Why Prayer?

In my last post (You Say You Believe in God), the subject got slightly sidetracked onto the efficacy of prayer.

I decided to write this new post in hopes the conversation can continue here as I find the topic rather fascinating. For several reasons … which I’ll no doubt offer as the conversation ensues.

Advertisements

67 thoughts on “Why Prayer?

  1. Seth said he had no evidence for prayer, and so we were moving onto evidence for a personal relationship with jesus. Prayer, and my personal relationship with jesus, were the top two reasons I lost my faith, so I’m particularly interested in those topics. I seem to be the only person alive who did not initially lose my faith over biblical issues.

    Soooo, anyone else on prayer? Or maybe Seth will have some new ideas? Sometimes it takes awhile to chew on something before you can think of all the logical answers. Evidence…it a tricky bit*h when it comes to faith.

    I liked nan’s question about how you can know when god does answer a prayer. Christians, have an answer?

    Like

    • Well, I guess it would be more accurate to say I have no evidence for prayer that I expect will be accepted as objective — to add a little clarity 🙂

      I guess I don’t have much to add to the discussion, though I’m open to questions on the matter. I might point out that prayer as a system of relationship makes sense within a theistic framework — and, when it comes to supporting that framework, there are better reasons than the efficacy of prayer. Thus, to put prayer in the crosshairs — if the purpose is to establish a case for or against God’s existence — is, IMO, a bit of a futile practice.

      Like

      • “Thus, to put prayer in the crosshairs — if the purpose is to establish a case for or against God’s existence — is, IMO, a bit of a futile practice.”

        We CAN agree on something! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • No, Seth. Not a futile practice because thousands and thousands of people pray … and they firmly believe “something out there” hears their prayer and will answer it.

        Quite frankly, when I read certain postings on Facebook about someone’s misfortunes and then there are innumerable comments from people who are going to “pray” for the circumstances to be resolved, it frustrates me no end. Do they REALLY believe their prayers are going to change anything?

        IF a “God” exists, then it would seem the answer would be a resounding “YES!” But this is not what happens … so IMO, the actuality of God’s existence and (answered) prayer are intimately linked.

        Liked by 3 people

        • I appreciate your reasoning, Nan. If God is good, and can do something, why does He not, so often? While there are no easy answers to this question, I don’t believe the question itself is sufficient as a case-closed argument against God’s goodness, omnipotence, or the efficacy of prayer. For instance, who’s to say that specific misfortunes are not a necessary element of future, greater blessing? When a parent allows a child to touch a hot stove, there is temporary suffering — but the experience was necessary for the education of the child, which is of far greater value than the temporary hardship of a smarting hand.

          I don’t have a leg to stand on in making a case that all hardship has potential for greater, future good — but neither does the one who points to hardships and sees, in themselves, evidence that God is dropping the ball.

          Like

        • Seth, I agree with your logic. Unanswered prayer can never prove God does not exist. However by the same token it certainly does not help the case for God, especially as the Bible says that God hears and answers prayer.

          Like

    • Those were 2 of my top reasons, and really I think the two that drove my deconversion. I could often find temporarily satisfying answers to my questions about the Bible, for example, but the complete silence from God wore me out. Finally, when I decided to look into my intellectual questions with “there is no God” as an actual option, the silence was deafening. The temporarily satisfying answers were ephemeral – they blew away when looked at closely. Had I actually had a real relationship with a real being, I think my faith would have survived the questions, at least longer.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you for saying this Charles. I’ve always felt like a bit of a freak, because the atheists around me are whip-sharp in intelligence, logic, and their ability to refute the bible…but I am not that. I lost my faith over the more subjective issues. On my journey into unbelief so far (which has been for about 9 months), you’re the only other person I know of who resembles in me this area.

        Of course once I started truly studying the bible and how it was put together, that was the nail in the coffin of my belief. While I’m learning how to think logically when it comes to religion, it’s not natural for me and takes a lot of effort.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I suspect there’s more of us out there than you think. I think most come to Jesus for subjective reasons, many doubt based on the hiddenness of God, any some go further as we’ve done. Perhaps it’s a combination of reasons for most.
          How’s that for hedging my bets?!
          Just like religion… Keep the claims vague enough and no one can prove you wrong!

