This article primarily concerns Christians but could be equally applied to all religions who pray to their respective deities for favours.
When I was a Christian, I researched prayer extensively. To me it was a very important part of my daily life and worship because through it I could apparently influence earthly matters for good through supernatural means.
As a youth leader and later as a theology student, a lot of people would ask me about prayer. How does God answer prayer?
My answer was along the following lines:
To understand how God answers prayer, it is helpful to think of the colours on a traffic light, green, red or yellow. God responds to your prayer in one of three ways, yes, no or wait. Let’s take a practical example, if you are unemployed and pray for employment, God will either say yes and a job will fall into your lap, no, because he wants you to do something else with your time in his service, or wait (perhaps because you need to learn patience) and your dream job may come in a month, 6 months, a year, or however long God needs you to wait. This can apply to any prayer, in any circumstance.
What I never saw, even though it was staring me in the face, is that *God cannot lose*. No matter what words you utter into the ether there are the only three possible answers, whether there is anyone listening or not.
Imagine you have a goldfish swimming around in a fish bowl in your bedroom. If you pray to the goldfish, beseech it, beg it, ask nicely for any request you can imagine, the goldfish will answer your request in one of the three ways, yes, no or wait.
There are no other ways that a request may be answered and in an ingenious way, millions of people are deluded into thinking a supernatural being is answering their prayers when all that is happening is that their requests, desires and dreams are being fulfilled, crushed or put off on a completely random basis, with the randomness only altered in direct relation to the amount of effort the person puts into making the request a reality themselves along the lines of God helps them who help themselves. This saying could equally read, “The Goldfish helps them who help themselves” or “God only seems to help them who help themselves, when in reality it is those same people helping themselves”
At theological college we used to joke, “Prayer without hints is dead” and that was so true. How would the woman’s association know you needed a new oven if you only told God and never told them?
Neither God nor the goldfish can ever lose at the game of prayer. However, the answers to certain prayers are predictable. When a prayer is made asking for something which contradicts the laws of medicine or physics, like the dead to rise, a mountain should move, the sea should part, a limb should be regrown, children with brain cancer should all be healed and so on. The answer to these prayers is always no. This might be because these prayers are always contrary to God or the goldfish’s will or more likely, there is no difference between the two, God doesn’t exist and goldfish cannot influence anything other than the water in their bowl.
Now I anticipate that the comments section will be filled with “testimonies” of all kinds some of which will be true and some will be lies for Jesus because people have an uncanny lapse of conscience about lying when it comes to defending God. (Some have told the lie for so long, they believe it themselves). However what we will not hear are the millions upon millions of requests made which were not met and where we hear of the prayers that were “answered” I suggest they are nothing more than mere coincidence in the example of the oft prayed for parking space or in combination with human or mechanical intervention.
Also those not put off by the above, I would like them to explain if their God is the true God, why the gods of every single other religion and sub-religion in the world also answer prayer in exactly the same ratio of yeses, to no’s, to waits and these people, be they Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon and any other group you can think of all have testimonies to their god’s goodness and provision and equally suffer in similar measure.
Try (I know its hard) to step back from your religious cocoon and consider just for a moment:
- What’s the point of prayer if a goldfish [or any animate or inanimate object] answers prayers in exactly the same way as God?
- If every religion in the world produces believers with exactly the same sort of testimony about their god’s goodness, whether its less that they are all somehow having their prayers answered by their respective, but mutually exclusive gods in the same way God is answering yours and more that there is no supernatural being listening to any of you, and you are collectively making your prayers (wishes) come true in exactly the same way that us non-believers sometimes have our wishes fulfilled and sometimes not and sometimes we also have to wait.
Remember kids: “One pair of hands at work accomplishes more than a thousand clasped in prayer”