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Prayer for the Resurrection of a Child

March 30, 2020
Prayer for the Resurrection of a Child


A popular church prayed that a deceased child would come back to life. Dr. Craig offers insight on the prayer that went viral.

KEVIN HARRIS: Hey! So glad you are here for Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I’m Kevin Harris. At the time of this pandemic, a lot of people are looking for solid answers. There are people who are seeking all over the Earth right now for God and his existence. We want to provide the resources for them to get good answers. Thank you for your prayers. Any donation that you can make would be very appreciated in any size at Dr. Craig and his wife Jan are doing well at the moment. They are sequestered in their home just like most of us are.

Kind of a sensitive topic today. We are going to be talking about a prayer for a little girl to be raised from the dead that went viral. Dr. Craig is going to offer some wisdom on that right here on Reasonable Faith.

Dr. Craig, this story made nationwide news. It is a sad story. Perhaps you can give us a little clarity on what to do in the event that a child dies, a member of the congregation. Bethel Church has been trying to pray that God would raise this little girl that died – a little 2-year old girl – back from the dead. It made news. They tweeted it out on social media. Of course, all the atheist blogs picked up on it as a disproof of Christianity because she didn’t rise. They finally admitted that, no, she's not going to come back. But I will say this about Bethel Church. They are a very charismatic, Pentecostal church. Some of the best music I've ever heard in contemporary Christian music. Their music is unbelievably good. But their theology is bad in so many ways. I'm not trying to be elitist or uncharitable or unkind when I say that, but it is typical of a lot of excesses. When this little girl dies, and then they tweet out, We want everybody in this nation to pray that she comes back from the grave, and that she doesn't; what's your take on this?

DR. CRAIG: I think we, first of all, as Christians have to affirm that God has the ability to raise people from the dead. The blog that you have before us here is written by someone who's obviously a naturalist or secularist and who doesn't believe that, and therefore for him this is just absurd to request a prayer of this sort. He said on page one, “. . . it's fair game . . . to criticize a church culture that makes people believe that could actually work.” That someone might actually rise from the dead. It's fair to criticize that. Why does he think that? Well, that emerges on page two. He says, it took them “more than a week to admit the obvious, leading people on with the idea that resurrection is an actual thing and not just a cornerstone of their personal mythology.” Well, them's fightin’ words! As someone who has written his doctoral dissertation on the historical credibility of the resurrection of Jesus and who has written several books on this as well as debated the most popular or prominent skeptical New Testament scholars about this, I think that the resurrection is indeed an actual thing, that it is not mythological, that Jesus actually did rise from the dead, and that there's good reasons to believe that. So from my point of view it is not leading people to believe in some absurdity to think that God can raise the dead should he want to. I think this could actually happen. So the question is the appropriateness of offering or asking for prayers like this on behalf of little Olive Heiligenthal. Well, what I noticed that this secularist author did not bring out is that these prayers were requested by her mother. It wasn't that the church came up with this idea and imposed this on people. Her mother asked the church to pray that God would raise her daughter from the dead. It says that, “In the days that followed [the death of her daughter Olive], she [Kalley Heiligenthal] posted memories of her daughter online with captions suggesting that people's prayers might bring Olive back to life.” Now, he's so concerned about the grieving family in this blog and what they're going through; how would you feel if you were a member of a church and you felt led to go into the church elders and say, I'd like you to pray that God would raise my little daughter from the dead who's just died, and the elders turn her away and say, No, we will not pray for that, even if they think that God could do such a thing. That they refused the person's prayers. I don't know how an elder board could do such a thing. I can well understand that if a grieving parent asked you to pray for what you think is an absurd request that nevertheless out of respect for that grieving parent you would say, All right, we'll pray that this will happen. In the statement issued by the church it says,

We are asking for bold, unified prayers from the global church to stand with us in belief that He will raise this little girl back to life. Her time here is not done, and it is our time to believe boldly, and with confidence wield what King Jesus paid for. It’s time for her to come to life.

I think the failure of that statement is the overconfidence that it expresses that God is going to hear this prayer and answer it affirmatively. I don't see that there's anything wrong with the prayer request being offered, but to assure people that they know it's time for her to come to life – it's time for this to be done. That represents a kind of overconfidence and almost arrogance on the part of the person that I think is inappropriate. It would be much better to be humble and just say, We're asking God for the seemingly impossible.

