The Gospel Coalition

"O you who answer prayer . . . ."  Psalm 65:2

Once I was flying at night over the North Atlantic.  It was in 1947, and I was coming back from my first visit to Europe.  Our plane, one of those old DC-4's with two engines on each wing, was within two or three minutes of the middle of the Atlantic.  Suddenly two engines on one wing stopped.  I had already flown a lot, and so I could feel the engines going wrong.  I remember thinking, if I'm going to go down into the ocean, I'd better get my coat.  When I did, I said to the hostess, "There's something wrong with the engines."  She was a bit snappy and said, "You people always think there's something wrong with the engines."  So I shrugged my shoulders, but I took my coat.  I had no sooner sat down than the lights came on and a very agitated co-pilot came out.  "We're in trouble," he said.  "Hurry and put on your life jackets."

So down we went, and we fell and fell, until in the middle of the night with no moon we could actually see the water breaking under us in the darkness.  And as we were coming down, I prayed.  Interestingly enough, a radio message had gone out, an SOS that was picked up and broadcast immediately all over the United States in a flash news announcement: "There is a plane falling in the middle of the Atlantic."  My wife heard about this and at once she gathered our three little girls together and they knelt down and began to pray.  They were praying in St Louis, Missouri, and I was praying on the plane.  And we were going down and down.

Then, while we could see the waves breaking beneath us and everybody was ready for the crash, suddenly the two motors started, and we went on into Gander.  When we got down I found the pilot and asked what happened.  "Well," he said, "it's a strange thing, something we can't explain.  Only rarely do two motors stop on one wing, but you can make an absolute rule that when they do, they don't start again.  We don't understand it."  So I turned to him and I said, "I can explain it."  He looked at me: "How?"  And I said, "My Father in heaven started it because I was praying."  That man had the strangest look on his face, and he turned away. . . .

We are not dealing with God as though He were a machine.  He is personal, and as we pray He does not respond mechanically, but as the Personal-Infinite God.  The point is that He is there.  And He can, and does, act into the universe He has made.

Francis Schaeffer, speaking in chapel, Wheaton College, the fall of 1968.


Ray Ortlund

June 9, 2012 at 12:18 PM

Thanks, Keith. The evidences can be viewed in various ways, of course, which is why we all disagree a lot. The gospel is compelling only to the person who has experienced God at a level down beneath the evidences for and against. That changes how they see the evidences.

For the record, I don't think Christians should be in fewer plane accidents or live longer lives. All the post is saying is that God can step into our lives, in answer to prayer. But I would not claim that this is predictable or always makes life easier. Sometimes, it might make life worse.

If God "doesn't intervene in our universe in any direct way," then I don't see how communion with him fits in, or peace and connection.

God bless.


June 9, 2012 at 11:55 AM

If god acted in the universe, we'd be able to detect it.

Your insurance company knows the likelihood of your having a car accident based on your car color (black is the most dangerous, because of visibility, drive a white car to be safer).

Is it reasonable to believe insurance companies wouldn't notice Christians were in fewer car or plane accidents than Mormons?

Is it reasonable to believe we wouldn't notice if Christians lived longer than Muslims, or vice-versa?

We have only a few choices: god doesn't act in response to prayer, god acts randomly, people don't pray for god to heal them, god somehow prevents us from noticing when he acts. What other alternative is there? The only answer that makes sense is that god doesn't intercede.

I know we all have family members healed by prayer, we've all seen "miracles" in the lives of those we love. But we know the answer to this question, for better or worse: prayer is about communion with god, is about our sense of peace and connection, because god doesn't intervene in our universe in any direct way.


June 9, 2012 at 01:10 PM

I think it's reasonable to believe god can assist us in our experience (interpretation?) of our life events, and I think scripture is relatively clear that god desires a relationship with us: that's where communion, peace and connection fit in. God can step into our lives, but when he steps into our lives, he doesn't do it by restarting plane engines. Had the post said "I felt calm, I felt safe, I felt god's hand", I would have agreed and moved on. But the post said "god started the plane's engines", and I have a problem with that, for a couple reasons.

First, when we pray to god for changes to events, events that are understandable and measurable in ways outside of our own experience (health, for example), we are failing to act on our understanding of the natural world, and that's never a good thing. It's a hard truth that god doesn't change the events of our lives, but believing he does when he doesn't is worse: it leads to "survivor's guilt" ("Mom died because I didn't pray hard enough"), or "the prosperity gospel" ("If you believe, pray and tithe, god will make you rich"). When we acknowledge that god doesn't intervene, it means we're responsible for ourselves, and each other, rather than we're somehow guilty in our condition because our faith was too weak.

Second, stating that god intercedes in our world makes god out to be a monster: if god intercedes in my life to get me that new boyfriend I wanted, what do I make of the fact he didn't intercede to heal my mother's cancer, or the Holocaust, or that 20,000 children die each day from preventable causes? While it's still arguable god should intercede in our world, it's at least rational that he does not intercede at all; to argue he does intercede and his intercessory choices are morally defensible borders on the impossible.

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June 8, 2012 at 05:29 AM

[...] the whole story of God’s gracious intervention here. Rate this:Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

Destinations « Luggaged

June 7, 2012 at 05:35 PM

[...] here is an excerpt from a 1968 Wheaton College chapel. In it Francis Schaeffer tells of a time when the [...]

Susan Fisher

June 11, 2012 at 08:49 AM

Keith, we do not have the capacity to grasp God's purposes in all that happens in this life. As John Piper says, and I paraphrase, God is always at work in a thousand different ways, doing a thousand different things, that we do not know about and cannot understand. But He does! When Jesus walked on earth, he did many healings. But it is safe to say that there were many hundreds of ill persons in Israel that he did not heal. Why? He certainly cared for all of them, but God's mysterious purposes cannot be fully grasped by man.