Ep26-Providence & Prayer (Part 2) - The Problems of Theism & The Love of God Ch 2

We discuss the problems with praying to a God who has All-Controlling power. We ask whether manipulation can ever be conducive to an authentic loving relationship. We overview the strengths of the Open Theism movement for relating to God through prayer. Finally, we discuss a Mormon view on the problem of prayer and what options are available and what unique solutions the LDS view of God can provide to this issue.

Topics Discussed:
• Prayer to an All-Controlling God
• Manipulative Love?
• Divine Openness and Petitionary Prayer
• Mormonism and the Problem of Prayer

Show Notes:

Prayer to an All-Controlling God

“Does it make sense to pray to God, given that God controls all that happens in the sense that everything happens according to God’s will?”

On this view “Our prayers are sometimes the means that God has chosen to effect his purposes. That is, God fully controls what I say and why I say it; he therefore uses me to utter a prayer so that he can use the prayer to accomplish his purposes. Thus, prayer is not a way for me to influence God but merely a way for God to influence me.”

“God uses us as mere instruments, mere things, to utter prayers to accomplish his purposes. In such a view, we have no purpose or value of our own; we are mere “its” in an “I-It” relationship.”

Like a puppet praying to the puppeteer.

Middle Knowledge: “According to this view, God knows not merely what persons will in fact do, but also what they would do in any possible circumstances in which they could be placed. That is, both claim that God does not decide what a person will do in a given situation; rather, the person freely decides what to do in that situation.”

“Consider this analogy. I want a certain woman to marry me. I know that if I ask her in front of her parents she will reject the offer because her parents hate me and she is very influenced by them. I know that, if I ask her at the football game over the stadium big-screen in front of my friends, she will not be able to say no because she is susceptible to peer pressure. I can use the circumstances to control the outcome because, given her character, the circumstances dictate what she will do in the sense that they decisively incline her will to act in a certain way. But what if I don’t want a response that I have contrived? What if I really want to know if she genuinely wants to marry me? I could take her to the football game and get a yes, but I can’t get a real relationship by doing so.”

“The problem with both standard Molinism in general and Calvinistic middle knowledge in particular is that there are no non-contrived circumstances which God does not manipulate to get the responses he wants. God’s answers to our prayers in this view are not dependent on our prayers; rather, our prayers are dependent on God’s decreeing the circumstances that dictate how we will pray. ”

Manipulative Love?

“Helm argues that a relationship is “personal” when “(a) that relationship is exercised through the perceived structure of belief and desire of each participant; and (b) that exercise is non-manipulable in the sense that it does not rely upon physical coercion or psychological compulsion.”

“In the first supposed counter-example: “A might strongly encourage his friend B to meet C, even making it practically impossible for B to avoid C, because he thinks that although B is reluctant to meet C he would enjoy or benefit from meeting him. On any realistic appraisal of this situation A is constraining B.”

“persuasion and influence are modes of relating to persons in a personal relationship. However, influence and persuasion do not act as “efficient causes” of acts of other persons. If I tell you that I want to go with you to get a hot dog at a fast food place, having prearranged for the person I want you to meet to be there, then I have hardly “caused” you to meet the other person.”


“Helm also suggests that there are in fact numerous types of personal and even loving relationships that involve a good deal of manipulation–for example, relationships between a parent and a child, a student and a teacher, a husband and wife, or a manufacturer and a customer.”

“Helm’s argument that family relationships are not chosen and are nevertheless “personal” assumes that virtually any relationship between persons in a family is “personal.” ”

It can be and probably should be but doesn't mean that it is.

“there is a very serious dis-analogy between the acts of a parent interfering with a child in the interest of the child’s safety and the acts of an all-controlling God.”....Explain

“If a parent never lets the child decide any action on his or her own, then the parent would be interfering with the child’s growth and development. A husband who manipulates his wife, even if he believes it is in her best interest, shows that he does not trust her judgment and treats her as his object to do as he sees best rather than as she decides for herself. Further, Helm simply misses the point that genuine relationships must be mutually chosen. The mere fact that I have a son does not entail that I have a loving relationship with him.”

“Tiessen argues that God is like the loving parent. He may manipulate us, but he can always be counted on to manipulate us for our best interest. Tiessen concludes: “The fact is that God would be immensely dangerous if he were not good.”

Wayward son going camping story....

“Now compare this to the situation where instead of persuading my son, I am also a scientist and I have developed a full-proof method of insuring that my son does as I wish.”

“the last example shows that I can violate ethical responsibilities even when I act in my son’s best interest. Clearly, it is the manner in which the manipulation achieves its purposes that determines whether it is morally permissible.”

