What’s the Point with Prayer?

June 4, 2007 at 10:44 pm 61 comments

Praying Why pray to an omniscient god? After all, it by definition knows whatever you’re about to say already. There is absolutely nothing you can tell an omniscient god. There is no point in communicating your desires to it, because it knows already, even before you yourself are aware of them.

Rather, prayer must be a sort of recognition. By praying to a god, you recognize it as your god and show your devotion. But why this empty gesture? Surely an omniscient god would know this too? If a god knows everything there is to know, it most certainly knows your true feelings, and no amount of prayer will ever fool such a god into thinking you’re really devout when you’re actually not. God will shine through all your attempts at hiding your true self. If you think that your god values honesty, it would be best not to try, lest you be punished for your lies and dishonesty. So either prayer is an empty gesture, or it must be neither communication of desires nor recognition.

Perhaps it’s helpful to look at the circumstances in which ordinary people pray. The most devout pray every day, even several times a day. However, most ordinary believers do not. They are way to busy with their daily lives. Perhaps their interest in their god is not so great, or perhaps in their perception they do not constantly need to suck up to God. Rather, they turn to God in troubled times. When accident has chanced upon them, or when they’re about to go down a fork in the road and don’t know which to choose, or when a loved one dies, or other dramatic and defining events in their lives. This seems to suggest that prayer is more of an egoistic action, a call for help when an one feels like one is unable to help oneself. But isn’t prayer supposed to be about God, too? If prayer is purely for humans, what’s the point? Is God some kind of make-me-feel-good-machine, a happiness whore whom Jesus or another savior paid the ultimate price for, so that you don’t have to reach into your own pocket to pay for some comfort?

This has me genuinely puzzled. I haven’t thought much about this before, mainly because my family is pretty areligious (as in, no religious services, no prayer, even though I’ve many relatives that are theists). So I have not really been surrounded by praying believers much.

But there’s one further complication. Let’s pretend, for a moment, that there was some information that a god didn’t know that you could communicate to it through prayer. Recall that gods, at least the common monotheistic varieties, are not only omniscient and omnipotent but also omnibenevolent, meaning that they’re perfectly good or inclined to act in such a way as to bring about the maximum possible good. Now, pretend that there are things God can only know through prayer. So, in a weak moment you pray to God and communicate something to it that it didn’t know. Wouldn’t it be obliged to act on it? Given that it has an inclination for the perfectly good, this god, given this new information, would have to act on it unless this information was of such a kind that it didn’t at all alter God’s perception of the state of the world and how to make it better, which is unlikely. Given that people regularly confess crimes or dishonesty to God, if this was new to God it would be obliged to act on this new information for it to be omnibenevolent.

I’ve looked at this from several angles, and so far I can’t see what the purpose of prayer might be. I can’t find any purpose that would render prayer anything but an empty gesture. If any theists would like to enlighten me, please feel free.

- Simen

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  • 1. HeIsSailing  |  June 4, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    A common, and I think recent, excuse for prayer is that it helps align the believer with the will of God. I have heard that from the pulpit several times.

    Translation: No matter how hard you pray, God will do nothing different then before. Accept what he is doing and deal with it.

  • 2. HeIsSailing  |  June 4, 2007 at 11:04 pm

    My old Christian self would have said there are several purposes to prayer. Prayer is a way of humbling yourself to God (Deut 9:14, 2Chr 7:14), a way to thank God for all your blessings (all through Psalms), and to intervene with God for your needs (Luke 11:9).

    My ex-Christian self says that it was a form of self meditation. Without prayer, the faithful fall away because they loose that concentration on the divine. There were many times when I prayed and pleaded to God for specific needs. After many repititions of asking God for help, I often felt that after a while I was merely reciting old creeds and talking to myself.

  • 3. Matt  |  June 4, 2007 at 11:30 pm

    Heh. Oddly enough, I made a similar piece of writing just a few days ago. I also don’t understand the point of prayer.

    http://mattcbr.wordpress.com/2007/06/03/prayer-whats-the-point/

  • 4. theconfusedchristian  |  June 5, 2007 at 12:52 am

    Weird. This is the first blog I’ve read since also writting on prayer. It discusses a few of the same things you talk about and might answer some of your questions. Or, it might just tell you that as a Christian I question prayer as well.
    http://www.theconfusedchristian.wordpress.com

  • 5. HeIsSailing  |  June 5, 2007 at 6:26 am

    and I wrote a similar article on praying for miracles, and posted it only 2 minutes after simon posted this one. I took mine off when I saw Simen’s – I’ll post it later today I guess.

