There is a lot about Christianity that I don’t understand, from giving up your life in exchange for being spared eternal punishment, to LGBTQ+ discrimination, to not eating meat on Fridays during Lent, to Noah’s Ark. But one of the greatest mysteries to me is prayer. As people grow older, their prayers typically evolve from asking God for what you want to thanking God for what you have and asking him to guide you in the right direction. While the latter appears to be more selfless and appropriate, I can’t help but see it all as just silly.
One of my greatest pet peeves of religion is allowing prayer to take the place of action. I believe that if you want something badly enough, rather than praying for it, do what you can to achieve it, or if you’re going to ask for help, ask a friend, a parent, an organization, someone who you know can respond and make a tangible difference for you and your cause. I’m not saying that praying will be detrimental to your cause, but it can be when it is a placeholder for action. This week, my school held a 24-hour Prayer for the Nations. That’s 24 hours that could have been spent donating, volunteering, or raising awareness for international issues, but instead it was spent praying for peace.
Here is what I really don’t understand, though: if God was going to bring peace to the nations, would he really need my classmates to remind him to do so? Doesn’t he already know whether or not world peace is something they want? Hasn’t he known his plans, what he will do, and what we will do, for all of eternity? Why would our asking him to do something change what he was going to do? And if it would, then he’s either not all-powerful or all-knowing. I like the way this was summed up in a poem by Karen Owens:
“Can omniscient God, who
Knows the future, find
The Omnipotence to
Change His future mind?”
Even if God could change his mind, I don’t see how a prayer before a test or a prayer for world peace could do so. If God exists outside of space and time, then how do you know that he received your prayer before the event instead of during or after? If your prayer lasts for 24 hours, then how do you know that he understood it at all if he doesn’t exist in linear time? How could a disembodied deity understand anything without ears or neurons firing to make sense of sounds? Personally, I can’t fathom or wrap my head around the idea that there is an invisible, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving presence out there, up in the sky and down in the ground and everywhere in between that personally listens to and speaks to and caters to all of the billions and billions of people that are speaking to it all at the same time. I know that Christians may see these as nitpicky and foolish questions, and it can’t be used to disprove the existence of a deity—nothing can—but for me, these are the questions that prayer raises.
I understand that the mystery of prayer is something that Christians face a lot, and I know that the response is generally that our finite minds simply can’t understand God’s mysterious ways, but my finite mind wants to know. To me, the paradox doesn’t make me sit back in awe of God’s mysterious ways, but rather, it makes me wonder, “How can people really believe this?”