Philosophies of Prayer
My life is full of people who pray. And when they pray, the things they pray for tend to vary, as does the response when what they’re praying for either happens or doesn’t happen. There doesn’t seem to be a consistent philosophy of what prayer is, who it’s for, and the expectation from the recipient. These are a few of the philosophies of prayer that I can deduct from various people in my life. I’d love to hear your philosophy of prayer in the comments. (To be clear – my questions about prayer are because I’m genuinely curious about these ideas, not because I’m mocking the idea of prayer)
The most common philosophy of prayer that I deduct from people is that God is able to intervene in human lives, and depending on what is said during the prayer, or how many people pray for it, God will choose to intervene or not to intervene. People with this philosophy express urgency about prayer, often forwarding messages through prayer chains, or taking comfort if they know a whole bunch of people are praying at the same time. “God, please heal Samantha, as she has cancer. Let the doctors do a good job, and help her family to be comforted.” This philosophy seems to assume that the outcome of Samantha’s cancer is undetermined, and God, as prayer recipient, will give an answer in the form of Samantha’s life or death, the success or failure of the doctors, and the emotional well-being of the family. To those with this view, I ask: In your opinion, is God inside or outside of time? If God is inside of time, what does that say about God’s omniscience? If God is outside of time, is it consistent to believe that your prayers matter, as the outcome is presumably occurring simultaneously with the sickness? Should the patient die, should it really be believed that God’s will includes senseless things like cancer, or dead children, or war? What does it say about God that your prayers may or may not change God’s mind? What does it say about God if the quantity of prayers make a difference in the outcome?
A different theory I heard preached recently is that God cannot intervene in human events, but can provide comfort and express empathy to people as they go through their experiences. In this philosophy, because of human free will, people determine the outcome of human events, with God present as a handcuffed companion. God is there to mourn with you, but she can’t intervene the way one might hope. To those with this view, I ask: If God wants to do something (say, prevent a terrible crime), but can’t because of human free will, what does this say about God’s omnipotence? Is asking for comfort also asking for God to intervene, which this philosophy says can’t be done? How does the philosophy of a non-intervening God related to a potential afterlife? (I'm assuming that this person believes in human free will because it allows people to choose salvation in some way).
The last philosophy of prayer says that prayer is for the human, not for God. Life is either pre-written (because God knows everything that will happen), or if you’re a deist, God isn’t involved with humanity at all now that life has been put in motion. For these people, the expression of prayer helps them on an emotional level, without the expectation that anyone is coming to help them. For these people, I ask: what is the difference between prayer and meditation? What is different about praying compared to a conversation with a close friend?
What’s your philosophy of prayer?