    We all must have the *Power of Prayer* on our minds!

  • 6. Simen  |  June 5, 2007 at 9:09 am

    People seem to have prayer on their minds, indeed. To be fair, this was written in early April for my blog. Here are some responses I got from Christians then:

    My desire, as a follower of Jesus Christ (who I believe to be the Son of God), is to draw closer to God in my relationship with him. Prayer becomes my attempt to have the same mind as God. Yes God is omniscient, and knows what I am going to pray, but my desire may not be the same as God’s, so in one way, prayer is an attempt to think the same thoughts, will the same will, desire the same desires as God.

    In this commenter’s mind, prayer is a way to restrict one’s free will so as to think the same thoughts as God. It strikes me that if God intended humans to think the same thoughts as he does, he’d have created people without free will in the first place.

    The point is relational, as your first commenter was saying. [His fiancee] knows that I love her; does that mean I should never say, “I love you”? Should I never say “Thank you” when she does something nice for me? If nothing else, speaking the words demonstrates that I don’t take her kindness for granted.

    Sometimes people pray to wrestle through things that trouble them. If a child dies, for example, parents may vent their anger at God in prayer. In my view, that’s within bounds, because prayer is about relationship. If I’m angry, I can say so. God understands, and supports me through it.

    There’s even a text in Romans that discusses those times when someone is in deep distress and unable to pray coherently. Don’t worry about it, Paul says, because the Holy Spirit will interpret even your inarticulate groanings and present them as prayer to God.

    Still, it doesn’t make much sense from a transactional point of view. I’m telling God something he already knows, and asking him for help he’s already inclined to give me. And then, God is helping me to find the words to say whatever is on my heart. I can understand why it might look peculiar to an outsider.

    This sounds like some kind of mutual comforting: you reassure God, and God reassures you, in a kind of feedback loop. Since God knows all this already, it does sound kind of selfish.

    In prayer, we appeal to God in the deepest sense to use his omnipotence to facilitate in us spiritual growth. Consistent with the first cause argument, we reaffirm our contingency/dependence on God for everything, including our own existence in prayer. Therefore, we pray to appeal to God for his help in getting us closer to Him. Getting closer to Him is only possible through spiritual growth.

    This commenter prays to get God to help him get closer to God. Isn’t salvation supposed to be a challenge? If God wanted to help you more than he does, he would have done it without you praying for it.

  • 7. Radec  |  June 5, 2007 at 9:35 am

    **HeIsSailing said “We all must have the *Power of Prayer* on our minds!”**

    That’s funny, that statement, the “Power of Prayer” changed my life about 2 years ago, but not the way I think it was meant to. It was a pretty difficult time in my life, lots of prayer on my part, not many answers. I remember sitting in the pew listening to my minister tell our church about a bad car accident a member of ours was involved in. It was pretty serious, but after a few days she was recovering and how this is a great example of the “power of Prayer”. I remember thinking how CRAZY that was!! It wasn’t prayer, it was statistics! It was the car she was in, it was the medical attention she received..etc. Someone out there that day who didn’t get any “blessings” probably survived a similar crash, while another may have died! I always prayed thinking it was doing some good, and it was at that point I realized it wasn’t. Basically I asked the same question Simen asked, what’s the point.

  • 8. Heather  |  June 5, 2007 at 11:13 am

    I think the response of prayer allowing one to have the same mind as God is the only one that makes sense, because prayer in an attempt to ask God to do something doesn’t. God does what He wants regardless of human input, and if He were influenced by prayer, that kind of makes Him like a candy machine. If you pray hard enough or sincere enough, God might be inclined to give you a hand, and that can lead to a lot of guilt of not praying hard enough (which probably happens anyway). Of course, praying to align one’s self with God’s will really only means that you’re trying to make yourself happy with the outcome — for it’ll happen regardless. And this only works if one works under the assumption that God is all-good and no matter what happens, it works out for the best (even if the ‘best’ is never apparent).

    Or like the car accident example for the power of prayer — was it really prayer that did it? Does that mean God wouldn’t have made the healing ‘faster’ if there wasn’t prayer?

  • 9. cragar  |  June 5, 2007 at 11:26 am

    As I often do, I went with my wife to a barbeque after her Sunday meeting with a number of JW guests. As always, someone does a prayer before we eat thanking Jehovah (God) for our food and for the companionship. I bow my head when this is going on and usually wonder, why aren’t we thanking the farmers that raised the chickens and plowed the fields for the vegetables we are about to eat? Or the truck drivers that got the food from the farm to our grocer? Or the grocer for putting chicken on sale this week?

