Monday, August 12, 2019

Anonymous Asks (53)

“Why should I pray if God already knows what will happen?”

Before we begin, I should point out that knowing what will happen is not the same as wanting it to happen, nor is it the same as making it happen. In fact, some people even argue that God does not know absolutely everything that will happen. I’m not one of them, so we won’t waste a lot of time considering that possibility.

Nevertheless, the distinction between God knowing and God causing is worth keeping clear in our minds when we talk about prayer.

Weighing In on a Predetermined Outcome

So let’s assume that when we pray, God knows before we start how everything will work out at the end. He does not actually need us to instruct him on what to do next. That should be no big surprise to us: he’s God. If we didn’t believe him to be infinitely more knowledgeable than we are, there would be little point in consulting him about anything.

But even if God already knows what will happen, the fact remains that you and I don’t. Even if we did, there’s no guarantee we would have reconciled ourselves to what’s coming, or that we would have God’s perspective on it. All these things make prayer useful even if God already knows the outcome of our requests.

I think what our questioner is really asking here is “Why should I bother making requests if God has already decided whether or not he will ultimately answer them to my satisfaction?” That one’s a little more interesting, and it has more than one answer.

Because I Said So

The most obvious reason to pray is the very parental-sounding “Because I said so.”

Sometimes we tell children the reason why they should do things. Other times we simply give them an instruction and expect them to comply. God works similarly. When Jesus told his disciples a parable to the effect that they “ought always to pray and not lose heart,” he did not stop to explain to them all the reasons that was the right thing to do. When he told a Samaritan woman, “The Father seeks worshipers,” he did not bother to lay out for her why that is or all the reasons men should find it reasonable. When James wrote, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray,” he did not explain in any detail why that might be a good thing. He assumed we could work that out for ourselves.

God wants us to pray, so we should pray if for no other reason than to be obedient children.

Because Jesus Did

A second reason to pray is that Jesus did. He set us the example. Of all people, he knew most keenly that his Father had determined it was necessary for him to go to the cross. He was in on the plan from the very beginning. He actually volunteered for the job. If anyone could have thrown up his hands and said, “Why bother with Gethsemane, it’s pointless anyway?” it ought to have been the Lord Jesus. But he didn’t. In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed so hard that he sweat as if he were sweating great drops of blood.

If we cannot think of any other reason to pray, we should be satisfied to follow the example of our Savior.

Because It Works

Thirdly, we should pray because sometimes prayer actually produces the results we are looking for. It doesn’t all the time, of course. Sometimes our prayers are ignored because we have unconfessed sin in our lives. Sometimes they are ignored because we are behaving badly to others and need to sort that out first. Sometimes they are ignored because we are asking selfishly, rather than with the glory of God in mind. Sometimes our prayers are heard but not answered immediately for reasons that have nothing to do with our spiritual condition at all.

But prayer definitely works. It is more than capable of producing results when we ask for the right things the right way at the right time. Look what happens if we stop. James says, “You do not have because you do not ask.” The implication is that all else being in order, if we ask, we will receive.

Because Workers Together Should Agree

Finally, we should pray because God wants our participation in what he is doing. Of course he could do it all by himself. He does not need us. But as Pascal put it, God instituted prayer “to give his creatures the dignity of causality.” Paul described himself and his fellow evangelists and teachers as “working together” with God. In order to maintain the sort of quality relationship in which individuals work together, it is necessary for everybody to understand what is happening and why, and it is necessary to agree about it. This dialogue is important to God. Before he destroyed Sodom, the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” The question was rhetorical. Of course not. Abraham was sufficiently valuable to God and intimate with him that God would not leave him ignorant like the rest of the world. He offered Abraham an inside track.

This is the place that prayer is designed to bring us to: full agreement with the purposes and methods of God. When in Gethsemane the Lord Jesus got to “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done,” he was precisely where he needed to be to have the strength to go to the cross.

It is the same for us.

1 comment :

  1. This is of course one of the most common thoughts and conclusions that easily turns off the run of the mill skeptic in regard to believing in a divinity.

    I researched this topic a bit and there is an incredible amount of (in my opinion)gobbledygook involving going deeply into a semi scientific explanation involving even the latest tenets of Quantum Theory and it's experimental findings to come up with an answer. It all involves, of course, is this world really real, are we creating the future or past with our minds and expectations and so on. Let me provide my own speculative opinion, which I am actually coming to prefer. I suggest that we are overlooking the possibility that God is actually
    not interested in having an infinite view of the future (with regard to his creation) but might find it much more interesting in letting them work out their own personal path and view of where they think they should be going. In that process there is a relatively short horizon he is satisfied with in which creation works out it's path, makes contributions and has a chance to demonstrate the values that it's Creator imbued it with (otherwise the future would be written in stone with no individual creativity and surprises that God is often pleased with). Obviously this type of approach in no way limits God to act in a way and be who he is, namely God, surprising even those Quantum Physicists if he wishes to. The question posed here is therefore immediately answered. You are given the gift and ability to shape your future in cooperation with God and by means of prayer.