By Vexen Crabtree 2018
Of all the many courses of action or inaction, God knows which is best. An all-knowing God knows everything. As God is a perfect being, it always does what is best. If you pray for a friend to miraculously recover from an inoperable brain disease, what will happen? If God wants to cure the person, it will. If it doesn't want to (because it is not the best course of action), it won't. Prayers cannot make a difference to what God will do, because prayers don't change what the best course of action for god is. The Bible isn't particularly coherent when it comes to deliberating on this topic but one of the most famous verses on Christian prayer is 1 John 5:14: "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us". This agrees with our argument that God only listens to prayers if they happen to agree with what God was going to do anyway. It seems that to pray for God to act is to doubt that God already knows best1,2. Jesus said "Get thee behind me, Satan!" to an apostle who thought he knew better than God's plan (Matt. 16:23): Jesus knew that to think you knew better than God was sinful and Satanic, even if you had good motives.
As the 19th century dawned, these thoughts were echoed by several freethinkers, who became famous for the rational analysis of religious ideas:
“For what is the amount of all his prayers but an attempt to make the Almighty change his mind, and act otherwise than he does? It is as if he were to say: Thou knowest not so well as I.”
“The Eternal has His intentions from all eternity. If prayer accords with His immutable wishes, it is quite useless to ask of Him what He has resolved to do. If one prays Him to do the contrary of what He has resolved, it is praying Him to be weak, frivolous, inconstant; it is believing that He is thus, it is to mock Him. Either you ask Him a just thing; in this case He must do it, and the thing will be done without your praying Him for it; entreating Him is even to distrust Him: or the thing is unjust, and then you outrage Him.”
Modern theologians are still confounded by the contradiction between God's perfection and prayer:
“Many systems try to explain how human freedom and human action are consistent with God's omnipotence and omniscience. None succeed. [...] But there is no practical doubt that they are compatable. And so it is with the action of man on God in prayer. [...] We cannot change the will of God, which is grace [...] but we can change the intention of God, which is a manner of treatment, in the interest of grace, according to the situation of the hour.”
You can be forgiven if this theologian's answer to the problem doesn't seem to make sense to you - he himself admits in the same text that it is "not rationally plain" how Human prayer and free will exist alongside a Universe dominated by God.
To pray for something is to go against God's will, to ask God to act at a time when God knows it is not the right time to act. If it is right, God will have already planned to do it. If it is wrong, God won't do it. Your prayer will not change these facts. To pray is to oppose God, to harass it, to make a statement that you think you know better! To pray is insolent, ignorant, misguided, confused - but most of all, arrogant. By trying to sway God's mind through prayer, you are behaving in the same way as that apostle - with Satan guarding behind you!
More topics on prayer:
Current edition: 2018 Sep 034
Originally published 2004 Feb 20
Parent page: Prayer to God in Christianity and Islam: It is Useless and Satanic!
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. Book Review.
Forsyth, Peter T.. (1848-1921) Scottish theologian.
(1916) The Soul of Prayer. American edition by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Michigan, USA. Chapters 5 and 6 are an extract from a "another little book" published by Hodder & Stoughton (maybe The Power of Prayer, 1910) and "parts" of this edition also previously published in the London Quarterly Review.
(1807) The Age of Reason. Published by Musiaicum Books. Part 1 published 1794, part 2 in 1795 and part 3 in 1807. An e-book.
(1764) Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary. Amazon Kindle digital edition produced by Juliet Sutherland, Lisa Riegel and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. An e-book.