Why should I pray?
Nothing says, “God is a myth” like the practice of prayer. If God exists, and he’s perfectly good and loving and for whom nothing is impossible, why do we need to persuade him to do some good thing? Though flawed humans will fail to perfectly provide for those they love, surely a perfect God wouldn’t even need to be asked. Never mind that so many prayers for healing and help go unanswered, the unbeliever might say, the very notion of having to beg this boundlessly benevolent Being for any good thing is illogical and therefore theism is false.
This, of course, is a skewed take on prayer, but the question itself is one that even believers ask. We are taught to pray “according to his will” but if it’s his will why do we need to ask for it? For example, the apostle Paul asked the Colossians to pray that God will “open to us a door for the word” so that he can continue to preach Christ. But God chose Paul for that very purpose, and did it in quite a dramatic fashion leaving no doubt that Paul was his man for his plan. If God desires all people to be saved and he chose Paul to preach the good news of Christ for the salvation of all who will believe, and it’s his “job” to open the doors so that Paul can reach as many folks as possible, why wouldn’t he just do that without being asked to?
I’ve been struggling with this conundrum myself lately and here are some thoughts I’ve had about it.
It does not necessarily follow from the reality of God’s perfect goodness that he must do for or give to his people every possible good thing. He is not like a law of nature that says if a condition is met a result will follow. If the temperature of water measures 32 degrees Fahrenheit it will freeze. But there is no law governing God that says if a situation, condition, goal etc. is good then he must make it a reality. God is a personal agent and personal agents bring about a result through an act of their will, not of necessity.
One might say that God’s character governs his activity; everything he does must be consistent with his goodness. So, the skeptic might ask, is it not inconsistent with goodness to withhold a good that could be given? It certainly must seem like it to the mother whose child just died. Or to the missionary whose efforts to preach the gospel in a foreign land are being thwarted.
This conclusion might be reasonable if God had no other considerations bearing on the situation, but he has plenty. For example:
- Many if not most people would never seek God and be saved if their lives were easy and free of want or suffering.
- He created us with the freedom to choose to believe in and submit to him, or not. Many choose not and bad things result or good things are thwarted.
- His goal for us is eternal holiness, not temporal happiness, because holiness is a much greater good that ultimately will ensure eternal happiness as well.
For these and many other reasons God is still acting in line with his character when he withholds good things, because he has a greater good in view.
So it cannot be shown that God’s perfect goodness necessitates the actualization of every good thing. But he is open to doing something by request that he otherwise might not, which results in other extremely valuable goods likely unattainable if we never had to ask. It gets us communing with him, teaches us to depend on him, and strengthens our faith in him when he grants our request or reassures us of his presence in and through our trials.
Prayer is not a waste of time on the belief that, a) God does not exist, or, b) he does exist but will of necessity do or give every good thing because he is good. Neither is it merely a method of obtaining the things we pray for. Prayer is an activity of our spirit…the locus of who we are…communing with the Spirit of God for the growth and development of our faith in and intimacy with him.
It is through prayer that a good God does much of his good work. Therefore, we would be wise, and blessed, to engage in it often. Wouldn’t you agree?