Divine Openness and Petitionary Prayer

Discuss the 'Open Theism" View

“Does the view that God relates to us because he has voluntarily chosen to limit the exercise of his power and limit his knowledge of the future provide any light on the problem of prayer? I believe that it does to an extent.”

“The openness model provides a sense in which God can genuinely dialogue and also convince God to relent and revoke a word that he has spoken. Prayers thus can make a genuine difference in relation to God.”

“It is even possible that God has relented to requests in prayer that he has regarded as ill-considered.”

Lost pages, giving Israel a king, Aaron speaking for Moses

“In addition, genuine dialogue in prayer is inconsistent with God’s absolute foreknowledge. A prayer-dialogue is genuine only if God is truly interacting with us as the dialogue develops.”

“The difference is that if God pre-decides all of his “pre-sponses” based upon his foreknowledge, then he does not interact with me but the mere possibility of me.”

Foreknowledge and timelessness issues with prayer....

Mormonism and the Problem of Prayer

“Because Mormonism is above all a relational theology, it has the same resources to explain how persons enter into genuine dialogue and genuine relationships with God through prayer as the open view of God.”

“Stump argued that prayer acts as a buffer to a relationship that would otherwise overwhelm and spoil us. In the Mormon view, prayer also becomes the basis for developing a more intimate and profound relationship with God of peer-love.”

Brother of Jared and stones....“Waiting until the brother of Jared asked not only led the man to develop his resourcefulness but also his trust and faith in God. ”

If...“Whatever circumstance arises, God possesses creative resources and knows how to respond to insure the realization of an alternative course to achieve his purpose to bring about “the exaltation and eternal life of man.” ”

Then...why do our prayers matter other than benefiting us and our peace of mind and personal relationship?

“As Lucas explained:
One plan may fail, but there are always others. As fast as we torpedo his best designs for us, he produces out of his agonized reappraisal a second best. . . . Whatever the situation, there are some things he would rather have us do than other things; and in so far as we do them, we are fulfilling a plan he has for us; in so far as we do not, we shall be bringing about a situation, undesired if not always unforeseen, which will call for new remedies of its own, new remedies which will themselves call once again for our co-operation if they are carried out. . . . God, being infinite, there is not just one best, but an infinity of bests, so that the very loss of one makes possible the achievement of another.”

“God has also made prayer a means of co-creating this world with him. God has chosen to be vulnerable in the sense that our prayer may change his plans.”

...but then

Intercessory prayer: “The reason that God must wait for my friend’s prayer is that it seems immoral for God to allow my friend to suffer unless I pray. If God used my friend to teach me a lesson, then my friend would be a mere thing, a mere means, to teach me something.”

“ I offer myself to God through prayer for my friend to be the means through which he may be healed: “Intercession is co-operation with that transcendent will of God which is none the less immanently at work in and through men’s relationships to one another, and thereby involves both God and the petitioner as the partners in realizing what is being asked for.”46 Brummer notes that there are two immediate consequences of such a rationale for intercessory prayer. First, this view excludes using petitionary prayer as a means of evading our duties and getting God to do fulfill them in our place.

“Second, “corporate prayer” or prayers involving many people are more effective than individual prayers because then there are more people whom God can inspire to fulfill the request.”

“But what if I pray, not that my friend won’t be lonely, but that he will be healed from an incurable cancer or an addiction? What can I do to answer that prayer? Indeed, it seems that a part of the reason I have not simply taken care of the problem myself is that I am incapable of doing so. Now perhaps prayer will be a means of allowing God to inspire me to raise money for research, or additional medical assistance to address the problem. But if the cancer is so far progressed or the addiction so far ingrained that all human resources together cannot do anything more, do we simply refrain from praying?”

Pre-Mortal life may open new possibilities: “it may be that my friend who is addicted to drugs agreed in the life before this life to allow God to teach me a lesson by responding to my prayer for his benefit.”

...hmm, but we spent all that time refuting infallible foreknowledge...

“Nothing was guaranteed. It wasn’t guaranteed that I would pray. It wasn’t guaranteed that he would become an addict. These contingencies are all part of the resourcefulness of God’s interpersonal relationship and plan for the world.”

my critique:

Something so specific cannot really make sense. Like hey in 5th grade you will get hit by a car and break your arm. A doctor will fail to recognize that there is a problem and you will get an infection. Another doctor will misdiagnose that until there is debilitating damage done and you are paralyzed below your waist. That will then give John here, who's dad will happen to choose a career as a dentist and get a job in a city that has him come live next door to you. You will then become friends and when this happens it will give him the chance to pray for you which will strengthen his relationship with me. Sound good?...Foreknowledge is required. Again yes it is possible, but so is an inumerable number of events leading to this not happening. So it would be a waste of time to try to consent to something so specific because you would have to reason out infinite number of scenarios to consent to.