KEVIN HARRIS: It is a powerful prayer. She says,

We’re asking for prayer. We believe in a Jesus who died and conclusively defeated every grave, holding the keys to resurrection power. We need it for our little Olive Alayne, who stopped breathing yesterday and has been pronounced dead by doctors. We are asking for bold, unified prayers from the global church to stand with us in belief that He will raise this little girl back to life.

And you are thinking, boy, that's powerful. Then gathering everyone together and saying, on page 2,

Since learning the news of two-year old Olive Heiligenthal’s sudden death, we have sought a miracle from God to raise her from the dead. We realize this is out of the norm, but that’s what a miracle is — it’s outside the box of nature and our power. As the Bible testifies, God is the God of the reasonable, probable, and possible, as well as the God of the unreasonable, improbable and impossible.

Gathering everyone together, and I think what some churches would say would be, Yes, we are going to pray but it might not be appropriate or it might not be a good idea to have this rally and send out a nationwide tweet. It is one thing to be bold, but it’s another thing to be presumptuous.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, that's the word: presumptuous. I was groping for a word, and I think that's it. These sorts of prayers, it seems to me, should not be paraded in this way publicly but rather God's face should be sought humbly and quietly for something like this. I think that's quite right. Now, on the other hand, the church was very candid, I think, in acknowledging that God didn't answer their prayers. This atheist is just completely unsympathetic when he says, “The issue is that they waited more than a week to admit the obvious.” Well, no, they didn't wait a week to acknowledge that she was dead. That's what was obvious. They admitted that she was dead, but they were hoping that God would raise her from the dead, and so they waited a week to see if God would answer the prayer. There's nothing the matter with that. Here's their statement from the church,

… Here is where we are: Olive hasn’t been raised. The breakthrough we have sought hasn’t come. With the same heart of utter confidence in God’s goodness, we receive the comfort of the Good Shepherd as Andrew, Kalley, and Olive’s big sister Elsie, their family, and our church walk together through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). And so, we are moving towards a memorial service and celebration of her life.

That seems to me that that's quite appropriate and very candid. Of course the atheist blogger says, This is a statement that should have come out at the very beginning. Why? Because he doesn't believe in God. He doesn't believe in a God who can raise the dead so you would just immediately issue the statement, We're going to have the memorial service. We're not going to pray. But remember it was the mother who requested the prayer, and I don't think you can turn away somebody like that with a cold shoulder. But you pray and then when and if it doesn't happen then you do just what the church did and have the memorial service.

KEVIN HARRIS: I've been through this, Bill. I was there on the grounds just a few feet away from my son when he died. I did pray, God, don't ask us to do this. Please don't take his life. Bring him back, as the paramedics were working on him. Lord, raise him up. But at the same time, God, I am confident in your timing and your wisdom. In my grief, you fall back on everything that you've ever learned your entire life, and if you're from a certain denomination that is very proclaimative like this, you do that. I'm being very empathetic and sympathetic. Through those years since that has happened – three and a half years – I have gained a confidence in God's wisdom and timing and trusting unto him. The realization, as this mother has also blogged – I've read another blog of hers – she knows that there will be a resurrection. It just wasn't God's timing.

DR. CRAIG: There you go. And that was the presumptuousness of it – what was for them to say, It's time now for her to rise, when God's timing is very, very different.

KEVIN HARRIS: If you're in that denomination though you're taught that you have to make those kinds of statements. The accusation is to manipulate God, and if you say it right he'll have to do it kind of a thing.

DR. CRAIG: Name it and claim it.

KEVIN HARRIS: Name it claim it; blab it and grab it. I can't help in the pain and certainly wanting to come alongside of this woman, this mother, who lost her child – I want to come along beside and say that we don't boss God around and make proclamations presumptuously. I guess that's kind of one of the main things. Whether this atheist blogger buys into this or not, that's another thing. He hasn't disproven Christianity.

DR. CRAIG: That’s ridiculous. But you're quite right. This is more a podcast about how to handle church relations with your parishioners when they ask for prayer for various things and discernment.

KEVIN HARRIS: What would you say?

DR. CRAIG: As I say, I think in this case if she came to the elders, they should meet with her privately, they should explain to her that for the vast, vast majority of people that when we die we go to be with Christ where we await his second coming and the resurrection from the dead, and that little Olive is with him now and why would you want to pull her back? But if she persists, then I think you would say, yes, the elders will offer prayers on her behalf to be raised and do that quietly.[1]


[1]           Total Running Time: 14:07 (Copyright © 2020 William Lane Craig)