Someone I read one time said you don’t really know what you believe until you’ve toiled to write it down. So in this spirit, I’ll start writing in an attempt to get my thoughts worked out.
For quite some time I’ve been struggling with prayer. I see prayers falling into one of two categories – praise and petition. The praise part I get. When I am lucky enough to find a quiet moment or intentional enough to focus, I see blessings all around me and I am thankful. For me, the morning sunrise has always represented my blessings. A new day breaking over the horizon, the sun’s orange and yellow rays piercing though cotton clouds in such a way as to shimmer across their edges and cast distinct lines across the sky. To breathe that morning air, its freshness. It is a New Day… these feelings about the morning symbolize the acuteness I feel about God’s blessings for me. I offer Him prayers of thanksgiving for these.
But that tricky other side of prayer, the petition, is what boggles me. Why do we ask God for anything? Why do we ask God for it to rain? Or for healing? Or protection, or favor, or grace, prosperity? Why anything? At this point you’re probably thinking that I’ve lost it because it so obvious why we ask God for stuff. However, just because everyone thinks the reason is obvious, it’s not obvious to me.
Follow me on this. God is good. I mean He is Good with a capital ‘G’. He is the the definition of good. If anything is good, it is a reflection of God because he is the author and source of goodness. Also, God is Love to all the same extremes, completely and utterly [redundancy intended for emphasis]. Additionally, God wants good things for us. This “will for good” is at the very center of God’s plan of redemption and restoration. Many times the experiences we have that we interpret as bad are actually from God and meant for our good. This is the “furnace of affliction”, “trial by fire”, whatever you want to call it. But it is meant to help us grow from those who are merely “born” of the Spirit (babies) to those who “live and move and have our very being” in the Spirit (mature). So, God is good. He loves us and wants the very best for us. Moving on…
God is all powerful. What does this mean really? It means that nothing, I mean absolutely nothing happens outside the will of God. Let’s define will. When I speak of will I’m not talking necessarily about desire. To me, will is very close to purpose and authority, perhaps even permission. God holds the universe together with His power. Without his power holding it together, the universe would fall apart. Think about that, God knows about every galaxy, every star, all dark matter and anti-matter, every black hole, solar system, planet, person, cell, and molecule, atom, and quark. He must know about all this in order to hold it together. Let’s take this another step.
God knows all this about everything in the universe in this moment – in this one second of time. He knows in this second, where every electron is in the universe even though they move at the speed of light. Fast-forward another second. Now God knows where every electron just got to and every other atom in the universe. Let’s go another step.
God knows the location, function and condition of every atom in the universe for every second across the span of the universe’s entire existence. And God knew all this before he even created the Big Bang. Let’s keep stepping.
Not only did God know all this from before the creation of the universe, God knows every possible outcome of every change in atomic direction, human decision, every interaction between gravitational forces, interactions between wind and cloud particles… I’m talking about reality and the infinite possible realities that might have been or could still occur. There is only one true reality. We never know reality, only our interpretation of our infinitesimally small perception of our experiences of it. We experience incompletely and interpret imperfectly. Nevertheless, there is one reality encompassing every atom and substance in the universe. This one reality we can never know. Not even one second of this reality. Yet God knows every aspect of every second of this reality. Additionally, God understands every aspect of every second of every possible reality 99.9999999999% of which will never occur. Top this off with the fact that God didn’t go through some process to learn this information. He simply knows it.
So, to review, God is good and love. God wants goodness for us. God knows absolutely everything and absolutely nothing happens unless God not only authorizes it, but actually makes it happen with His power. Next step…
God is outside of time. Stay with me on this one. God is not a temporal being like you and I. We are born, grow , live and die. Our perspective of life is defined and inseparable from the concept of time. We can’t even speak about anything without time being a context. Try it. Simple phrases like, “I woke up.” or “I’m going to work.” or even, “I love you” all have time as their backdrop. Even, “My name is Andy” implies time because of the word “is”. For us, everything has a beginning, middle and end. Nothing falls outside this rule, except God. Because our language itself is time-bound, we can’t even describe God without falsely attributing a sense of time-ness to God. Yet, to God time itself does not exist. Time only exists for God’s creation. Time, after all, is a creation as well. So what does this mean?
Well, God’s non-temporal nature implies a paradox in His perspective of reality. For God, everything happens and nothing happens and both of these statements are true simultaneously. What? From one angle God sees or has seen(?) everything in the universe happen even before it actually occurred. This is because of His omniscience and omnipresence. However, since for something to happen it must happen within a span of time, and since God is outside of time, it can also be argued that from another angle, God witnesses nothing because time does not exist for Him. Perhaps this particular point is a bit divergent, but I believe it’s important because it illustrates God’s utter different-ness from us. He is so unlike me, that my brain physically hurts trying to think about it. I suppose the point to take away here is that God knows everything that is is knowable. That includes every aspect of our lives: every decision we face, every destination where those decisions could lead, and every thought, emotion and concern we have. And he knew all this before we existed.
So, if my friend is sick, and I pray to God asking for his healing, what am I really doing? I’m asking God to focus on somebody he’s already focused on. I’m asking God to change a situation that He caused. And I’m either accusing God of not knowing what is best for my friend because he caused him to be sick or I’m accusing God of not being powerful enough to control all things in the universe with his will and power.
But wait, the bible is filled with petitions. Jesus himself said, “Give us this day our daily bread”… “forgive them, for they know not what they do”. Doesn’t “the fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”? What do these examples mean?
Here’s what I think, but first let me say in full disclosure, that I’m wholly undecided on this issue, yet I’m struggling to find a way to dismiss all the logic I’ve stated above. Onto my conclusion. The human race has advanced significantly since the time of the bible. Education is far more available and the commoners of society can think abstractly because of it. Whereas, in centuries past, education and critical thinking was in short supply even among the fortunate.
Saying it straight, people with less education have less exposure to ideas and less ability to deal with those ideas. Therefore, they need more crutches. If someone cannot possibly conceive of a God who exists outside of time, then he must believe that God is affected by time. This person can conclude nothing other than the conclusion that God reacts to stimuli – that God is a subject of cause and effect just like the rest of us. Certainly this simpler idea of God is more easily grasped and welcomed because it is easier to relate to due to its commonality to our own human experience. Yet, if there are aspects of God that we can relate to on a human level, there are for more ways in which God is wholly other from us. But this is inconceivable to perhaps the majority of the human race – or at least unacceptable.
So, I’m struggling to decide if it is right to petition God or whether it is an insult to Him when I do so. Is is not a greater faith to trust that God will work the best path for me without praying for course corrections? Of course, God doesn’t need my petitions. He already knows what I’m going to inform him of anyway and better than I know it myself. He already knows what is best for me. He already loves me and controls literally everything in existence. So, if God doesn’t need to hear my petitions, does He want me to make my petitions for my own benefit? If so, what benefit do I get asking God for something, when I know he already knows what I want, what is best for me and loved me enough beforehand to direct my path toward the best outcome? To me, it just feels like a lack of trust when I petition God knowing all this. It seems like the height of pride to think that my small petition will change God’s mind away from His chosen path to something different.
So I’m stuck and this is my struggle with prayer. While it may feel insulting to me to petition God, I have no qualms about petitioning you for advice. Got any?