Hey everyone! The plan is to go down to Earth and learn. You will be subject to all kinds of potential suffering. You could get sicknesses, injuries, freak accidents, and consequences of other people's decisions. And you will not be able to fully comprehend the causal chain of your choices and actions and some seemingly good ones can randomly harm you down the line. We can all learn from each other. Not matter what circumstances you are in or what happens you can learn and grow from it. You can answer pain, misery, suffering, with love and empathy and learn.....well...something. But mostly Love! So what do you say? Do  you consent to providing each other with learning opportunities as they also provide them for you?

Your view almost requires middle knowledge. Not what you might do in a situation, but what you certainly would do. Otherwise the number of possible deviations would make such specific consent irrelevant and unhelpful.

“Literally every person who faces overwhelming challenges may be part of a vast plan of salvation to provide us an opportunity to learn by praying for them.”

If it is more general I guess that makes sense, but seems like a really complex way just to come up with a solution to a possible prayer that we can't answer ourselves...

“We just may be the means that God has chosen to answer an intercessory prayer for another’s benefit."...well that's nice to say, but I don't think anyone would really want to give up their life just so you might learn a lesson.

“Now, it may be objected that such a view places a heavy weight on small human shoulders. For if my friend will be healed of his addiction only because I pray, it follows that all kinds of devastating human conditions may exist and continue in part because I have failed to pray.”

“It must be kept in mind that prayers do not constrain God to answer; God always answers as he sees fit.”...well then we are back at square one it seems.

If you were to get sick would you say " Oh lucky me...God must have decreed from before the creation of the Earth that I would get cancer, and I must have consented" So I probably shouldn't try to heal it. I wouldn't want to take away the benefits to others I consented to. It is wrong for me to want this cancer gone...so selfish of me."

You can't consent to what you don't understand..."“Human opportunities would be severely limited if we first had to experience what we are consenting to experience!”

Yes, but when a doctor asks for consent before an operation you at least have a good concept of pain, debilitation, and death and it's effects. Pre-Earth life these would only be abstracts...which is why I bet if you told anyone suffering from cancer that they consented to it specifically before this world then they would say they revoke that consent...please take it away now!"

Too many instances of pain and death that no one learned from or was even aware of to have that make sense. Animal suffering etc

Nature altering:  Isn't nature just doing what it is supposed to do? It shouldn't alter it's course. If it is a man-made problem that is another story, but maybe more appropriately God can influence us to know how to avoid a storm, or how to survive a storm when in one, but having the natural occurrence not occur just because humans are too ignorant to know when or how they occur is not helpful.

Big problem I have:

“if my friend lovingly consents to be the means for me to learn something, the situation is changed. The objection that it is immoral to use my friend as a means to teach me something valuable is removed if my friend, out of his love for me, agreed before this life to allow my prayer to be the basis for God’s answering my prayer to heal him. Nothing was guaranteed. It wasn’t guaranteed that I would pray. It wasn’t guaranteed that he would become an addict. These contingencies are all part of the resourcefulness of God’s interpersonal relationship and plan for the world.”

“However, it may be that he agreed to be born with a genetic proclivity to addiction and he also agreed that God might use that weakness, in the event that my friend chose to use drugs, to wait for someone to pray for him in an earnest plea of loving intercession before empowering him to overcome the addiction.”

Well I think these things are not of equal value. Someone agreeing to have a 'proclivity' to use drugs then ending up using them in life is such a great evil that it does not equal the mere 'possibility' that 'someone' MIGHT pray and that it MIGHT be the exact right time that God sees fit that both parties are in the spot to maximally learn something. Unless of course you  believe that God is so provident that he will literally manipulate these people's lives to put them in that situation. Just seems like you don't listen to your own criticism of that kind of God determined act. Plus I don't think someone suffering from a drug addiction that is highly likely to cause them to not experience life in a meaningful way and suffer and probably cause the suffering of others is not a price that I think is moral to pay just so someone can get warm fuzzies that their prayer seemed to help this time even though usually it seems random when they do or not.

Plus a person can consent to immoral things and that doesn't make it ok. Consent doesn't really solve the problem here. It's like if a group of starving people marooned on a foodless island consent to have one of them be eaten....does that make it ok?

“The implication of this view is that literally every person we meet may have something valuable to teach us.”

Agreed, but I don't think it is a foreordained 'something.' Or pre-chosen. What is learned is what you choose to learn. Depends on what you are looking for at that time.

“We may even be accountable to those we could have assisted through prayer but were too self-absorbed to notice or too proud to raise our voices to heaven.”

That seems monumentally unfair if it is the case. With this logic we should be constantly kneeling in prayer and going through every single problem our little minds can fathom and ask God to fix it.

