This thread reminds me of something I recently read in Why Christianity Must Change or Die by John Shelby Spong. The excerpt below is taken from a chapter called "The Meaning of Prayer in a World with No External Deity."
In 1981 my wife, Joan, received a cancer diagnosis that was determined in all probability to be fatal. Because we were a well-known and publicly identified family in New Jersey, this news became public knowledge almost immediately. The religious resources of our people and our friends were quickly mobilized. Prayer groups throughout the diocese and even in ecumenical settings added my wife to their list of special intentions. Her name was spoken regularly during the prayers of the people in public worship in almost all of our churches. Concern, caring, and love were communicated to both of us by those actions, and we received that caring with deep appreciation. Remission did appear to have been achieved, and Joan lived for six and a half years from her diagnosis to death. That was beyond anything that the doctors had led us to believe was possible. As this realization of a prolonged remission began to dawn, the people who were most concerned and whose prayers were the most intense began to take credit for her longevity. "Our prayers are working," they claimed. "God is using our prayers to keep this malevolent disease at bay." Perhaps there was present still that ancient but unspoken assumption that this sickness was the work of the devil and that this evil work was being thwarted by the power of God loosed through the prayers of God's people.
Despite my gratitude for the embracing love that these people demonstrated, both for me and for my wife, I could not help but be troubled at their explanations. Suppose, I queried to myself alone, that a sanitation worker in Newark, New Jersey, probably the city with the lowest per capita income in the United States, has a wife who received the same diagnosis. Because he is not a high-profile person, well connected to a large network of people, socially prominent, or covered by the press, the sickness of his wife never comes to public attention. Suppose he is not a religiously oriented person and thus prayer groups and individual petitions in hundreds of churches are not offered on his wife's behalf. Would that affect the course of her sickness? Would she live less time from diagnosis to death, endure more obvious pain, or face a more difficult dying? If so, would that not be to attribute to God not only a capricious nature, but also a value system shaped by human importance and the worldly standards of social elitism? Would I be interested in worshiping a God who would treat my wife differently because we had had opportunities in life that the sanitation worker had not had? Do I want to attribute to the deity a behavior pattern based on human status?
I think everybody is missing Yeru's first question:
Does prayer change God or His mind?
God changed his mind when he was going to destroy Nineveh because once Jonah got there and preached what he was supposed to, the people repented. Was it a result of prayers, though, or of people repenting because they heard Jonah's message?
1. If you change your mind, then I suggest God changes His mind, and vice versa.
2. If prayer doesn't change God's mind, then it can be seen as a useful form of meditation.
If prayer does change God's mind, does that mean God's first answer was not the best answer? If God was going to do something first, but changed His mind because of prayer or other influences, does that mean God is influenced by humans (sort of a political lobbyist arrangement)?
Hi Yeru, Does prayer change God or His mind? I think it can. I think God wants us to come to Him in prayer. I'm not talking about prayers that are repeated over and over again. I'm talking about heartfelt,earnest prayer. I think aproaching Him as someone who is really there and listening. Talking or praying to Him as a real being. A freind. Whether or not such prayer will change His mind,only He knows. But I do think talking to God in prayer does have a possitive effect.
Well, these are my thoughts on the issue. God is immutable, that is, unchangable. To me, that would also mean He doesn't change His mind. So then, why pray? Prayer does not change God, prayer changes us. Through prayer, communication with God, the Holy Spirit can work in us to conform our will to that of the Father. Scripture tells us that God already knows what we need before we ask Him. God knows the end from the beginning, therefore, I can't think really that he changes, but rather that we pray as an act of faith and to conform our will to that of the Father. However, I've recently read some Jewish Materials that indicate a line of thought that God may hold off certain blessings for us until we ask Him for them. I think I need to pray about this issue some more. :>)
There is more of heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosphy, Horatio.
Dark Clouds: I asked a friend of mine who is a Wicca priestess what the difference was between casting a spell and prayer. She said praying is asking for something to happen. Casting a spell is making it happen.
I have been through a lot of rough stuff. It occurred to me several years into it, that it was my personal strength that got me through it. Not "God's" or anyone else's. From that point on, I haven't prayed.