Faith / prayer / problem of pain / spinal-cord injury

The Strangeness of Prayer and Providence

Life is all a matter of perspective. Let me tell you the same story in two ways – don’t worry, I will keep it short.

On Thursday I had a class to teach in the afternoon at Hillsong in Baulkham Hills (feminist theology and the doctrine of the Trinity – one of my favourite subjects). I woke up feeling a little bit uncomfortable but nothing serious enough to keep me from taking the journey to class. Just as I was about to leave, however, my chair broke down. The challenge with an electric chair is that mechanical problems can leave you stranded. So, I cancelled my class, got hoisted back into bed, and went about trying to arrange a repair. About an hour later I noticed my tummy rumbling and the result, given I have no control of that part of my body, was pure yuckyness. Once again my brilliant carers to the rescue.

So what has this got to do with providence? Well, if my chair had not broke down, I would have been on the way to Hillsong – perhaps even in class – and the result does not bear thinking about. As things stood, I needed to spend two days in bed (perhaps more – I’m still there), and so the fact that it took two days to repair my chair was of no consequence. All in all I am able to thank God for his providential care in this odd confluence of events.

Or am I?

Of course, I might also be able to complain about providence, given that both my broken chair and broken bum prevented me from making my class and kept me stuck in bed.

Now if you really want to send your brain in circles, ask yourself what prayer I should pray in this situation? Of course I have prayed (and I would invite you to pray on my behalf) that this current sickness leaves me. But the challenge of this prayer is that this current problem is subsidiary to a larger one – and God does not seem to have answered the many faithful prayers that I might “take up my bed and walk” (John 5:8).

For many, these are the difficulties that lead to atheism or agnosticism. I understand that. If I’m honest, I am also sometimes agnostic – a Christian agnostic, wondering where on earth God is. But it is contemplation of Christ, his revealing God in the midst of his godforsakenness, that reminds me that faith is not predicated on my control of God through prayer, nor on the assumption that life should be free from crisis and pain. If all of life is understood as gift, as a wondrous spark amidst the fragility and finitude of the universe, then there is reason for thankfulness for the small moments of grace.

So, thank you God that my wheelchair broke down yesterday.

Romans 8:26 the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

About Author

Shane is an ethicist and theologian, Honorary Associate for the Centre of Disability Research and Policy, the University of Sydney, and Assistant Director, Policy, at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation against People with Disability. Shane is proudly disabled, and an occasional blogger on


  • Jacqui Grey
    April 27, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    Thanks Shane for this reflection on prayer & reminder of the small moments of grace

  • hannah
    April 27, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    It’s good stuff Shane. thanks for your encouragement, and for holding on through the dark times.

  • Anthea Brumerskyj
    April 27, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    love that God is bigger than we see so often, and that you share in such an honest and challenging way Shane. Praying for both you and the chair in the meantime. Anthea.

  • Vibeke Stafford
    April 27, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    How wonderful is our Heavenly Father! He knew only too well that you needed to stay home that day, and so spared you the utter mortification of a bowel mishap. He also knew the best way to keep a strong willed man such as yourself at home was to disable your wheelchair. He KNOWS what YOU NEED because HE is GOD, and a darn awesome one too! Praying for your recovery and thanking Him for your enforced quiet time to draw nearer to Him. Many blesssings to you. XOX

  • Sandra Godde
    April 27, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    Thanks Shane for this stimulating reflection and for posing the question should one “thank God for his providential care in this odd confluence of events” or bemoan the fact that 2 things have broken down and are not functioning very well? Even more satisfying to read was that you did give thanks for the grace seen and received. You said “life is all a matter of perspective” – by that I take it that you mean that we all experience life according to our own perspectives? I suppose our experience of events depends on how we see things, and how we see things depends on what we focus on, and what we focus on depends on what is in our hearts…

