Ep25-Providence & Prayer (Part 1) - The Problems of Theism & The Love of God Ch 2

Topics Discussed:
• The Problem of Prayer
• A Relational Solution

Show Notes:


“Perhaps the most repeated commandment in the revelations given to Joseph Smith is: “Ask and ye shall receive; knock and it shall be opened unto you”

JS SIMPLE PRAYERS “I believe that these prayers are typical of believers. They request that God grant petitions. They seek to enter into a personal relationship of forgiveness and trust with God, healing breaches and feelings of alienation. There is no sense that making these requests of God are problematic. Indeed, these prayers are offered in child-like trust that what is sought will be given.”

“In any event, it seems that the purpose of meditative prayer is to influence and change the person praying and not necessarily to influence God.”

“The problem of prayer does not arise if only the one praying is influenced by prayer. But such prayers are limited in the sense that they do not foster a reciprocal and mutual relationship of loving fellowship. What the person approaching God may also seek an opportunity to be of service to God, to give something to God, to make a difference to God.”

The Problem of Prayer

“The very act of prayer therefore seems to posit a conflict. Kneeling before deity expresses both an intimate I-Thou relationship and an infinite distance interposed between God and such limited beings as ourselves. I may speak to God, but how could I impart any information that He doesn’t already know? I may ask God, but how could I ask for anything that he isn’t already dedicated to offering for my greatest good? I may seek God, but how could I ever suppose that he hasn’t already sought me?”

“There are three primary goals that I may seek to achieve through prayer. First, I may seek to influence or alter the natural world from the way I believe it would otherwise be in the absence of the prayer. For example, perhaps I am fearful of the weather and ask God to calm a hurricane. I ask God to influence the natural environment.”

“Second, I may seek to influence states of affairs with respect to other persons or, indeed, to influence other persons through prayer. For example, perhaps I am worried about my friend’s drug addiction, and I ask God to bless him to heal it.”
“(1) A perfectly good God will never make the world worse than it would otherwise be if he can avoid doing so and will always make the world better than it would otherwise be if he can do so.
(2) An omniscient and omnipotent being can do anything which is not logically impossible for him to do.
(3) It is never logically necessary for an omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good being to make the world worse than it would be; it is never logically impossible for an omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good being to make the world better than it would otherwise be.
(4) An omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good being never makes the world worse than it would otherwise be and always makes the world better than it would otherwise be. (1, 2, 3)
(5) What is requested in every petitionary prayer is or results in a state of affairs the realization of which would make the world either worse or better than it would otherwise be.
(6) If the realization of what is requested in a petitionary prayer will make the world worse than it would otherwise be, then an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good being will not fulfill that request “prayer will make the world better than it otherwise would be, then an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being will bring about that state of affairs even if no prayer for its realization has been made. (From 4)
(8) Therefore, petitionary prayer affects no change. (From 1–7)
(9) Therefore, petitionary prayer is pointless.”

Foreknowledge and prayer issue.

“However, if prayer is limited to its effect on me, then petitions of the sort offered by Jesus for the welfare of his disciples are pointless. Prayers to calm the storm, to heal the sick, to soften the heart of another, to change things for the better are pointless—except to the extent that they affect my mental state.”

“The response to the problem of prayer given by Mormonism is unique because it opens the way for us to see that God seeks a certain type of relationship with us that is utterly unique in the history of theistic thought—at least to the extent theistic thought includes only the present-day successors to the Judeo-Christian-Muslim approach to God. I claim that the type of relationship God seeks with us transforms all of the possibilities for responding to the problems of theism as they have traditionally been conceived.”

A Relational Solution

“Eleonore Stump argues that the problem of prayer may be solved in part by recognizing that God may have good reasons to refrain from bringing about the “better state of affairs” unless we ask. ”

“if God responded to our every importuning or if he already provided everything for us without our asking, there is a danger that we may be “spoiled” in the way that a child of royal family risks being spoiled.”

“prayer is a form of empowerment. We empower God to respond to us without the risk of overwhelming us, and we are empowered to achieve our goals by God’s waiting for us to resolve our problems. By waiting until we ask, God creates a space in which we can respond in friendship and love rather than out of a desire to let a “friend” like God do everything for us.”

What about prayer for others?

“For example, I pray for my friend to recover from his drug addiction. Shouldn’t a loving parent not condition the welfare of my friend on what I do as a means of creating an interpersonal relationship with me? Shouldn’t God do what is best for my friend without conditioning his response on me, especially when my friend suffers from a physical, mental, and cultural conditioning that makes it difficult for him to grasp that there is, in fact, a loving God who responds to requests?”

“Perhaps my prayer will lead God to respond in such a dramatic fashion that my friend is quite likely to seek help. Perhaps my friend will be brought to such a point that he literally cannot go on unless his life changes and, through this recognition, will be led to seek God.”

Like Alma the younger...

What about prayer to affect the environment? Can God stop a hurricane?

“I believe that Stump is correct in her assessment of God’s reasons for waiting for us to ask. Indeed, I believe that the primary purpose of human existence is to grant us a space where we can choose to enter into a genuine relationship of love with God. Yet I believe that Mormonism uniquely provides a framework for such a dialogue of trust and love among peers in which God can truly call us his friends.”


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