    My mind tends to wander while others are praying….

  • 10. Justin  |  June 5, 2007 at 11:42 am

    The thing with prayer is that when people ask for a change in circumstances, they are assuming that they know what is best for themselves, when in reality, any Christian/Muslim/Jew would acknowledge that trust should be put in God.

    There is a very therapeutic quality in such a realization.

  • 11. agnosticatheist  |  June 5, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    BTW, here’s an earlier piece on this subject written by MysteryOfIniquity:
    Prayer: Communion with yourself
    aA

  • 12. Karen  |  June 5, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    A common, and I think recent, excuse for prayer is that it helps align the believer with the will of God. I have heard that from the pulpit several times.

    I agree, that seems to be the current interpretation. Interesting how different we think about prayer now, than believers did centuries ago when they really were “begging” for indulgences from on high. It’s almost like modern believers acknowledge that prayer doesn’t “work” in the traditional sense and so they have to come up with a different way to look at it.

    This sounds like some kind of mutual comforting: you reassure God, and God reassures you, in a kind of feedback loop.

    I had several emotional experiences involving prayer when I was a Christian. As I re-evaluated my belief, I went back and examined them to try and figure out – if this wasn’t a supernatural encounter – what was really happening?

    I realized that the comfort and calm I felt after certain prayer times was a manifestation of what psychologists call “self-talk” – it’s almost like meditation, where you clear your mind and focus on something in a peaceful state. Doing that can bring about excellent results that have nothing to do with magic or god. I think that’s why people believe in the “power of prayer” – not because they may sometimes get “the right” answers to what they’re wishing for.

    I bow my head when this is going on and usually wonder, why aren’t we thanking the farmers that raised the chickens and plowed the fields for the vegetables we are about to eat? Or the truck drivers that got the food from the farm to our grocer? Or the grocer for putting chicken on sale this week?

    This really is a pet peeve of mine. Particularly when someone recovers from an illness or injury and people thank god! for a miracle without acknowledging that it took medical personnel and modern facilities and public investment in the scientific method to “create” that miracle. I hate it when credit is not given where it’s really due, because then we lose out on the greater good of establishing support for funding of research, etc.

  • 13. cragar  |  June 5, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    This really is a pet peeve of mine. Particularly when someone recovers from an illness or injury and people thank god! for a miracle without acknowledging that it took medical personnel and modern facilities and public investment in the scientific method to “create” that miracle.

    I am the same. And don’t even get started on the sports figures that constantly thank God or Allah or whomever, as if they had a rooting interest in the event going on.

    I realized that the comfort and calm I felt after certain prayer times was a manifestation of what psychologists call “self-talk” – it’s almost like meditation, where you clear your mind and focus on something in a peaceful state

    I used to be in sales, and occasionally an objection againt buying my product was they would want to “pray about it.” Now I don’t think they would end up getting a message from above giving them advice on how to spend their money. Most likely they would go over their budget, do the pros and cons and make an educated decision rather than a rash one.

  • 14. Simen  |  June 5, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    Thanking gods for surviving an accident is the epitome of hypocrisy. It’s like thanking someone for deciding to stop beating you, while refusing to blame them for starting in the first place.

  • 15. Karen  |  June 5, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    they would want to “pray about it.” Now I don’t think they would end up getting a message from above giving them advice on how to spend their money. Most likely they would go over their budget, do the pros and cons and make an educated decision rather than a rash one.

    Well, in that case I guess “pray about it” was an effective euphemism! :-)

    Thanking gods for surviving an accident is the epitome of hypocrisy. It’s like thanking someone for deciding to stop beating you, while refusing to blame them for starting in the first place.

    I once talked to a woman who swore that she prayed and god changed the path of a tornado so it avoided her house. She had a marvelous testimony about how her life was spared through the power of prayer.

    What no one seemed to question was why god hated her neighbors so much that he drove the tornado through their houses like a bulldozer! I guess none of them were “righteous” or the answer would’ve been “god works in mysterious ways, and it’s not our place to question him” – ugh.

  • 16. Intergalactic Hussy  |  June 5, 2007 at 7:45 pm

    Luckily I was raised Jewish and we never prayed like Xians do. So the idea was always quite silly. Some theists (or might I say deists) don’t pray, which at least makes sense within that realm of “logic”.

