Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Disturbing Implications Of Answered Prayer

Intricately related to the philosophical problems presented by Just World Theory, which I discussed in the previous post, are those involved in belief in answered prayer.
For those who believe in a supernatural, personal God who is able to act in the universe in ways which contravene the laws of nature and who can be petitioned for favors and guidance, the issue of His apparent unwillingness to concede to the majority of prayer requests must be addressed. Many believers in petitionary prayer rationalize this failure by evoking God's mysterious and incomprehensible nature. All prayers are answered, they claim, it's just that sometimes the answer is no.
The problem arises when the random chance outcomes of situations are attributed to God's will or likewise, when God's will is seen as discernible in the petitionary prayers which appear to be granted.
How often do we see celebrities attributing their successes to the will of God, thanking Him for an Oscar or a Super Bowl win? Or in more serious matters, how often do we see the survivors of tragedies attributing their miraculous survival to God or answered prayer? The problem with this kind of thinking is that by claiming divine sanction of your success you are also claiming divine sanction of others' failures. If God really did want your football team to win the Super Bowl, He wanted the other team to lose, and couldn't He have used his omnipotence in a more productive manner than assuring the outcome of a sporting event? If God really was answering the prayers of the single survivor of a plane crash, why did He refuse the prayers of those who perished?
In short, it paints a picture of an extremely arbitrary and ultimately unfair God to claim that He answers prayers sporadically. If He were just and kind and concerned with our well-being, shouldn't He grant all prayers which are asked with good will and a humble heart?
Before we are willing to attribute the odd unexpected beneficial outcome to God's will or answered prayer, we should stop to think what that claim says about negative outcomes as well as about the character of an omnipotent being which would allow them.

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