    I’ve been thinking a lot about “sight” lately …. about how the eyes are the mirror of our souls and reveal much about what is deep inside the psyche of each individual. When we look at a person straight in the eyes, what do we see? Is our vision blocked by our own misperception or limitations, or do we really see what God sees? Matt 6:22 gives us some insight here – “the light of the body is the eye: if therefore thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light”. Have you ever looked into someone’s eyes and seen portals of heavenly love aimed straight at you? On the other hand, have you ever looked into the eyes of someone who has been abused or tortured and seen untold depths of horrid history? And, when that happens, does what you see invoke deep compassion in your own heart that provokes you to whisper spontaneous prayer, or does it cause you revulsion and a desire to run and hide from that person? How do you respond when you look into the eyes of someone who has deep hatred or disdain for you? …. I suppose all this depends on what resources you have to cope with deep down in your heart.

    I happen to think it is a very good thing when we “wonder where on earth God is”, particularly in our most “godforsaken moments” when He is veiled from our view. In fact I often ask that question over and over again when wrestling with much of the evil still working itself out in history on this planet, even as we speak. And, strangely enough, I often get some answers. All of which are grounded and rooted as you put it Shane “in the contemplation of Christ” and in particular “in the atonement” – that mysterious, profound act of Christ that demonstrated His character in the midst of the greatest evil and surreptitiously overcame evil all at the same time … but I digress ……

    But not really, because this ties into what you said that I love “that faith is not predicated on my control of God through prayer, nor on the assumption that life should be free from crisis and pain”. It is a prideful man indeed who thinks he should be able to control God by any means, and it is a fool who thinks that is the purpose of prayer. I venture to say that prayer is more of a coming into alignment with God’s heart and will and a laying aside of our lesser requests. I realize I am on sensitive ground here … but please hear me out. Imagine if God was a celestial jeanie and answered all our prayers in the affirmative? I don’t think any single person would actually appreciate that nor would it be in our best interests. Does that mean God doesn’t answer prayers? Not necessarily, perhaps he sometimes says “no”, “wait”, “not yet”, “I require some other business with you first” etc. etc. – any number of answers to our prayers. I do however believe that God is “moved” by our prayers and acts according to our faith. He is not a stoic android in the sky, untouched by our tragedies. Your second point is self evident – we all live in a fallen world where crisis and pain is part of the broken down created order as we know it, and this will continue until ALL things are made new in the new kingdom (which although is ‘now’ in part, is also ‘not yet’ in its fullness). In the meantime, there is much reason for thankfulness for every bit of grace we see and therefore possess for ourselves ☺

    The most profound insight that I thought you made in this post Shane was in your recognition – regarding the mysteries of prayer – that many current problems that trouble us are subsidiary to larger ones – and I believe it is in the understanding of the larger ones that the smaller ones are seen to have any purpose at all. In and of themselves, they may seem to make no sense at all, but that is because we see in a glass dimly now, but one day we will see all things much clearer. Selah …….

  • stephanie nielsen
    April 28, 2012 at 8:25 am

    this is great love reading your posts having a disability myself i have often asked God why some people ge instant miriacles and others not .

  • Helen Paul
    April 28, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Thanks Shane I am in awe of your strength.. I often watch other people get healed and wonder why them n not me.. I too live daily in faith tho doubt sometime for healing.. but yes God has amazing ways to stop us from being so busy n wait on God..

  • Anne
    April 28, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Beautifully written! Bless you Shane, once again, for your astonishing transparency and honesty… and for choosing to be thankful and to see the moments of grace in the midst of the “yuk”.

    For me, when the larger request has not been granted it is sooo… comforting to see and experience God’s providence and grace in the smaller (subsiduary) problems & events of life. Personally, I find these smaller “God interventions” have an incredible power to comfort, reassure and completely quieten the “why” and “where are you God” questions raised by the larger issue. Precious moments of grace to savour… reminding us God knows, God cares about the details.

    And thank God too for the precious gift of the Holy Spirit. Our “wordless groans” are heard and received, and we are comforted once more.

    God is good.


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