    Anyone who gets on their knees and it’s not for some sexual pleasure (for any gender)…its just not necessary. Unless, of course, you’re re-tiling your kitchen.

  • 17. Intergalactic Hussy  |  June 5, 2007 at 7:45 pm

    But reform Jewish.

  • 18. Simen  |  June 5, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    Some theists (or might I say deists) don’t pray, which at least makes sense within that realm of “logic”.

    No need to call them deists. Not praying is of course quite compatible with the idea of a personal god. A god that knows all doesn’t need explicit communcation either; it knows your every thought and has known since the dawn of time, billions of years before you thought it, so it has had all the time in the world to consider whether or not to oblige your selfish wishes or grant you some enlightenment.

  • 19. j scott wissman  |  June 5, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    “I once talked to a woman who swore that she prayed and god changed the path of a tornado so it avoided her house. She had a marvelous testimony about how her life was spared through the power of prayer.

    What no one seemed to question was why god hated her neighbors so much that he drove the tornado through their houses like a bulldozer! ”

    I have heard this example too. (Echoing Kafka here:) I suppose it turns Arrogance into a universal principle.

  • 20. Karen  |  June 5, 2007 at 9:56 pm

    Not praying is of course quite compatible with the idea of a personal god. A god that knows all doesn’t need explicit communcation either; it knows your every thought and has known since the dawn of time, billions of years before you thought it, so it has had all the time in the world to consider whether or not to oblige your selfish wishes or grant you some enlightenment.

    Hoo boy, try getting that one past a fundy. I got guilt-tripped about prayer continuously for 30 years. No matter how often I prayed, it was never enough.

    Pray without ceasing! the verse goes, so we were admonished to “make our lives a concert of prayer,’ whatever that means.

    I guess if I’d taken it to the extreme, I would’ve turned into one of those people who goes around muttering under her breath all the time. Someone probably would have committed me! ;-)

  • [...] 6th, 2007 In response to Simen’s post “What’s the Point with Prayer?” crager, from the blog “A Varitable Plethora,” said: As I often do, I went with [...]

  • [...] From What’s the Point with Prayer? [...]

  • 23. mathew  |  January 26, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Would you like to read my poston the ‘Logic of Prayer’ and leave a comment, please.

    What would you think of some of my experiences in prayer? I’d like to listen to your response, if you will.
    thanks.

  • 24. Prayer: Why do it Anyway? « de-conversion  |  May 11, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    [...] over the years. We’ve discussed this topic on several occasions including Simen’s What’s the Point with Prayer?, MysteryOfIniquity’s Prayer: Communion with yourself, and LeoPardus’ Praying my way to [...]

  • 25. BigHouse  |  December 21, 2009 at 12:17 am

    I was surfing the archives and found this thread. “Intergalactic Hussy” is the best handle I have seen on the interwebs. FANTASTIC.

  • 26. Colieharsha  |  February 10, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    I am a deacon at church and serve communion from time to time. After the sermon we have to stick around to see if people would like us to pray for them. I get everything from “I might lose my job” to “my mother is dieing and I’m scared and angry”. I don’t know if I’m right or not, but I feel that prayer is a way for us to have a relationship with God. I’ve heard it being compared to how a parent knows what a child wants but they still want them to ask for it. The child might not get what they are asking for because the parent knows best, but there is still a connection that happens between parent and child. A conversation is had and a relationship is formed or solidified. Another hard lesson I’ve learned over the years is that an unanswered prayer might be the “no” to your request. God isn’t an ordering service, and He ultimately knows what is going to be the best for your life and His glory.
    It comforts me to know that someone is listening to my heart and is looking out for me with the best intensions. Even if the best intensions is to be on a volcano when it erupts and have third degree burns all over my body. (didn’t happen to me, but my sister-in-law) She might never know why that happened or understand it but she is still a rock solid Christian and still thanks God for letting her live to later meet her husband and have two children. Like I said, I don’t know if I’m right or wrong, I just know that I feel peace when I pray, and that’s all that I need.

  • 27. DSimon  |  February 10, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Colieharsha, I’m glad that prayer brings you peace, but I’m disappointed that you don’t feel that whether or not your beliefs is true is more important than whether or not they’re comforting. There isn’t good evidence for the existence of God, and there’s not only a lack of good evidence for the efficacy of prayer but a lot of evidence showing that it doesn’t work.

    Please understand, I intend no personal offense to you by saying this. I may disrespect your beliefs, but I still respect you as a person and your reasons for having those beliefs.

