Can answered prayers be disconcerting? Saturday morning I encountered a minor disaster. After taking the 7:23 a.m. train to the city to attend a NYU Bioethics conference on The Moral Brain, I found the subway stop closed for construction. To get out of the rain and save time I jumped into a taxi intent on getting to the 8:30 talk on “The Moral Life of Babies.”
I was in the door at the registration desk when I made the awful discovery that I had left my purse in the taxi. Wallet, license, address book, $150, five credit cards, keys, cell phone, pen, pencils and lipstick were gone, though I had careful hold of my umbrella and meeting folder. How could I call anyone for help, buy lunch or get back home? A desperate prayer burst from my lips: “Oh God, please, please, I really need your help this time.”
Right away the kind security guards on duty supplied me with a cell phone, pen, paper and the relevant emergency numbers to contactl. No, of course I had no receipt, or note of the taxi’s number. Then reasoning that these lectures would be the most expensive ones I would ever attend, I hurried into the auditorium.
Sunk costs must be left behind. Besides I could rationally recognize that this was a small potatoes problem. At my age I could be in real trouble from heart disease, cancer, or dementia. This loss would only entail extreme inconvenience and distressing pangs of shame and self-reproach. And hadn’t I written books explaining how God allows mischance in the world, as the necessary concomitant of our freedom?
So while intently taking notes with my borrowed pen and well in the next presentation contrasting the morality of Kant and Aristotle, I looked up to see a security guard beckoning me. He came to call me out because the taxi driver had returned my purse ! This upright Asian American citizen had made the effort to recall the drop site and come looking for me. Here was a real life instance of a moral brain in action. Refusing any money beyond the price of his trip, he even bore up well under my deliriously grateful embrace.
I, however, was emotionally unsettled by this surprising good news. Now I could avoid shamefacedly confessing ineptness to my family. (They don’t read my blogs.) But whether I did or not, I still had to recognize my dependence on others and how vulnerable to accidents and mistakes I can be.
Theologically I had to wonder whether I might be giving too little credence to answered prayers. As I was prayerfully turning over these concerns last night, I felt God sending me a half- humorous message, “And did you really think I couldn’t rescue you?” Good point. If I can’t handle answered prayers here and now, how will I ever be ready for God’s eternal “Yes?”