Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Answered Prayers and the Personality of God

I am pretty sure I have read double-blind, peer-reviewed studies performed and cited by Christians and non-Christians alike that either scientifically support or undermine the idea that prayer changes things. One had to do with intercessory prayer by confirmed born-again evangelicals for groups of people in hospitals. There was a control and variable, bla bla bla (they even controlled for whether those being prayed for knew what was going on). And the results of this particular study were positive. Intercessory prayer by this type of people for this type of people (it was all very specific) had a statistically positive impact on health.

But then I saw one just like it with contradictory results.

Here's the thing: I think these studies are completely wrong-headed to begin with. Why think that answers to prayers would be scientifically measurable? We are not talking about a consistent, impersonal force like gravity that can be measured. We are talking about the decisions of a personal being who not only has the power to choose when, where, why, and how he answers, but also has the right to do so.

I keep reading these atheist testimonies that cite, as one of their reasons for leaving the Christian faith, the inconsistency of answers to prayers. I personally just don't see how that's relevant. God has never promised consistent positive answers to prayer. Where did they get the idea that Christianity teaches that God has to do whatever a Christian asks for?

Have you even read our scriptures? There is story after story of unanswered and unexpectedly answered prayers!

And moreover, if Christianity were true, if there exists an almighty God who created everything and sovereignly presides over the universe, holding it all together and guiding every moment of it, wouldn't you expect him to reserve the right to answer prayers on His own terms?

In fact, if God were subject to our prayers and, so long as we prayed according to some strategy, He had to answer them, wouldn't that mean that we were in some sense higher than Him? Wouldn't that relegate Him to genie status? Who wants to worship a genie anyway? Or if not a genie - an impersonal force of some sort. But Christians aren't sorcerers. Take your beef to followers of "The Secret" or some other witchcraft.
"...our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." (Daniel 3:17-18, bold and underline mine).


  1. amen! This is the kind of God I was nearly taught to worship and pray to growing up. Thanks a lot TBN.

  2. Hell yeah!

    Louis. Ah. My friend.
    This post has made me happy, on account of a few conversations we recently had.

    "God has never promised consistent positive answers to prayer. Where did they get the idea that Christianity teaches that God has to do whatever a Christian asks for?"

    Our God is not a fucking genie.

  3. Hey Louis, great post!

    The irony is that if we COULD show some sort of statistical probability rating for the effectiveness of prayer, that would show that Christianity is likely to be FALSE! I know that sounds weird to most people at first, but like you said, God is not an impersonal force. If answered prayer could be statistically predicted than that would make the one who answers prayer on the same level as other natural laws that we can predict. But God is not a force, He is a person. Well done!

  4. Chris, is that directed toward me or David?

  5. I would agree that the examples of studies you presented were poor ways of examining the way God works through prayer. I do find value in seeing and listening to the way God has worked in individuals lives, and seeing more and more the character of God. For as you said, God is not a genie or somehow below us as to grant all of our wishes. He is One who makes decisions and guides our lives, seeing outside of time, and able to answer our prayer requests if He so chooses. The question I have on prayer is when it became a forum for our requests. The nature of prayer seems ideally a conversation with our LORD as to grow relationally. And if prayer is in fact a conversation, how many conversations do we have with our loved ones here on earth that only consist of requests?
    Just my thoughts.

  6. This is why Prosperity Theology is wrong. Wait....God does not speak in the voice of Robin Williams?

  7. Louis,

    My playfulness was not directed toward you.


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