  • 28. Joe  |  February 10, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    We may have experienced this before:

    Little Child: “Mommy, can I have a dollar?”

    Mother: “What for honey”?

    Little Child: “I want to buy you a birthday present”.

    What purpose is there in giving the little child the dollar? You already know what they are going to use it for. But you give the dollar just the same because of the joy the child will get in giving something to you, whom they love, and the joy you receive in knowing you have made them happy in doing so.

    I see prayer many times in much the same manner. God KNOWS already what we need, but wants us to pray to Him so that he can bless us. Does that make sense?

  • 29. Joe  |  February 10, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    I forgot to mention above that the “request” the child is making is actually a bit absurd. The child is asking the mother to provide money so that the child can buy that same person a present.

    But often that is what our prayers are. We are asking God for something he already knows we want (but might not necessarily need) but encourages us to ask just the same.

  • 30. 4riozs  |  February 11, 2010 at 12:04 am

    I think your analogy is an excuse used to answer for the unanswered prayers.

  • 31. 4riozs  |  February 11, 2010 at 12:12 am

    If God knew what we needed, “he” would give it to use and we wouldn’t “need” to ask. From the outside looking into the church, in my opinion I find this view of “God” and man to make “God” out to be needy. “He” purposely leaves people to beg, so “he” would get attention. If he were “real”, why doesn’t he just make himself noticable and stop leaving people to beg? Why doesn’t he give all of us deconverts a reason to believe- besides formulas and excuses?

  • 32. Joe  |  February 11, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    I think you may have missed the point. What I was saying is that all that we have is ultmiately from God in the first place. Just as that little child needs to ask for a dollar from it’s mother to buy a gift for it’s mother, so we also ask of God to ultimiately give back to God in the end. And in this we are ultimately blessed.

    Many times I have thought my prayers were “unanswered” because they weren’t answered according to MY timing or how I thought they should be answered. God often does not answer according to what we WANT, but according to what we NEED and what he knows will ultimately bless us the most.

    I have seen this in my own life many, many times.

  • 33. Outsider  |  February 11, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    Prayer may be a way to calm your senses. It may be nothing more than an optical illusion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jk6ILZAaAMI

  • 34. DSimon  |  February 11, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Joe, I don’t think that such a loose belief in the efficacy of prayer could possibly be falsifiable. You seem to be willing to count anything that looks even vaguely like an answered prayer, occurring at any time, as evidence in favor of the efficacy of prayer. Furthermore, you also seem to be assuming that prayers that don’t appear to be answered at all still are answered, and that you just don’t know specifically how.

    This is very much like the “standard of evidence” that convinces people to believe in things like astrology and psychic powers.

  • 35. Joe  |  February 11, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    DSimon—

    I would simply respond that you appear to be doing the same except in the opposite direction. If you pray and expect God to answer by YOUR interpretation of how the prayer should be answered you will most likely say “My prayers weren’t answered–they failed MY test of what answered prayer is”.

    God in no way says that prayer will be answered in a specific time-frame or in a specific way. He says to “keep on asking and it will be given to you, keep on seeking and you shall find, keep on knocking and it will be opened to you”—but He doesn’t give any time frame for it.

    I will just say that I have seen quick answers to prayer, some that were answered in a completely different way than I expected, and some that have never been answered. But there is no way I can come to a conclusion that because prayers weren’t answered the way I DEMAND they be answered they are therefore unanswered prayers. That would be poor logic.

  • 36. Joe  |  February 11, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    And as someone mentioned, as cliche’ as it sounds, I do believe there is a “no” that can be given to prayer also. I could say “Lord, you promised if we ask ANYTHING in your name you would grant it” and then begin asking for a Rolls Royce.

    if I don’t get that Rolls Royce within a year though I asked every day should I come to the conclusion God doesn’t answer prayer? Possibly I could if I used strained and horrible logic and manipulated scripture to do so. But what if during the same time a friend gave me a used Toyota for barely nothing?

    That could be the answer to your prayer. Or you could insist there was never an answer because it wasn’t answered specifically, and you never got the Rolls Royce you asked for. :)

  • 37. Joe  |  February 11, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    #36 LOL using a Toyota as an example was a poor choice–seeing all the gas pedal/brake issues lately—-let’s make it a Honda instead. :)

  • 38. SnugglyBuffalo  |  February 11, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    I will just say that I have seen quick answers to prayer, some that were answered in a completely different way than I expected, and some that have never been answered.