I don't think I can believe in this God. He has the power and ability to prevent suffering, but would rather see someone suffer even unto death just to give someone else the benefit of feeling the warm happy "maybe there is a God after all...neat" feeling. I don't buy it.


More random thoughts on consent:

You wouldn't ask someone to consent to something so specific if you didn't know what was going to happen for sure.

Hey roller coasters are potentially dangerous and have been known to cause motion sickness in some people....

Overly specific consent "Do you consent to getting sick on a roller coaster and throwing up having it come back into your face and having your eyes burned and permanently damaged by the stomach acid?"

General consent "Do you consent to being subject to the possibility of motion sickness and personal injury?'

The first is too specific and detailed and dependent on a causal chain of events....sure that is a possibility, but we measure potentials a bit more broadly.

The consent would have to be more broad to cover the wide range of possibilities...like trillions+

"Hey on Earth human bodies can get all kinds of sicknesses and debilitating injuries. You can get cancers or get hit by cars and be paralyzed among many other things. These things are not fun to deal with, but I promise no matter what happens you can learn from it. You and I can get something good to come out of any experience. You will of course try your hardest to avoid these things, but your knowledge and power will be very limited and something like this can happen."

Two different understandings...The Father presents plan. Tells us the risks...we decide whether it is worth it.

Next let's say we are 'sent' down. Right before we may by told of higher risk things for us specifically. Hey the body you are going to get has spinabifida. Or your dad is a drunk and will probably beat you.

We could potentially consent to very specific things that are for sure right at the time of birth, but not something like when you are 35 you will trip on a nail causing you to fall down

Does the prior consent of an amnesiac still hold up if he now revokes that consent? Because we are all basically amnesiacs.

We seem not to be able to revoke consent....therefore doesn't seem to be a helpful analogy.

Rather than consent perhaps we can relate it to trust. Let's say I want to get buff so I find a personal trainer that seems to be awesome and they have the knowledge and personal results that I admire. I have to trust them to be able to deliver so I decide to buy into their program and do the exercises...They told me at the beginning that the program would be pretty tough, but I wanted the results so I said let's do it. Well it turns out that it is a lot harder than I thought. I hurt everywhere and it takes a lot of scheduling and sacrifices to make it work. It sucks, but let's say I stick with it and do get the promised results. Well awesome... If I give up halfway well that was my choice and I don't get the benefits, but I made a choice. Or maybe I put in mediocre effort. Well the I will get mediocre results.


  1. Hello,
    I think it was this episode where you said you thought your audience should read about self-deception. I was interested in doing so, but I do not see where you recommended any book on this.
    I need to walk more and listen to these. I enjoy them, but my daily commute is about 5 minutes and when I am sitting still I usually read, so I am about 2 months behind. Anyway, I enjoy your discussions. Thank you!
    Also, when is the 4th book in the series coming out?
    Thanks, TOm

  2. The reading referenced in Episode 31 is in the Notes section of the book of Ch 5. I will list a few here, but the main ones to start with are:




    Some other interesting reading on the subject:

    “Shelley E. Taylor, Positive Illusions: Creative Self-Deception and the Healthy Mind (New York: Basic Books, 1989); Ford Bridwell and M. L. Morgan, “Interpersonal Variables affecting Attributions of Defensiveness,” Current Psychology 15 (1996): 137–46.”

    “Adrian Piper, “Pseudorationality,” in Perspectives on Self-Deception, edited by Brian McGlaughlin and Amelie Rorty (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 297–323.”

    “Gary G. Ford and Angela Bridwell, “Graduate School Admission Information as a Stimulus for Self-Deception,” American Psychological Association, June 4, 1999. Ms. in possession of author.”

    “R. Gur and H. Sackeim, “Self-Deception: A Concept in Search of a Phenomenon,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37 (1979): 147–69; G. Quattrone and A. Tversky, “Causal versus Diagnostic Contingencies: On Self-Deception and the Voter’s Illusion,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 46(1984): 237–48.”

    “One of the primary proponents of the view that self-deception consists in nothing more than motivated errors in weighing evidence is Alfred Mele, Self-Deception Unmasked (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001)”

    “Robert Audi, “Self-Deception, Rationalization and Reasons for Acting,” in Perspectives on Self-Deception, edited by Brian McGlaughlin and Amelie Rorty (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 92–120; and his “Self Deception and Rationality,” in Self-Deception and Self-Understanding, edited by Mike W. Martin (Lawrence, Kans.: University of Kansas, 1985), 169–94.”

    1. Thank you!
      I have your books (though they may be packed away after our move - well our move 2 years ago) so I can look.
      Thank you very much for the response!!!
      Charity, TOm


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