I am a professional firefighter-paramedic for the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado; a beautiful but ultra-conservative city that boasts of its plethora of military institutions: Fort Carson Army base, Peterson Air Force base, NORAD (remember the movie Wargames?) and The Air Force Academy. It is also (I’m convinced) the fundamentalist Christian epicenter for the entire planet and serves as home base for Dr. James Dobson’s massive Focus on the Family corporate headquarters, the World Prayer Center, massive displays of tax-free wealth on practically every corner, and a local paper that caters to evangelicals. In short, there is no shortage of opportunities for encountering and debating proselytizing Christians, and that includes on my own fire department where I am currently fighting the presence of Christian propaganda bulletin boards that are placed in all the stations by the Fellowship of Christian Firefighters (FCF). While that is an interesting story in itself that I may be sharing with you in the near future, at this time I would like to offer something a little different, perhaps, than many of you are used to; a perspective through the eyes of a profession where the disconcerting tragedy of child deaths cut to your core and, unfortunately, is dealt with all too frequently.
The following is a recent article I challenged the eighty-plus members of the Colorado Springs Chapter of the FCF with. It's interesting that not one of them has been able to give an answer to the dilemma (and some of them are ordained ministers and chaplains for our fire and police departments), but I have certainly received a few "hateful" responses—a sure sign that I have touched a sensitive nerve that is disturbing to them, but which they will never admit.
A FIREFIGHTER SPEAKS-OUT
If Jesus is really God, then he knows that I used to believe, and he also knows that today I am a doubting Thomas, a doubting Peter, a doubting Saul. If Jesus is really God, then he also knows that the only way I will believe in him again is if he proves his divine reality (at least to my satisfaction) by performing one little "miracle."
BRUCE MONSON'S PERSONAL APPEAL TO JESUS:
If Jesus will resurrect one (just one) of the many children I have seen die in my profession (usually under exceptionally tragic circumstances), I promise that I will devote my life to spreading His Word to all the world, especially to atheists, agnostics & people professing belief in all the thousands of other "false" religions extant in the world. I will give all of my possessions and money to the poor as He commanded (Luke 18:22); I will hate my father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even my own life in accordance with His requirements to be His disciple (Luke 14:26); I will do all of these things and be a suffering servant for Jesus. I will make it my purpose in life to be His greatest disciple!
Is it really so unreasonable to require physical proof? Was it "unreasonable" for those questioning Apostles?
In Luke 7:18-22 (and Matthew 11:1-5) we are told that John, who is in prison at this time, sends two of his disciples to go forth and ask Jesus "if he is the one [that should come] or if they should look for another?" And what is Jesus' response? Does he just send John's disciples on their merry way with instructions to "just have faith"? No, he does not! Rather, he provides physical proof to John's disciples through healings (the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, lepers are cured) and actual resurrections (Luke 7:11-17) in their presence, and then instructs them to return to John and tell him of these miracles they have seen!
WHY SHOULD I EXPECT ANYTHING LESS?
Obviously each person is different; as such, each person has different levels of skepticism and requirements of proof that will satisfy that skepticism. Throughout the Gospels we see the differences in the disciples; some need virtually no convincing at all, while others need more proof. Some need to see for themselves first-hand physical evidence, and these were the very disciples who supposedly witnessed all of these "miracles" allegedly performed by Jesus, and yet they still were not convinced! They either asked for or were seen by Jesus as needing proof, and they got it!
I ask you again,
WHY SHOULD I EXPECT ANYTHING LESS?
Resurrections seem to have been a fairly common occurrence in 1st c. Palestine (and not limited to just Bible heroes, it seems), so is it really too much to ask Jesus to provide just one single resurrection of a child today?
Surely, if Jesus was willing to provide physical evidence to convince Thomas, Peter, Paul (remember, like each of us, Paul never actually met Jesus, and he was allegedly a hater and persecutor of Christians prior to the incident on the road to Damascus), John’s disciples, and hosts of complete strangers, then He should understand that THAT is what it will take for me to believe again!
I am not picky. All I need to convince me is the resurrection of just one child, and I don't even need to see Jesus do it himself; he can have any one of his "believing followers" perform the resurrection in His name (John 14:13). After all, according to scripture, these abilities of healing and even resurrection are supposed to be possessed by any believing and faithful Christian!
Passages indicating that "believers" are to be afforded special "healing" abilities through Jesus.
Mark 16:17-18, 20 --  And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues;  they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.  And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the Word by the signs that followed. Amen. (my emphasis)
Matthew 10:8 -- Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay. (my emphasis)
Luke 10:9 -- heal the sick in it [towns] and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you. (my emphasis)
These are just a few among many such passages, more of which I will be happy to provide upon request.
So let's recap--believers are supposed to be able to:
===> Heal the sick
===> Raise the dead
===> Drink any deadly thing without harm to themselves
===> Speak in tongues
===> Pick-up serpents [without harm]
===> Cleanse lepers
===> Cast out demons
Passages indicating that any believer who has "faith" in Jesus will have their prayers answered.
