The Efficacy of Petitionary Prayer, Part II: A Conversation

Below is a summary of a short discussion I had with a couple of friends at a Sunday group in church, on Sunday 4th March, 2018; (M) – myself, (P) – other people:[1]

(M) Patrick has just prayed that a particular commitment to Christ was a genuine commitment. But this is praying for something from the past. What do you think of it? Does it makes sense to pray for the past?

(P) If you don’t know if a particular thing from the past happened or not, it does make sense.

(M) But what if we pray for something that we know did not happen? For example, would it make sense to pray that it would not be snowing last Friday, even though we know it was snowing?

(P) No, I guess not. But in our initial scenario, we did not know if the commitment was genuine or not. Only God does. So it did make sense to pray.

(M) But how is our knowledge relevant to the situation? Imagine we prayed that it wouldn’t be snowing in Poland last Friday, not knowing whether it actually was or was not snowing.

(P) But we could always check if it was snowing.

(M) Of course, and that shows that whether we have knowledge of the past or not is irrelevant to the question of whether it makes sense to pray for the past or not. On the face of it, it shouldn’t matter whether we know that it was snowing or we don’t.

(P) But it is about the relational aspect of it, not the metaphysical. It wouldn’t make sense from the relation point of view to pray that something happens if we know that God has already chosen and determined that it didn’t; if we don’t know, then the relation makes sense.

(M) I fail to see how does it overcome the problem. Clearly, even if we don’t know whether this or that happened, we know that something did happen – that God has already chosen and determined it, as you said. Why would it make sense to pray for something in the past then?

(P) From God’s timeless perspective, the future is no different from the past. So it has to make sense to pray for the past, because it does for the future.

(M) I’m afraid the point about God’s perspective is irrelevant here. If we know something happened, it makes no sense to pray for it not to have occurred. I don’t see how adding God’s perspective changes this. And as I have suggested, our knowing should not really affect anything.

(P) Well, we can be sure that we can pray for things. For God, future and past are the same, he knows the entire future and yet we can pray, in some mysterious way.

(P2) Yes! Also, I would like to add that God has ordered everything from the beginning, so from the eternity past he knew how our prayers would cooperate with His will so that they may be effective and bring about the good things he has planned for the world.

[1] I gather all of my friends under an umbrella term for the purposes of this argument; I’m aware that it doesn’t give full justice to their views 😦

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