When I was a little boy I remember sitting on a stool at the small bar in my grandparent’s kitchen, eating breakfast or helping put a puzzle together. I spent many hours on that stool, and I always noticed a plaque on the wall, tucked in between the Grandmother and Grandfather of the year awards I had proudly given them in previous years. On this plaque was an outline of praying hands and the words “Prayer Changes Things” running down the right side. I must have read those words a thousand times through the years. As I got older, I would read those same words and wonder, “…does prayer change things?” This was not a cynical argument, I truly believed in an ever-knowing and ever-powerful God who watched over us all. The problem I had was how did this quote coexist with an all-knowing God? If God knows everything, then he must know the future and what will transpire. The logical next step was that God hears our prayers and if we pray hard enough, long enough, correctly, etc. then we would be able to change God’s mind.
Here is where the paradoxical loop came into play for me. If God changes his mind, then he doesn’t know the future, because what he had planned will now be different based on the influence of our prayers. But hold on a second, God is all-knowing and all-powerful, how can we dictate God’s plan? The thought that God’s plan is changing because of a human request seems quite pompous on our part doesn’t it? We have the ability to lobby the creator of the universe, the maker of all things?
After much thought, it seemed to me that the only way I could reconcile this was to give in on prayer…at least the changing God’s mind piece. Now my brain could wrap around this conundrum – God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and prayer doesn’t “change” anything, it happens to be the vehicle we use to thank God for what he has created and the path he has picked for us. The issue with this route though is two-fold: why pray at all and why do people keep asking for things?
Why pray at all? God knows what we are thinking at all times, he knows that we are grateful (or ungrateful, I don’t believe we can trick God) and he knows what lies in front of us. Doesn’t this make prayer redundant?
Secondly, if we know that God already has his plan, why do we continue to lobby him and ask him to change it? Even if we are praying for the health of a family member who is very ill, God knows when that person is going to die, so what are we praying for? Some would say we are praying that the family has peace…but doesn’t God already know if they will or will not have peace with the outcome. Also, God has laid out our feelings and reactions long before this moment. This would have to be the case if you believe in an all-powerful and all-knowing God. If the person survives and a miracle occurs, well that is what God had planned in the first place. What good did your prayers have?
Note: If you’ve made it this far, I thank you, and once again ask for your understanding that I’m not posing these questions to be cynical, I’m posing these questions in a logical framework to better understand the power, the need, and the effectiveness of prayer. I’m not asking questions to be blasphemous, I’m asking questions to better understand a relationship with God.
There is one answer that I believe is the closest thing you’ll ever come to answering these questions: our human brains can’t understand or comprehend this apparent paradox. We just don’t have the mental capacity to understand, and the void that’s left is filled with what we call faith. The example above is one of many that you could have and ultimately end up at the same place, right back here, filling the void with faith. Whether or not an individual is able to accept that faith is what separates believers from non-believers. Besides, at some point, hasn’t it always come down to faith?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.