

It's interesting when you repost these things to see the past comments.

I don't remember this essay from the first time around, so I may have missed it then, but thanks for reposting it.

Posted by Eric Blair at June 4, 2009 3:46 PM

God answers all prayers even if the answer is sometimes "no".

Sometimes the answer is in the appearance that there was no answer.

Posted by Nahanni at June 5, 2009 7:30 AM

"Free Will" means that God doesn't know what we will choose to do. He may know the alternatives and the consequences of them but the decision, and responsibility, is ours.

Posted by Ed Skinner at June 5, 2009 8:33 AM

Beautiful, thanks.

Posted by Doug at June 5, 2009 9:32 AM

'It would not be better if things happended to men just as they wish.
It is the struggle alone that pleases us. The art of living is in growing with troubles; we aquire the strength we have overcome.
Count not thyself to have found true peace, if thou hast felt no grief; nor that then all is well if thou has no adversity; nor that this is perfect, if all things fall out according to thy desire. The essense of man is discontent; devine discontent.

Every human being has, like Socrates, an attendant spirit, and wise are those who obey its signals. You do not have a soul, you are a soul.
Life is perhaps best regarded as a bad dream between two awakenings.
Know then tyself, presume not God to scan; the proper study of mankind is man.
Upon this tapestry that is God's experiment,
That which is excellent shall forever become part of the universe.'

Posted by james wilson at June 5, 2009 9:39 AM

"For me prayer is done best the old-fashion way: on knees, a hearty "How are you today, God, and thank you for the miracle of creation and for letting me witness one more day of it, and, oh, while we're at it...." and then I slip one in quick and move on to, "Thanks again for being God, Have a good one." And off it goes."

For me its more along the lines of Tevye walking down the road having an unending conversation with God in Fiddler on the Roof. That way's easier on the knees...

Great essay.

Posted by MZ at June 5, 2009 12:38 PM

I had a moment I now call an experience with the Holy Spirit, as in 'Veni Sancte Spiritus'. Two things stand out as clearly now as 11 years ago. I felt/heard/sensed a small 'snap'. There was no longer any separation of me and things. (This is impossible to describe, although I see it each time I try.) I felt an overwhelming Sacredness, and would have gone to my knees in the street had it not attracted attention. Simultaneously I thought, "If I was in Auschwitz, and was being beaten to death, it would not matter/would mean nothing compared to this Sacredness." So...good, and God, is greater than evil. Sure, it will still be painful. It is the mystery of Christ's suffering. "IHS"

Posted by Broadsword at June 5, 2009 5:21 PM

Dear GvdL:

You state: "The Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrate that, to date, our record keeping is spotty and our storage methods poor."

Here's the thing-- take the Book of Isaiah: the oldest extant copy before the Dead Sea discoveries were from the Middle Ages; between then and the scrolls 1500 years before, no significant errors, omission or changes had crept into the text.

That tells you something about the reliability of transmission of Holy Scripture.. even mistakes are often weeded out over time, by comparing a family of manuscripts, or comparing them with extant quotations in the work of the Church Fathers.

The extant ancient New Testament Bible documents show essentially the same thing: a word here, a space there, but nothing widespread or catastrophic. Ancient scribes were a professional class, on whom the transmission and copying of books was a trade, a proud tradition, and often done in duplicate, with erring copies and pages destroyed and redone immediately. In the case of Jewish or Christian scribes, it was also a holy duty, and that much more important to be done well.

Even today, I know relatively 'uneducated' people who have memorized large chunks of literature, poetry, the Bible, family genealogy, and pass it on to others.

Our society may consider holy things or books or the most important things gifted from the past to be unimportant curios, but that says more about us, than the people who handed the carefully transmitted treasures on to us.

BInks, WebElf,

Posted by Binks, Webelf at June 6, 2009 10:46 AM

I agree. I've long believed that evolution is a mechanism, one of God's many tools.

Posted by ahem at December 29, 2011 9:17 AM

Prayers are always answered: always. Sometimes, God says "no," because He is working out his perfect will, and sometimes that means something happening we'd rather not have happen. The big question is how much you trust God and how much you trust yourself.

Posted by Christopher Taylor at December 29, 2011 10:53 AM

Once again, Gerard, you have demonstrated to me why you should think about preaching.

Noted this:

And by this I mean prayer in its most personally humiliating and elevating form: down on the knees and speaking out loud. Daily. Very abasing and very uplifting at one and the same time.
In every church I have pastored I have gotten enormous resistance to the idea of private, spoken prayer. The resistance to spoken prayer is enormous and baffling. But the fact is, if you ain't speaking, you ain't praying.

I commend to your attention my post, "Clairvoyant science and the Deep Blue God - Can computational physics inform us of the foreknowledge of God? An Answer I call 'Deep Blue Theism'."

When Gerard posted this in 2008, I responded with a post called, "The Awfully Busy God."