    Which is exactly what we would expect if God didn’t answer prayers at all. A quick application of Occam’s Razor, and it would seem that the most plausible explanation is that God does not answer prayer.

    This is all just so much post hoc rationalization.

    I don’t think any of us really expects a supreme being to answer prayers our way. As it stands, if a supreme being is answering prayers, it’s answering them in a way that’s indistinguishable from random chance. At which point you might as well not pray, since the outcome is going to be the same either way.

    I can ask God for a dollar to buy him a present, but if my asking has no influence whatsoever on whether I’m given a dollar or not, what’s the point in expending the energy to ask?

  • 39. Joe  |  February 11, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    But if you are expecting the dollar to just fall out of the sky into your hands then of course it will appear to be an unanswered prayer.

    But, hey, I hear what you are saying. Prayer truly is subjective—of that I am fully aware. One person’s answer may be another persons “coincidence”. :)

    I have just had far too many “coincidences” to call them that any more. :)

  • 40. SnugglyBuffalo  |  February 12, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Yes, but your sample size is too small, Joe. You might have had a lot of positive coincidences, but what about all the others who’ve had a lot of negative coincidences, or the ones who’s positive and negative coincidences balance out?

  • 41. Joe  |  February 12, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    Snuggly–

    As I said, and admit, prayer is very subjective—-but it is subjective in both directions. “My prayers WERE answered, therefore prayer works” or “my prayers WEREN’T answered as I had expected, therefore prayer is not vaild”.

    Answered prayer cannot really be “proved” one way or the other, just as God’s very existence cannot be “proved” one way or the other either.

    In my own case (I realize totally this is my own subjective experience and I can prove nothing by it) I have seen some fantastic “answers” that defied all logic. But everyone’s prayer experience appears to be different, so as I say, I can prove nothing by it. :)

  • 42. milehigh  |  February 12, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    Isn’t it interesting how we never hear anything back when we pray? We look for unpredictable answers, but it’s still a one way conversation. I have a friend who hears the voice of Gene Simmons on occasion, but at least he has an excuse called mental illness.
    I used to see coincidences and call them answered prayer, but is that the best the God of the universe whose presence is so manifest can do? While God was finding the perfect used Toyota for me, he was busy killing 200,000+ people in Haiti and watching 100,000 children being used as sex slaves in the Philippines. Does anyone see the dissonance here?

  • 43. Joe  |  February 12, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Milehigh—-

    You are looking at prayer and answered prayer in your finite view of things. God’s “thoughts are not our thoughts, and his ways are not his ways” he says. He said his thoughts and ways are so much higher than ours it is incredible.

    Imagine a colony of ants praying to us and complaining that too much water gets into their colony when it rains. Suppose we see all they need to do is move a few hundred yards away. They complain and complain that we don’t answer their prayer.

    In the mean time we “force” them out of their ant hill with water, or increased sunlight through a lense, etc—to make them move the 250 acres away. To them this is no “answer”—it is a “disaster”. But we know that once they move the 250 yards away their existence will improve tremendously for time to come. We are “answering” their prayer, but in such a way as they did not expect at all.

    Our finite minds easily judge and say that God does not “answer” prayers. When he is answering all the time.

  • 44. Joe  |  February 12, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    meant to say 250 yards—not acres above

  • 45. Joe  |  February 12, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    By the way, I am in no way referring that the earthquake in Haiti was in answer to prayer, or was answering prayer in any way. I was just trying to give an example of how God can answer prayers in a very different way than we WANT him to. The disaster in Haiti is a horrible occurrence, and I do not in any way call it judgment, etc, as that would be very foolish.

    I don’t understand huge disasters and wasn’t inferring God causes them in answer to prayer.

  • 46. Outsider  |  February 12, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Joe-

    I still don’t understand your sense of “answered” prayer. It as if you interpret anything that happens as an answered prayer. How do oyu connect the dots??? You give so many analogies, but they still don’t prove the efficacy of prayer. Now you are using anthropomorphism (attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena), which is altogether a different topic…

    In your own words: “God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and his ways are not his ways”…but how can you speak for him then? How can you interpret his ways when you can’t even identify them? You can’t claim to speak the mind of god, whose existence is still unproven. You make such illogical claims over and over again.

  • 47. SnugglyBuffalo  |  February 12, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    If “God’s thoughts are not our thoughts” how can we make any sort of judgments about him? Perhaps God is in fact evil and sadistic. Perhaps he only blesses some people because he knows it will make others’ suffering even more poignant.

    Once you start arguing that God is beyond our comprehension you have given up the ability to say anything about him.

