Extreme Prayer

Posted: July 8, 2012 by J in Discipleship, Theology

When suffering becomes extreme, and faith is really strained, how would the prayers go?

When the Hartian-sufferer feels pushed to the limit, and runs out of patience with God, the tendency I think will be to pray the same thing, only LOUDER. He’ll put more emphasis on the call for action, maybe less or none on his own need for patience. For given the gospel announcement of God’s victory over evil, the sufferer’s experience of drowning under it suggests that God has a problem here. Everything in his mindset is pushing him increasingly outwards, to confront God with his need for deliverance. As part of that confrontation he might well express disappointed or angry feelings toward God, for leaving him in the middle of this without help. This believer has a case to argue with God, and he’s likely to stick at it until he gets resolution.

The more extreme the distress, the more the prayer-content would tend to get reduced to a cry of ‘HELP!’ with maybe the addition of ‘ARE YOU HEARING THIS?’


When the Calvinist-sufferer reaches the end of his tether, he finds the simple equation of this suffering with God’s goodness, too much to stomach. He cannot bear to hear it. It sounds cruel and hollow. God starts to sound evil or sadistic. The reassurance that God is in control begins to seem like a threat.

In this situation of overwhelming grief, counsellor-trainers warn us pastors not to offer consolations like Romans 8:28, for it can sound terribly cruel.

What would happen to this person’s prayer? If they let go of the theology and just get back to core faith responses, they might cry out in the same way as the Hartian. But if they continue to experience their faith through the grid of Calvinist theology at that time?

I cannot see that much of their earlier prayer is possible for them now. I’ve seen people go in two ways. One is an obsession with the reason for their suffering. If it can all be explained in God’s good purposes, they want the explanation. They want meaning. They may go active in prayer and cry out ‘What does this mean, God? What is it for?’ Generally no explanation arrives. Prayer may then become impossible – there’s little left to say.

Other people get angry with God. God has done this. He has killed my baby/He has disgraced me in the eyes of all who know me/He has taken away my manhood and left me an object of pity. God has a lot to answer for. C.S. Lewis when his wife died of cancer, found himself seriously confronted by the question: could God be evil? This person will probably have no prayers.


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