Posted by Donald Sensing at December 29, 2011 11:14 AM

I believe a Creator sufficiently endowed to create a universe, (or even, why not, as you say, multiple universes), and who, in Christ's words, "knows when a sparrow falls to the ground", can handle the micro level of individual prayer.
As for answers, sometimes the answer is "no", sometimes the answer is "not now"; but when we are in alignment with his will the answer will always be "yes".
I am thankful that "his will" has been to keep you Gerard, around to grace us with such enriching material.

Posted by adagny at December 29, 2011 2:03 PM

See, "Clairvoyant science and the Deep Blue God: Can computational physics inform us of the foreknowledge of God? An Answer I call 'Deep Blue Theism'."

When Gerard posted this back in 2008 (shorter then!) I responded thus: "The awfully busy God."

However, Gerard, you have again showed what I told you long ago: you really should be a preacher.

As for prayer to be spoken to be prayer, this is your profoundest insight. At every church I have served, though, the resistance to the discipline of private, spoken prayer has been immense. There is no such thing as "silent prayer." (There is silent meditation, which is a good thing. But it's not prayer.)

Silence conceals, speech reveals.

Posted by Donald Sensing at December 29, 2011 5:02 PM

Thanks, God, for letting Gerard stick around a little longer. [spoken out loud]

Posted by robinstarfish at December 30, 2011 12:34 AM

You are wonderful!

A comment on prayer - many years ago our oldest son went into the woods near our house with a shotgun. While out there his girlfriend called us and told us that he had told her he was going to kill himself. I recall pacing up and down near the woods praying, "God, no, no, I can't endure this, BUT - Thy will be done." Always, "THY will be done." We heard him scream and then we heard the shot and he was dead. As I struggled with "God's will" a friend gave me the most remarkable little book I have ever read on God's will, written by Leslie D. Weatherhead. I wrote a devotion on the book, if you enter "Patricia Nordman, God's will" it will come up.

God bless you, Sir - you are remarkable!

In His love and my gratitude,


Posted by Patricia at December 30, 2011 8:30 PM

Thanks. Glad I stopped by (as usual).

Posted by DeAnn at March 18, 2014 5:15 AM

Over the years, I've come to realize that God daily responds to serious prayer, especially those involved in seeking higher spiritual attainment. Pray to God for true humility---if you dare---and you'll soon see that he responds to that prayer almost immediately. Be prepared to suffer, though. You don't become humble without a lot of suffering.

It's not always that God's response to a prayer is 'no'; in some cases it's 'yes', but it takes time, years even, to coordinate the circumstances for success, especially if the answer to the prayer requires a massive change in _you_.

And it is also often the case that we receive an answer to our prayers in a form we haven't the wit to recognize.

Posted by ahem at December 30, 2015 5:32 AM

God answers all prayers.

He says yes, no or not yet.

And Deann - True true true....When my family was younger, we prayed a novena for our family and all hell broke loose - it was relentless and terrifying and the best thing that ever happened to us...so yeah - pray for humility - if you've got the stones for it..grin grin...eventually you'll be glad you did.

Posted by beth at December 30, 2015 3:08 PM

Every time I try to read one of these essays I'm always taken back in my memory to that scene in "A River Runs Through It", when Rev. MacLean is tutoring is son Norman. He reviews Norman's work and makes him re-write it to make it briefer. After Norman accomplishes it to his father's liking, the Rev tells Norman to tear it up and go fishing.

Posted by Jack at December 31, 2015 8:27 AM

Simply put, we do not know, we do not understand why the prayers of the children at Lidice, Beslan, Sandy Hook, Yazidi lands, and a 1000 other places
went unanswered except for the final succor of death.
Pray for a kinder God worthy of the title.

Posted by Howard Nelson at December 31, 2015 5:46 PM

"It would be like having 500 cable channels which are all showing Pulp Fiction all the time -- pretty much like it is now."

Made my day.

Posted by Bruce Hanify at January 3, 2016 5:07 AM

"As God, it's good you don't have a wife because she'd make your home life a, dare I say it?, living hell. "

Hmmm... reminds me of something ... oh! Here they are!

Mr. Deity and Lucifer
www . youtube . com/watch?v=rKM_JlCIMak

Mr. Diety Touring Hell
www . youtube . com/watch?v=C8i4le0BIFc


"I submit that even the most omnipotent God cannot deal with incoming requests at this rate... he result? Pick some at random to answer, and tell your staff to file the rest for (possible) future reference... To me this is the most obvious reason that some prayers are answered while most are not. "

Hmmm... A direct line to God would be rather annoying, I suppose...

Phone Call to God
www . youtube . com/watch?v=D5dxahEOAcs


That was fun. Thanks!

Well... gotta go.

Back on my head.

Posted by cond0011 at January 5, 2016 11:17 AM

See, Gerard, the good doctor knows.

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