Matthew 21:22 -- And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith. (my emphasis)
Matthew 7:7-8 --  Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you  For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
Mark 11:23-24 --  Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
John 11:40 – Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you have faith you will see the glory of God?’ [Note: Jesus is then said to have resurrected Lazarus from the dead, to prove to those present that He was sent from God (cf., v.42)]
John 14:13 -- Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (my emphasis)
Notice that the text says "you will receive" and does not say "sometimes I say no", the stock answer that so many Christians like to dole-out as an attempt at rationalization for why their prayers (even with millions of Christians praying in virtual unison for a common cause) did not produce the desired results--a perplexing dilemma considering that all it is supposed to take is just one "believer" to pray, and it will be
granted …"so that the father may be glorified."
And what kinds of prayers DO get answers?
James 5:17-18  Eli'jah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.  Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit.
I think the obvious question being begged here is, if something so utterly trivial as praying for rain to stop and/or start at the whim of one man ("who is like ourselves"), then surely something as deeply personal and tragic as the sickness or death of a child would be a no-brainer for any all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving deity . . . well, one would think.
2 Kings 2:23-24  He [the prophet Elisha] went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, "Go away, baldhead! Go away baldhead!"  When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. (my emphasis)
Bears mauling forty-two children to death; and for what, making fun of a man’s bald head? Not only is this a supreme example of injustice, but again we see God dealing it out at the beckoned call of a man. I guess the next time we hear of a child getting mauled to death by a Rottweiler we should just assume that the child deserved it, and justice was served?
Joshua's long day fable is another example (but certainly not the last) of God allegedly answering to the requests of a mere human, and for no other purpose than to allow Joshua more daylight so he could finish his massacre of the fleeing Amorites:
Joshua 10:12-13  Then spoke Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the men of Israel; and he said in the sight of Israel, "Sun, stand thou still at Gibeon, and thou Moon in the valley of Ai'jalon."  And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.
Of course, I will contend that this is just another typical example of literary embellishment by the author(s) of the Book of Joshua. However, since many Christians believe this to be a literally true historical event, I will use it as a means for expressing the notion that the prayers of just one man (even for such an atrocious act as slaughtering people who are fleeing from him) was apparently good enough to receive an immediate and physical confirmation from God--and on a grandiose celestial scale.
WHY SHOULD I EXPECT ANYTHING LESS?
A DISTURBING SCENARIO:
I wonder... do you suppose Christians among the general public would be just as uncritical of us (professional firefighters) as they are of Jesus when He "fails to answer their prayers," if we, for example, responded to a house fire and arrived to the pleading shrieks of children trapped on the 3rd floor with steadily increasing black smoke pouring out of their open window, and having the direct power and means to save them, we instead chose to just stand and watch as they burned to their deaths, all along while their hysterical parents screamed for us to "do something!"? Hardly! In fact, the loss of our jobs (deservedly) would be the least of our worries, since we would most likely be brought up on charges of gross negligence for our "failure to provide aid," and probably buy a stinging jail sentence.
This is a troubling comparison to be sure, and one that is sure to anger those Christians reading this, but it is nevertheless completely accurate and a very serious argument against the reality of a personal savior who "hears our prayers."
Indeed, consider the two-year-old girl that burned to her death in Station 10's apartment fire this past December--that little girl's mother was pleading to God to save her child (as can be vividly heard on the 911 tape!) and "Jesus" did nothing! Unfortunately, it was also too late for even the valiant efforts of our firefighters to save her, and that is a tragedy!
Christians have a propensity for arbitrarily assigning credit for perceived "good" things that happen as being the divine works of Jesus (usually at the expense of the real miracles of modern medical science), but when things take a turn for the worse they will always find a way to rationalize such events so as to absolve their "loving" god from any responsibility whatsoever, but deep down I suspect they have the same feelings that I do (that most people do), but are afraid to speak the question that sits in the pit of their gut; afraid because they have always been taught to be afraid and to not dare question God. Well, I am not afraid! As the saying goes, "there is nothing to fear but fear itself."
===> If Jesus is really God and he did not predestine this tragedy, but had the power to save that child and chose not to, then I hold Jesus responsible for not only the child's death (because he "failed to act"), but also the suffering that family will endure for the rest of their lives!
===> If Jesus is really God and he did predestine the death of this child, and in this agonizingly tragic manner, then I hold Him responsible for not only the injustice of taking the life of a two-year-old girl, but also for inflicting life-long guilt upon her five-year-old brother (who accidentally started the fire), and for the endless pain and sorrow that the mother and father will have to endure for the rest of their lives!
I will close with a restatement of my Personal Appeal to Jesus: If Jesus will resurrect this one little girl and return her to her mother's arms, I promise that I will devote my life to spreading His Word to all the world, especially to atheists, agnostics & people professing belief in all the thousands of other "false" religions extant in the world. I will give ALL of my possessions and money to the poor as He commanded (Luke 18:22); I will hate my father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even my own life in accordance with His requirements to be his disciple (Luke 14:26); I will do all of these things and be a suffering servant for Jesus. I will make it my purpose in life to be His greatest disciple!
Yours in Truth,
This article originally appeared in the September 2000 edition of Freethought Today - the publication of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
It served as the focus of Natalie Angier's recent article in the New York Times entitled The Bush Years: Confessions of a Lonely Atheist.