As an atheist, I've handled these issues very differently. I know now that no amount of prayer, posturing, and deal-making is going to make a difference. There is no personal god out there who cares that I'm in pain. The universe is quite indifferent to all our suffering and, while that terrifies some people, I find it to be soothing that there is indeed a great equalizer. The universe has no demands or expectations and so I get to be the final judge of my own experiences.
Today shook my faithlessness. About 6 this morning, I woke up with a particularly nasty Norovirus swelling my intestines and sending everything into overdrive. The norovirus is commonly called "stomach flu" around these parts and most everybody gets it. The problem is that I have diverticulitis and a section of my colon is prone to swell so when you add a norovirus, you get a super helping of pain.
I've had this stuff off and on my whole life and it's never pleasant. Projectile vomiting and projectile diarrhea usually means that, when you're done, you're going to have a mess to clean up. And since all the fluids in your body have just been rather nastily ejected, you're going to be as weak and helpless as a kitten. This is a great test when looking for a spouse or long-term partner by the way - if s/he takes care of you during this time, you've found a keeper!
So back to the story: I was in so much pain that my body was turning cold and clammy. I felt like I was dying which isn't so scary except that it was proving to be a slow, painful death. At some point, my mind wheeled back to the old Christian days and I started lashing out:
"Jesus, you're supposed to be the Great Physician! Help me!"
Then I'd hear the counterargument in my head, "You have to have faith."
Faith is in short supply, you see, but I plowed on, "I don't have any faith but, if you miraculously heal me, I will know you're real and then I'll have a faith I can share with everybody! What a testimony!!"
There was no healing. Nothing but another round of vomiting and pain.
I can't tell you how ashamed I am now that I gave in to this weakness, the human drive to do anything - to make any deal with anybody - in order to survive. I thought I was past of the point of making deals with a non-existence deity but today's illness tested my resolve and I lost.
What do I take from this? One, I'm still human. I'm still susceptible to the same fears and desires as everyone else. And that brings me to an even better discovery: my compassion for those who turn to faith during pain and death is renewed. Although I do not agree with these people and I realize that their reliance on faith may cause them more harm than good, at least I can see them as hurting people again rather than some stupid, lost cause. I found some of my empathy again and I'm glad for that.
Did you make deals with God as a believer? What do you think of those who cling to religion when they feel they have nothing else? How can we reach these people better in their time of need?
P.S. - there is a "Great Physician" - she's my sister.