Prayer and the Chilean Miners

Like everyone else I have been rather overwhelmed by the story of the Chilean miners. Being mildly claustrophobic I have tried to avoid thinking about what it must be like for them since the ordeal began back in August. But who could not be caught up and moved by the drama of their rescue. Indeed it was a wonderful lesson in managing expectation – Under Promise and Over Achieve!

But what has intrigued me has been the response of many Christians in relation to the ‘prayers’ offered for their safe extraction from the mine. Of course I have prayed, asking God to be present to them as the trauma unfolded. But what causes me to despair is the interpretation many are putting on the supposed outcome of such prayer.

Let’s be blunt, until relatively recently they would have languished in their hellish predicament until death came dropping slow. And no amount of prayer would have saved them – the technology just did not exist and this end has been the all too frequent outcome over centuries of mining for precious resources. God has not yet spirited anyone through tons of rock to the surface despite the ernest prayers of many families and communities over the years.

So what are we giving thanks for? In what way have prayers been answered? And why is it important for us to answer this well and correctly?

We thank God that today we have the knowledge and technology to make this rescue possible – that communities, countries and even mine owners have the compassion to care to rescue a group of miners like this – that people gave of their skills, knowledge and expertise to make it a succesful outcome. Incredible professionalism and commitment was demonstrated. Such goodness and ingenuity is God’s gift to us and the human family.

But without human agency they would still be in the mine. God required us to be creative, constantly exploring the limits of technology and human endurance. People needed to have warm and compassionate hearts to be prompted by their care for each life. For all this we can give thanks to God. But please can we skip the simplistic notion that God rescued them in direct intervention and answer to our prayers.

And this is important for how we understand God at work in our world and in our own lives. It is human beings who often need to be the answer to our own prayers – too many are simply waiting for God to do something when we are the something God wants to do!

God was present in the agony and the triumph – in the skill of the drill designer, the counsel of the psychiatrist, the bravery of the paramedics and the endurance and hope of the miners. Thanks be to God and well done to everyone involved.

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