    Quite frankly, the idea that an omnipotent God would create us with a limited ability to understand him, and then act in ways that our limited understanding would judge equivalent to non-existence is absurd. You’re practically saying that God himself doesn’t want us to think he exists .

  • 48. Analyst  |  February 12, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    It is a common error to conflate prayer with religion. Genuine prayer rarely occurs in churches etc. What passes for prayer is really the recitation of magic spells.

    If anyone tells you what to say, where to say it, when to say it, how to say it, or who to say it with it is a magic spell, not a prayer. You might as well get naked and walk three times widdershins around a cauldron.

    Ironically there is much more prayer in schools than in sacred buildings.

  • 49. Quester  |  February 12, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    I disagree wholeheartedly, Analyst. What about formula is intrinsic to magic spells? No, magic is the attempt to bend reality to your will. Any prayer that tries to influence reality is a magic spell. You might as well be dropping pennies in a wishing well.

    Of course, if you’re not trying to influence reality, what are you doing?

  • 50. Joe  |  February 12, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    I prayed just this morning “I truly ask that I could do something today that would use the numver 50 in it”. I’m not sure how that relates to this post, but thought I would share it.

  • 51. Joe  |  February 12, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    Outsider—(#46)

    Please read post #41 again. I admitted there, and in a couple of other posts that prayer is very subjective. I never stated I could speak for the mind of God—on the contrary I mentioned that it says his ways are not our ways, or his thoughts our thoughts–that they are high above ours according to scripture.

    Not sure what you mean about “illogical claims” when I freely admit that answered or unanswered prayers are both highly subjective—you cannot prove or disprove them either way—except by one’s personal experience. It is basically the same argument as the existence of God is—-you can spend many posts arguing the point, but in the end it will be subjective, as it always will be.

  • 52. Joe  |  February 12, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    Snuggly —

    “Once you start arguing that God is beyond our comprehension you have given up the ability to say anything about him”.(#47)

    That would be true if he never revealed anything about himself. He is an INFINITE being—so of course we cannot fully comprehend him. I think that is the mistake many make in thinking because they in their finite minds cannot comprehend God, He therefore must not exist.

    God does say his thoughts are far above our thoughts—but He also says “I know the thoughts I think towards you, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end”. So though his thoughts are vastly and infinitely beyond our finite thoughts, he still explains HOW he thinks about us, and that they are thoughts of love.

    I admit completely that part of being a “believer” is admitting that there is no way you can fully understand or comprehend God. Much of believing is “trusting” that He knows what is best for us, and accepting that we are finite and will one day know far more than we understand at the present time.

  • 53. Simen  |  February 12, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Joe: “keep on seeking and you shall find.” There you have it. Keep looking for “answered prayers” and you shall find them. There’s no shortage of “miraculous” events in the world. So long as you define miracles as extremely improbable, you will find them. This is exactly what you’d expect in a universe governed by natural laws and chance, but no creator: every day, an almost unimaginably large number of events occur: it would be remarkable if improbable events never happened, since “highly unlikely” is more probable than “impossible”. What all these miracles have in common is that they’re not impossible. There have never been any documented impossible miracles, i.e., true miracles. There are plenty of false miracles, unlikely events that happen every once in a while because that’s just how chance goes, and those who seek miracles shall happily find them. But since they are exactly what you’d expect in a universe without a creator, there is no need to attribute them to God. That is wishful thinking.

    As for the incomprehensibility of God, it seems to me that if you’ve first said God is fundamentally incomprehensible to humans, you can make no rational assessment of God’s actions or commands. After all, you don’t understand God’s motives, God’s methods of acquiring knowledge, God’s anything, really. God is defined as impossible to understand. If God cannot be understood, he cannot be rationally trusted. You can’t say God is incomprehensible and then say you comprehend God’s commands or motives or attributes. You don’t get to “understand” God as far as God’s supposed attributes match those you’d like God to have, and then claim God incomprehensible when something happens that could be interpreted as contradicting your idea of what or who God is. Either God is beyond human understanding, or he isn’t. Selective comprehensibility sounds suspiciously like selective belief, i.e., wishful thinking.

    The same goes for the “feelings prove God” non-argument.

  • 54. CheezChoc  |  February 13, 2010 at 2:32 am

    Hail Mary full of grace,
    help me find a parking space.

    Sorry–that just came to mind all of a sudden. :)

  • 55. DSimon  |  February 13, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Joe, the problem with relying on “purely subjective” evidence to prove the existence of things that are supposed to exist in objective reality is that your conclusions are quite likely to be wrong.

