The Efficacy of Petitionary Prayer, Part III: Difficulties

In Part II of this series, we looked at a conversation concerning the meaningfulness of praying for past events. I was trying to argue that such a petionary prayer (PP for short) does not make sense. (Please note that we are dealing with petitionary prayer, a prayer in which we ask God that He would do something if He so wills; I am not discussing other purposes of prayer.) I will summarize my argument here and develop it in order to reach conclusions that might be, perhaps, surprising.

Brief summary of the argument: PP for a past event does not make sense, whether we know or do not know the outcome of a particular event, and this is because the past is already firmly established (closed). But if the future is also firmly established, as some views about God would imply, then praying for the future would be illogical as well. Then I suggest we should reexamine, biblically, the concepts of God’s timelessness, absolute foreknowledge and direct control over the world.

Premise 1. PP for a past event is not meaningful if we already know the outcome of this event.

This is because neither praying against what had taken place nor for what had taken place would make any sense. In the first case we would know it can’t work; in the second, the event has already taken place, with or without our prayer.

Premise 2. Whether we have knowledge of a past event or are ignorant of it does not affect the situation above.

A simple thought experiment, of the kind mentioned in the discussion (see previous post) can settle this premise.

Conclusion 3. Therefore, PP for a past event is not meaningful whether or not we know the outcome of this event.

Premise 4. The reason why PP for a past event is not meaningful is because the past is closed.

There seems to be no other relevant thing about the past than the fact that it is already established: it cannot be made different than it is. If you think you have found another reason, you are welcome to present it.

Conclusion 5. If at least one of the following holds:
a) God is outside of time,
b) omniplan is true,
c) complete foreknowledge is true,
then PP for a past event is as meaningful as PP for a future event.

This conclusion is crucial. If God is outside of time, then for Him there is no real difference between „our” past and „our” future, and therefore past and future cannot have different status: if past is closed, so is the future. By premise 4, the conclusion follows.
If God has an omniplan (he directly orders everything before it happens), then, as long as the complete plan exists „before” the universe, both the past and the future are closed.
If God has complete knowledge of the future, then there must be an object being known, so the entire future consists of objective truths only. But if the future went another way than described by this set of truths, this wouldn’t be a set of truths at all – so the future must be closed. By premise 4, the conclusion follows.
Remark: God’s omniscience does not imply the conclusion.

Conclusion 6. If at least one of a-c is true, then by (3) and (5), PP for a future event is not meaningful. (If both past and future are closed, then there is essentially no difference: praying for the future is as meaningless as praying for the past.)

Premise 7. But PP for a future event is meaningful.

The biblical evidence for this claim is quite overwhelming.

Conclusion 8. Therefore, all points a, b, c must be false.

What now? I think we should ask, what evidence did we have for believing a-c in the first place!




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