          Liked by 2 people

  2. In the post referenced above, Seth pointed me here to something he wrote about prayer. I liked this …

    To have a real, adult conversation about whether or not prayer works, there must be an established consensus of what legitimately can be expected from prayer …

    He goes on to add … … which comes from a valid Biblical understanding of what the purpose of prayer really is. He then presents several scriptures he believes provide a better understanding of prayer and its purpose.

    Overall, Seth seems to feel the purpose of prayer is for believers to become more intimate with God. While this may be one of the advantages of prayer, in my Christian experience, this was not the core teaching about prayer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Nan, thanks for providing a further avenue for discussion on this topic 🙂 I’m of course interested to hear more particulars about your experience, but personally I happen to believe that anything within a Christian worldview should be informed, first and foremost, by Scripture — so that’s the approach I try to take in my piece above. I understand that there are others who see it differently.

      Like

      • Well then, what about matt 18:19? Those are scriptural words about prayer.

        New International Version “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”

        Liked by 1 person

        • It’s a fair question, and an interesting Scripture. What makes it interesting to me, though, is the context — which in this case deals with righting wrongs between brethren in the church. The context deals with reconciliation — I don’t believe this Scripture is intended to be taken out of that context and applied to “anything” one could ask for, especially because this understanding doesn’t align with the rest of Scripture (for which I make my case in the post cited).

          Like

        • I see. You must be referring to the “your prayers only get answered if it’s in alignment with god’s will” thing, right? Jesus did tell god, “your will, not mine.”

          How do you know god’s will for you? Does he infer it into your mind through the Holy Ghost? And through *prayer* while you build a relationship with him?

          Like

      • Seth, I’ve touched on my Christian experience here and there in the blogosphere as well as elsewhere on my own blog. I offer a summary on where I started and where I ended up in the Preface of my book. By clicking on the “Look Inside,” you should be able to read this.

        BTW, since you seem to be somewhat of a “seeker,” I think you might find the contents of my book rather intriguing. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

    • “Seth seems to feel the purpose of prayer is for believers to become more intimate with God.”
      My brother, a pastor, tried to convince me of this very same thing. My response is that yes, there are Scriptures to support that this is *a* purpose of prayer but it is not the *only* purpose for prayer. The Bible clearly describes a God who promises to answer prayers of supplication, and not just for warm feelings.

      Confirmation bias results in people seeing God answering in many ways, and ignoring the non-answers. “Sometimes he says ‘no’.” Sometimes?!

      In my experience, there is no way to distinguish the things I have seen claimed (by myself and others) as answered prayers from coincidence.

      There’s faith… and then there is having enough sense to come in out of the rain. If others want to be Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin all their lives, go ahead. But I wish they would stop acting like I’m the one being silly for not believing that God answers prayers.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Charles, from time to time people trot out the argument,

        prayer may not change your circumstances, but it will change your attitude to them.

        People see this as an answer of sorts from God. Perhaps it is, but it seems much more like a rationalisation for unanswered prayer.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. @Seth Scott, July 17, 2015 at 11:33 am

    …..who’s to say that specific misfortunes are not a necessary element of future, greater blessing? …..

    Sorry Seth, I find that a deluding argument.
    At 04 a.m. one morning last week, a 22-year young grandson of mine driving at the (allowed) speed of 120 kilometers an hour, fell asleep, hit the crash barrier and woke up in a ditch on the other side of the highway. The car was a total loss, the safety belt and airbag saved him from a mighty, and probably last, smash. I can’t believe that you would call it an element of future blessing that he will drive more carefully from now on? .-

    Like

    • Hello Federico, thanks for your question. And like Nan, I am sorry to hear about your grandson — though I am glad to hear he came out alright.

      This is an interesting point, because this is talking about something different than I had in mind when I made the cited comment: Whereas I was referring more to things that “happen to” people outside of their control (e.g. earthquakes, floods, etc.), you bring up an instance where this does not seem to be the case. Again, perhaps I assume too much — maybe your grandson has a legitimate narcoleptic condition that just in this instance surfaced, and thus he was a victim to an unforeseen circumstance. But, either way, I certainly can reasonably see the possible hand of God:

      If there was a legitimate condition, then for it to surface in a dangerous circumstance yet with no bodily harm seems like a very effective way for God to inform him of the presence and seriousness of the condition, while at the same time preserving his person. I could see this as being very useful as an informative circumstance, one that could certainly avoid future difficulty and injury.