    Falsifiability and verifiable evidence is important. As I said earlier, if your standards of belief would just as easily support things that are obviously nonsense, like astrology, why should you use them?

  • 56. milehigh  |  February 15, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    It’s just funny what we pray about. “God please help me find my keys”, meanwhile a child is being raped down the street and God does nothing to stop it. Jesus loves the little children, at least the ones who pray to him. Wait, that doesn’t explain the little girl who was raped, tortured & murdered, then thrown in a suitcase by her sunday school teacher last year. I’m sure her parents prayed for her that day. The girl probably prayed for God’s help too. Maybe even the Sunday school teacher asked for forgiveness before she committed the murder. What about when the girl screamed out to Jesus for help when unspeakable acts were committed against her?
    What if you had thousands of TV monitors all around, each showing a live feed of every murder, rape, abuse, torture happening at that moment. Would you not be horrified and do whatever you could to stop at least one? What if you could stop all of them instantly but refused to lift a finger?
    This is the position in which God sits, too busy helping us find our keys or choose the right used car.

  • 57. milehigh  |  February 15, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    I know a pastor serving in the third world whose home burned down while he was off teaching a Bible study last year. It soon came out his three children had lit a candle and were then burned alive in the home. Was it too much for God to just help these screaming kids out the door or simply blow the fire out? I’m sorry my children, I know it is painful, but I have to let you burn alive to further my will. It’s the only way to reach your family and friends. Soon you will be with me in heaven and we can watch your grandparents burning in hell together.

  • 58. Anonymous  |  February 15, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    milehigh—

    I’m sure you will consider this a “cop-out” or that I am coming to “God’s defense” becauset he question is too tough. And I see where you would have a right to do that too.

    But I have to mention that there are many things we do not understand. Apparently, from what we read in scripture, God put someone in authority over this planet—and even though he has fallen, he still appears to have that authority,

    Note that he offered Jesus “all the Kingdoms of the world if He would worship him”—and as we know, Jesus declined. But this person DID HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE THE OFFER.

    So, in a mystery we do not understand, God has limited what he can do on this planet. He does do miracles—-but as we all know they are few and far between. We ALL ask “God, why do you allow little children to be murdered? Why do you allow old people to be mistreated, and ripped-off, etc. etc.” and it is a very valid question.

    But the Bible seems to imply there is something happening that we cannot fully understand, and that it will all will be made clear to us one day. I don’t believe God is helping people find their car keys—we are perfectly able to find them ourselves—-some people may CALL that prayer—-but that isn’t prayer at all— that is pure stupidity. So would asking God to help me not burn the rice when I’m cooking. :)

    There is much more to the story that we cannot see–I truly believe this. Again, sounds like a “cop-out” I suppose, but that’s what I read and I really do think one day we will all clearly see what has happened here on this earth—-and most importantly, why.

  • 59. CheezChoc  |  February 15, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    I still can’t see any kind of context or ultimate result or reason that will make us all understand and accept everything that has happened here.

  • 60. Joe  |  February 15, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Sorry about that–I am the anonymous—name dropped off somehow.

  • 61. Nim Lee  |  April 22, 2011 at 5:14 am

    In islam you can see clearly one purpose in prayer: as the men stand or kneel shoulder to shoulder with no space left empty in the serried ranks, it expresses the brotherhood of islam. I suppose the christians feel the same in their churches when they gather together. The prayer itself is a form of words shared by all, which they chant together. The christians also have hymns. Some find comfort in ritual, it doesn’t matter how meaningless it is. In fact, if it had any direct purpose, it would not be ritual, I suppose?! I heard a religious person((I think Christian) say on the radio the other day:”Everyone needs ritual”. Fairly sure that it’s not true, but tells you something about their own mindset. I have heard many expressing disbelief in the fact that there are people who don’t believe.
    Most christians don’t know much about theology, they have a “simple faith”, in which they have a friend in Jesus, and god is a father figure. Some also idolise the bible. “The bible says …. ” is a phrase to stifle all discussion.
    The problem with the “we’ll understand it all by and by” argument is that if god does not interfere, or does not interfere in an understandable way, then it does make prayer redundant or pointless. We do not and cannot know if it has any affect, or if any affect it may have is the one intended.
    However, if it makes anyone feel better, I have no objection, please just leave me to agree with Voltaire: “God and I are not on speaking terms.”

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Attention Christian Readers

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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