August 12, 2019

Does It Matter How You Address Your Prayers?

praying in the fog

It is common to hear one partner in an intimate relationship say something to the other like, "If you really cared about me, I wouldn't have to tell you what I wanted." When we are not currently worked up about something, most of us recognize how ridiculous this expectation is. Caring about another person does not confer psychic powers upon us. No matter how much we care about them, we cannot read their mind.

But what if we really could read their mind and know what they wanted without ever needing to be told? If that was the case, then they might be justified in being upset with us. If we cared about them as much as we claimed and if we knew every thought that passed through their mind, why do we so rarely do what they would like us to do until they ask us?

How about we complicate the situation even further by adding one more thing to our scenario? In addition to really caring about the person and having the power to read their mind, suppose we have unlimited power to accomplish anything we want. That would mean that no matter what the person wants, we have the power to fulfill it. What is our excuse now for not giving them what they want?

Our main, perhaps even our only, excuse is going to be something along the lines of how what they want isn't necessarily what they need. Maybe what they want isn't good for them. If my partner is an alcoholic and wants me to lie about this to their parents, I do care about her, I can read her mind so that I know this is what she wants, and I could certainly lie. I might decide not to do so because I conclude that this would be harmful to her.

Is this why the "god" in which so many Christians claim to believe does not answer prayers? It supposedly cares about us, is all-knowing, and is all-powerful; however, it appears to be completely absent no matter how many desperate people beg it for help. What's worse is that the book many Christians regard as "holy" repeatedly indicates that one will receive whatever one asks for as long as one asks correctly (i.e., in Jesus' name). These words are even attributed to Jesus.

But since most honest Christians will reluctantly admit that they do not always receive everything they ask for, we have a problem that requires apologetics for those who do not regard this as a sufficient reason to abandon their faith. Doesn't the Christian pretty much have to claim that their god may disregard requests for things it decides might be detrimental to the person praying? Unfortunately, this claim can only take one so far. After all, it is going to be difficult to convince someone that preventing their child from dying of cancer would be harmful to them. This brings us to vague protests about "god's plan" that seem to satisfy some Christians but strike the rest of us as problematic.

This is yet another case where the simplest explanation is probably the best one. Our prayers are unanswered because there probably isn't anything out there to answer them.