      If he fell asleep because he chose to drive when he was too tired to do so… I still see no reason to impugn God. What was God to do, forcibly prevent him from making the decision to drive? In fact, here is a situation, it seems, where God allowed a sort of wake-up call to happen — if I were him, I certainly would think twice before driving that tired. Is it a bad thing for God to allow us to undergo consequences for our actions? Especially since God seemed to be merciful in allowing him not to receive a scratch when he very well could have sustained great injury.

      Like

      • Seth, I totally understand where you’re coming from. BUT … I think you’re wrong.

        I personally think you’re “stretching” it in your first scenario. Certainly it’s possible the grandson had a narcoleptic condition, but I mean, c’mon …

        In your second scenario, you ask, “What was God to do, forcibly prevent him from making the decision to drive?” Perhaps not. In fact, most likely not. BUT, “God” in his supposedly all-knowing wisdom and power could certainly have kept the young man from driving by, as an example, making the car inoperable. Or perhaps by allowing him to drive but creating a “close call” during his trip that really woke him up! If God is so in control, there are innumerable ways he could have prevented the grandson from having the accident.

        Then, to look at the after-effects by saying God seemed to be merciful since the grandson didn’t receive a scratch is ridiculous. It’s like people who survive hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, fires … and then “thank god” because they were spared. What about all those people who did die? Why weren’t they spared as well? Does God pick and choose? And if so, “he” seems awfully fickle at times.

        As I indicated, I know where you’re coming from. Believers want to believe a supernatural power is in control so they come up with multiple scenarios to make it appear that the “hand of God” is present. But in the big picture, the “odds” are against them.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Oh come on! This is a bogus discussion of what is at best wishful thinking.

    Consider the U.S. Every day thousands of people are near death and thousands die. Since this country is roughly 70% Christian, damned near every one of them has people praying for them. I even have people praying for me that I will be saved from atheism. But of the many people near death, many, many of them die. Do we hear any lamentations about why those prayers were not answered? Is anyone actually keeping score: in one column I prayed for this and it happened, in another I prayed for this and it did not?

    Anybody heard of confirmation bias? Jeez, there is even a TV show cranking up about how miracles really do happen. I assume they are using the word “miracles” in place of “unexpected stuff” or “just plain weird shit.”

    Prayer cannot possibly work because God is omniscient and he has already heard what you had to say and already made a decision and it wasn’t based upon that fact that you will or won’t pray. I can make that claim because the religious all say that they can’t know the mind of god, but I can.

    Like

    • It may be a bogus discussion, but christians absolutely believe in the power of prayer. It may be stupid and ridiculous (as I feel all of religion is), but people are not engaging in logic when they pray, and confirmation bias is not on the mind of anyone who is worshipping a deity. I don’t know where you are in your journey…if you have been a life-long atheist, I can see how you might think prayer is obviously a total bunch of crap. For those of us trying to disengage from superstition, and for those still in superstition, it does require a little discussion to work things through.

      Like

  5. I have not read the earlier comments and I hope I am not repeating what has already been said. The person praying believes omniscience has arranged things wrong and wants them changed to please them.

    Like

    • Hummmm, I’ve never quite thought if it in those terms, but yeah. Too bad you weren’t teaching catholic classes when I was in school!

      Like

    • I was just praying for god to smite my thousands of enemies dead with a plague of some sort (I didn’t specify the type of plague, I figured god knows plagues better ‘n me as he’s the one who made them to teach us shit). Any-who, whilst I was praying, a bee stung me on the ass. This proves, without a doubt, that an immaterial, timeless, space-less, boundless dude exists. I rest my case. $Amen$, and have a pleasant Christmas if I don’t see you before then. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • Mak, the way I used to explain it to people was that God has given humanity freewill. Consequently God lets things run their course without interference unless people pray and ask God to intervene. I also used to argue that the Holy Spirit would prompt the hearts of people to pray so that God could intervene.

      I wrote a short paper about this when I was seeking ordination as a priest. It made sense to me at the time, sort of helped me to rationalise how God could be Good and All Powerful yet still allow suffering. So I concluded that sometimes bad things happened because people did to listen to the Holy Spirit telling them to pray.

