The Efficacy of Petitionary Prayer, Part I: Definitions

Brief summary of the post:

  • I consider the relationship between prayer and God’s will and knowledge.
  • Closed events are those that are already determined. Open events are undetermined: they may happen one way or the other.
  • Sovereignty is a misleading word.
  • God’s timelessness is the view that God is „outside of time”.
  • Omniplan is the view that God orders absolutely everything.
  • Complete foreknowledge is the view that God knows absolutely everything before it happens.
  • Omniscience is the view that God knows everything.

Much has been said about the relationship between God’s will and our prayers. The Bible certainly teaches us, Christians, to pray for good things to happen, while also prompting us to maintain the attitude of humility if things did not go as we had wished. At least on the face of it, genuine petitions to God seem to run counter to the idea of His eternal plan and knowledge of future events. It seems that we cannot change anything by praying.

In this series of posts, instead of escaping the problem by saying that the problem remains a mystery beyond our comprehension, I will try to propose a solution that has logical sense and stays true to the Bible. Below I introduce certain definitions that will hopefully make the remaining posts simpler. Without further addue…

By a closed set of events I mean a set of events that is, as of the present, already and completely established and, as a consequence, can no longer become different than it is. Intuitively, the past is closed, for everything in the past is already the way it has already happened and nothing can change it.

By an open set of events I mean a set of events that is not closed.

Any set of events is either open or closed. In particular, the past and the future may be either open or closed.

Moving on to another topic, I find it difficult to understand why the word sovereignty is used so broadly when speaking about God; the word has become very common in this discourse, but it is used in a sense that, as far as I am aware, deviates quite significantly from its original, political context [1]. For this reason, in order to avoid misunderstanding and introduce a greater level of precision, I decided to drop the word sovereignty altogether, and define new terms that will capture some of its meanings/interpretations.

God outside of time, timeless God – God who does not experience time, but rather „stands above it, seeing all events as taking place together”, and „for whom there is no difference between the past, the present and the future.” (It should be possible to define it with more precision, though.)

God inside time – the opposite.

Omniplan – absolute control; the view that everything that happens, including sin and rebellion against God, is a direct will of God; that everything is preordained by God, either before it happens or outside of time.

Complete foreknowledge – the view that God knows the entire future, either before it happens or by virtue of being outside of time.

Omniscience – the view that God knows everything it is possible to know. (At present I take the view that it is possible to know everything that has truth content; that would imply that God knows every truth.)

[1] Should you object that my reservations are merely a consequence of my failure to understand the intricacies of English as my second language, I can refer to „Science, Life and Christian Belief” (M. Jeeves, R. Berry), where the same point is raised by native speakers.

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