Philosophically, petitionary prayer is problematic.
That doesn’t seem to be a problem for a lot of people (millions in fact) but it is for me because I am, at heart, a philosopher.
I should clarify what I mean I suppose. The problem centers around the question that if God knows our situations, wants the best for us and is capable of ensuring that, how can petitionary prayer (pray that asks for something) be useful?
- You can’t draw the attention of an all-knowing God to something he doesn’t know about.
- If God has the knowledge of what is ‘best’ and the power to make it happen and the desire that it should, why doesn’t it happen regardless of our asking for it?
- In some cases at least, petitionary prayer would seem to be asking God to change his mind* either about what is best or about how to go about achieving what is best. Can an all-knowing (and presumably therefore always correct) being change his mind?
But I know, because I’ve experienced it, that petitionary prayer works. It’s one of the lessons I’m learning out here. To ask more. Not just for big things like confirmation that I should be here for the whole year and for the money to fund it! But for little things too, things that might seem petty or transient, like for access to a car over the two-week Christmas break, so I wasn’t stranded unable to do anything, or somewhere affordable to stay when I went to Cape Town. All these things have been provided ‘out of the blue’ – after, and I believe as a direct result of, prayer.
For me this raises many questions about the nature of God, the nature of knowledge (the sort of knowledge that God has), the nature of ‘correctness’ and God’s planning, and the nature of free will and the way in which God acts in the world.
I don’t have many answers yet but I’d like to know what you think.
*(for which there is Biblical precedent, which also
raises a lot of questions about the nature of God)