      However I realise the hole in this argument is where people do earnestly pray and bad things still occur.

      Like

      • I have a friend who has been trying to buy new wills, but only gets used wills 😛
        On a more serious note though, when one starts to think these things over, prayer becomes an exercise in futility. You are telling omniscience it planned wrong, omnibenevolent that it has not been too loving towards you and omnipotent that it hasn’t done well.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, I didn’t want to make a fuss about the accident itself. – was just asking how misfortunes like this one,could serve as ‘a necessary element of future, greater blessing’. – The boy is repentant, and worried about any financial consequences (not known yet) but physically he is perfectly allright. Not even a bruise! I can’t praise safety belts enough. First thing I always want to hear before touching the wheel, is the noise of securing the belts, one click for every person on board. Even if my car doesn´t peep a warning, and our first stop will be “only” thirty meters away, because either an oncoming driver or myself can make a mistake in two seconds’ time. I very much appreciate your interest, Nan!
    Federico

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sincerely Seth, I couldn’t formulate my reaction better than Nan did. May I add something else?
    Narcolepsy is a CHRONIC neurological disorder that affects the control of sleep and wakefulness. Of course, it could have “surfaced” just in that instance, but is that likely at the age of 22? I wonder.
    But most seriously am I worried about the explanations you give of God’s acts. I find them too far-fetched to be believable. Not only the ones you stated – which I therefore call pseudo-arguments, but also those posted by others believers. They are the very reasons for your keeping to believe.
    Will a Supernatural Architect who has created the universe – nothing less! – be busy “picking and choosing”, discriminating simple persons living on some “pale blue dot” close to the middle of nowhere? Will He really bother about the sleeping conditions of individuals driving cars at four o’clock in the morning, and will He then stretch out a finger to protect three of them, and let window shields and steering wheels take care of the others? And will the privileged ones then enjoy that protection for the rest of their lives, will they experience no more problems if they are careful?
    How could I worship such arbitrariness?

    As for prayers, I’ll not try to draw but just write down a logic flow diagram I happened to read somewhere:
    1. Pray for Something.
    2. Is that Something in God’s Divine Plan?
    3A. Yes —> Prayer is Redundant
    3B. No —-> Prayer is Futile
    4 (conclusion). Prayer pays No Purpose.
    .-

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Koppie, impeccable logic, but don’t expect that to win an argument with a believer.

      In regard to the discriminating ‘God’ the believers logic goes something along the following lines:
      – something good happens: – thank you God;
      – something bad happens (1): – thank you God that you love me so much that you allow me to go through this period of pruning;
      – something bad happens (2): – these attacks of the Devil prove I am very close to God’s perfect will for me;
      – something really bad happens: – God works in mysterious ways, but I know everything works out for the best for believer;
      – something really bad happens over an extended period of time: – God loves me and is with me in my trials and heartache to compensate for the pain.
      – death: – this is the love of God, who has taken the believer to their eternal reward.

      So logically the person who dies in the accident is most loved by God, I mean straight to heaven.

      But don’t expect a believer to agree with this logic.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your responses, Federico and Nan.

      I only brought up the narcoleptic condition to cover my bases — for, the way I see it, the situation was either brought about by a legitimate physical condition (in which case there was no liability on his part), or personal negligence by driving while tired (the far more likely explanation). I didn’t want to move forward in the discussion assuming the latter if, indeed, he was the victim of a condition that would strip him of personal responsibility. I can see now that this is clearly not the case, so my comments therein can be disregarded 🙂

      So, it sounds like the issue is that God not only should have preserved his person, but also should have preserved his property. I’m curious why this should have been the case — for, if the young man was negligent (which I believe he was), why should he not bear the brunt of the consequences for his actions? Perhaps without the consequences, he would not be as repentent as he is, and thus would be more prone to repeat the error.

      In reality, any argument based on what God “should” or “shouldn’t” have done is smoke and mirrors, because in order to bring a legitimate claim against God for injustice would require the plaintiff to possess omniscience, the ability to see the outcome of every possible permutation of events. And we just don’t know. That’s all I’m pointing out.

      Which brings me to my answer to this question:

      How could I worship such arbitrariness?

