Monday, December 2, 2013

If Pagans Get Answered Prayer, Is Christianity False?

 Standing in the cold, March rain in Washington D.C. at the 2012 Reason Rally, a former Christian and now atheist mentioned to me the problem of religious pluralism, especially as it relates miracles occurring to folks of religions different than Christianity:  If only Christianity is true, how is it that people from other religions experience good things from prayer?  This is especially vexing in that the doctrine of original sin purportedly teaches that all people who are not in Christ by faith are under God's wrath.  As theologian K. Scott Oliphint says, "It is not a happy relationship."  No, indeed.  So, if the one true God is not going to bless idol worshipers with answered prayer for the healing of their sick child (so the argument goes), then how do we explain the fact that many people of different religions do in fact, experience healing, blessing, and so on?

Well, the simple answer is that God is a God of grace, and just because someone hasn't heard the Christian message, or even if they have but instead rejected it, this is not a reason to believe that God will refuse these people a dosage of mercy.  But for the skeptic riddled with the bullets of conjecture, this argument has one apparent weakness.  The weakness is stated this way: If God will bless those who are not Christians, then surely he must be merciful towards them, and surely this means that evangelizing them with good news of Jesus is a superfluous task, as God has already shown these people mercy without them believing the gospel, and if He did it once, He can surely do it again.  If that is the case, then we needn't worry about the "fate of the unevangelized," for God hears their prayers, accepts them, and blesses them.  And since we have evidence (and surely it is there) that people of other religions experience answered prayer, healing and so on, then religious pluralism must be true, and the exclusive claims of Christianity must be false.  Heck, maybe even Christianity is false, and Jesus is just an expression of the divine Mind at the back of the universe--sort of a Pantheism.

Of course, anyone who knows a thing or two can see there's a number of logical leaps in this detailed argument.  For the sake of argument, if Christianity is true, then God is, in fact, a God of grace, and he surely blesses people with life, goodness, food, and joy in their hearts.
"Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy," (Acts 14:17, NIV).  
So, even the Bible affirms that the Triune God blesses people all over the earth with good things.  But miracles?  This is the nature of the question the atheist asked me.  Wait a sec.  Isn't there a story in Exodus about Pharaoh's magicians turning their rods into snakes?  Yup, there it is.  Right there in Exodus 7:
Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs. (Exodus 7:11-12, ESV)
So we can see from the biblical evidence that pagans have both the power of the miraculous at their side, as well as the blessing of God in terms of inner joy, food, and so on.  But still, we haven't seen the performance of a miracle for pagans in the Bible which results in the healing of someone.  And, I can't think of any.  But, I can think of healing powers among pagans in the Amazonian Rain Forest!

The Yanomamo people had shamans that use spirits to both kill and heal.  You can read all about it in the book, Spirit of the Rainforest.  This fascinating story of a Yanomamo shaman who later in life gives up his spirits for the one, true, spirit Yai Pada, tells numerous stories of spirits both killing and healing children in the villages of the tribes on the Orinaco river basin in the Amazon jungle.  All of this activity happens as the shaman commands the spirits to act upon friends and enemies.  The narrator, a shaman named Jungleman, later says that his spirits lied to him and his people.  He gave up his spirits for Yai Pada, who readers know is the one true God and Jesus Christ, though Spirit of the Rainforest is far from missionary propoganda.  On the contrary, but you'll have to read it for yourself.

So, I think the objection to the exclusivity of the Christian gospel based upon the answered prayers of pagan and adherents of other religions does nothing to squelch the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only gospel for mankind.  Both the Bible and experience from people like the Yanomamo tell us that there are indeed other spirits out there, but there is one, great spirit, the true God, and Jesus Christ.

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