      I don’t believe we have the legs to indict God’s actions for being arbitrary — we can only say that, from our limited perspective, they seem arbitrary. I’m sure the same could be said of any toddler who is being trained by loving parents, when being denied their favorite candy in favor of a greater learning purpose. I am the defendant in this particular discussion — I don’t have to prove how each of God’s actions are loving and just, I need only to point out the inefficacy of such arguments to the contrary.

      One more thing, about the diagram you mention: Calvin came to the same conclusion, interestingly enough. I am not a Calvinist — it seems that prayer does have an effect on the goings-on here on earth. The best context, I think, is from Romans 12:2, which mentions three different “wills” of God. I believe these can be explained as:

      1. Things that will come to pass no matter what we do (i.e. Jesus coming again)
      2. Things that God wants to happen, and that would happen if God took full control, but that He delegates to us.
      3. God’s “plan B” will, where He can make good even in situations where people drop the ball and #2 fails to occur.

      So, it’s not so simple as to just say “God’s will” as though it were one singular idea. Because you’re right, if prayer had no effect, then it would be redundant. I don’t think that’s the case, though, as evidenced both by situations where prayer does seem to be measurable efficacious, as well as the dismal state of human existence (which I think every Christian would agree is not a portrait of God’s “perfect” plan).

      Like

      • Seth,

        This comment confuses me: So, it sounds like the issue is that God not only should have preserved his person …. I re-read what both Federico and I wrote and I don’t see anything about what “God” should have done.

        I think the point Federico was making (and I agree) is why would this all-powerful entity known as “God” be “picking and choosing” who “he” is going to protect (or not). Further, why would he even be interested considering the fact that he supposedly made the entire universe? (Please see this posting).

        Negligence may have very well played a role, but this is not the core of the “argument.” What some of us don’t understand is why the arbitrariness on the part of your god? You say (in so many words) that prayer works. If this is the case, then why aren’t the results the same in every case?

        You also write: in order to bring a legitimate claim against God for injustice would require the plaintiff to possess omniscience, the ability to see the outcome of every possible permutation of events. And we just don’t know. This is a standard response from Christians. You don’t know … but God does and that’s all that matters. But to those of us who don’t believe, this is nothing but a cop-out.

        IMO, the only thing that prayer does is provide comfort to the individual doing the praying. Any positive results that person “thinks” they see are simply coincidence. And when the prayer seemingly isn’t “answered,” it’s nothing more than the fact life is happening like it always does.

        Liked by 3 people

        • Thanks for your response, Nan. When it comes to God’s “arbitrariness”, that’s a topic for a whole discussion in and of itself — I’ll put that on my short list of things to discuss on my blog, and I’ll make sure to put a link here when I do.

          But, for now, I think I must still point out the gap between a perception of arbitrariness and actual arbitrariness. You’re right, it just comes down to our worldviews, I think — and you may call it a cop-out if you wish. I have other reasons to believe in God and have faith in His goodness besides the efficacy of prayer — but it is one of my reasons, and I’ve seen enough to be stripped of the luxury of chalking it up to a series of impositions upon coincidence.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Glad you agree with my arguments, Peter. And right you are, very seldom do discussions between believers and nonbelievers result in a win-win situation. I know, and as a matter of fact I became interested in this debate because I liked Nan’s way of taking up the glove, and I took part in it as a kind of thought-exercise. Should Seth, unexpectedly, follow “my” logic and deconvert, that will happen without my having prayed for it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • A Joke

      A preacher’s little boy inquired, “Daddy, I notice every Sunday morning when you first come out to preach, you sit up on the platform and bow your head. What are you doing?”
      The father explained, “I’m asking the Lord to give me a good sermon.”
      The little boy said, “Then why doesn’t he?”

      Liked by 2 people

  9. OK but this thread is about the efficacy of prayer… And YES I DID have to look up efficacy to find out what that meant. So does it do anything? I know in my case it seems to. Usually I am requesting information, “Why does the story of Noah resemble a character from the story of Gilgamesh?” “Why do so many people argue over religion and politics?” “What is the secret of the Masons.” and so on. And when I am not asking him for anything and just meditate with him he seems to have lead me to very interesting information about Christianity, people, money and politics. But nowhere in any of that is there proof for his existence. It just proves to me that prayer is effective.

    And God bless to all you heathens.:)

    Like

Take Some Time To Share Your Thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s