Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Will God Definitely Answer Your Prayer?

Lately, I've been going through a website that talks about prayer, how it works, how to do it, etc.

So far, what I've gotten from it is that prayer can appear to not work if you haven't established a relationship with God/Jesus. You can establish this relationship by pretending that your invisible brainless mind duplicate is in danger and you have to bow to a totalitarian draconian set of rules that don't correspond to actual morality that God set up, otherwise, he won't let you into his club, and join the Jesus fan club. And Bam! Relationship established.

Today's topic is "Will God Definitely Answer Your Prayer?" I'm thinking "no", but let's see.

I've decided to finish the remaining sections and move on with life.

For those who do know him and rely on him, Jesus seems to be wildly generous in his offer: "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you."
Apparently, no true Christians have asked for world peace, or an end to starvation, etc.

I take it there are caveats.
To "remain" in him and have his words remain in them means they conduct their lives aware of him, relying on him, listening to what he says. Then they're able to ask him whatever they want.
So long as you walk around in a state that is indistinguishable from delusion, you'll maintain this connection.
Here is another qualifier: "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us -- whatever we ask -- we know that we have what we asked of him."6 God answers our prayers according to his will (and according to his wisdom, his love for us, his holiness, etc.).
Oh, okay. So Christians have asked for world peace and/or an end to hunger. He just decided not to do that. Because of reasons.

The sentence "we know that we have what we asked of him" is a bit weird. It's almost sounds like you're praying for something you already have, or something. I suppose that could be a 7th way that prayer can appear to work even if there's no God answering prayers - praying for things that are already true.
Where we trip up is assuming we know God's will, because a certain thing makes sense to us! We assume that there is only one right "answer" to a specific prayer, assuming certainly THAT would be God's will. And this is where it gets tough. We live within the limits of time and limits of knowledge. We have only limited information about a situation and the implications of future action on that situation. God's understanding is unlimited. How an event plays out in the course of life or history is only something he knows. And he may have purposes far beyond what we could even imagine. So, God is not going to do something simply because we determine that it must be his will.
Here's the "God works in mysterious ways" excuse - of course, totally unevidenced and unfalsifiable. It's also modifying the "success threshold" for what one is willing to consider successful prayer. "He won't give you exactly what you want when you want it", she says. Here, the rationalizations begin.

I don't have much to say about this section, other than it's falling right in line with my description of the "self-reinforcing delusion engine".

I'll move onto the next section.

"What Does It Take? What is God Inclined to Do?"

Pages and pages could be filled about God's intentions toward us. The entire Bible is a description of the kind of relationship God wants us to experience with him and the kind of life he wants to give us.
Are we talking about additional pages and pages outside of the Bible? How do we confirm that those "intentions"?

As far as I understand, the "personal god" notion didn't arise until the new testament (and it's arguable it's a lot more recent than that). In the old testament, he acted more like a military commander. Look, if I can't dismiss the old testament here, I'm going to have to conclude, based on the author's statements here, that the god wants me to run around slaughtering people, impaling pregnant women, etc. I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt, and say that we're talking about the new testament.

Even then, it's problematic. Jesus wants you to abandon your family, among other things.

So, uh, no thanks.

The author then concludes with a couple supporting Bible verses.

"What about "Unanswered" Prayer?"

The author continues,
Certainly people get sick, even die; financial problems are real, and all sorts of very difficult situations can come up. What then?
Good question. After all, this whole discussion arose with the topic of unanswered prayer. The author basically makes the case that maintaining a good relationship with God improves prayers. Although, at this point, it's not sounding like it's helping.

Should we at least expect to see an improvement in the rate of answered prayer? How much? 10 percent? How about 15 percent?

What are you supposed to do to get complete answered prayer? Relationship with God harder?
God tells us to give our concerns to him. Even as the situation remains dismal, "Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you."12 The circumstances may look out of control, but they aren't. When the whole world seems to be falling apart, God can keep us together.
I don't see how this is an answer to the question. Why the heck should I cast all my anxiety on him if he fails to deliver? I wouldn't trust relying on my car if it only worked 15% of the time.

If this author was a salesperson, this wouldn't be a very good pitch.
This is when a person can be very grateful that they know God. "The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."13 God may provide solutions, resolutions to the problem WAY beyond what you imagined possible.
Apparently the solutions don't involve solving things like untimely death. Those mothers in Africa who pray and pray for their malnourished children to survive... those kids needed to die, apparently. I forgot, the mothers were too busy praying to establish a proper relationship with God first. They accidentally skipped that step.
Probably any Christian could list examples like this in their own lives. But if the circumstances do not improve, God can still give us his peace in the midst of it. Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful."14
Of course! Even if the technical support team doesn't actually get around to addressing your support request, at least you can feel comforted by the fact that the person on the phone sympathizes with you.
It is at this point (when circumstances are still tough) that God asks us to continue to trust him -- to "walk by faith, not by sight" the Bible says. But it's not blind faith. It is based on the very character of God. A car traveling on the Golden Gate Bridge is fully supported by the integrity of the bridge. It doesn't matter what the driver may be feeling, or thinking about, or discussing with someone in the passenger seat. What gets the car safely to the other side is the integrity of the bridge, which the driver was willing to trust.
At least the bridge is demonstrably real.

The author seems to be doing a lot of apologizing and rationalizing as to why some prayers aren't successfully answered. In my "self-reinforcing delusion engine", this correlates to the alteration of the "failure threshold". In this article, we've already adjusted the "success threshold" to encompass a wide variety of outcomes as successes, and now we're working on dismissing failures as failures.

In this case, no matter what the outcome, whether it appears to be a failure or not, we're not actually going to consider the result a failure.
In the same way, God asks us to trust his integrity, his character...his compassion, love, wisdom, righteousness on our behalf.
He's done nothing to earn that trust. Heck, we can't even tell whether prayer is working at all, let alone that it's being done in a competent way.

Gregory Paul estimates that an approximate 50 BILLION children have died, mostly from disease, in humanity's history. That's 50,000,000,000 children. Why? Why have these people been born, only to die shortly later?

If this is "God's plan", it may be time to scrap it.
He says, "I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you."15 "Trust in him at all times, O people. Pour out your heart before him. God is a refuge for us."16
Believe me. Lots of people have tried this route. Trust him? Are you kidding?

So okay, is that really the answer to this question? Answers still don't get answered, so just pretend there's a good reason for that?

In Summary...How to Pray

God has offered to answer the prayers of his children (those who have received him into their lives and seek to follow him). He asks us to take any concerns to him in prayer and he will act upon it according to his will. As we deal with difficulties we are to cast our cares on him and receive from him a peace that defies the circumstances. The basis for our hope and faith is the character of God himself. The better we know him, the more apt we are to trust him.
For more on the character of God, please see "Who is God?" or other articles on this site. The reason for our prayers is God's character. The first prayer God answers is your prayer to begin a relationship with God.
Wait - were we even reading the same article? The first paragraph is some of the stuff discussed, but the summary appears to be written by someone who didn't read the article, despite the fact that you wrote it.

Let me give you a summary of what you wrote.

You saw a theist friend getting answered prayers that you couldn't dismiss as coincidence. You address the question of why others' prayers aren't answered.

You then explain that you need to establish a relationship with God, because he answers prayers of those who do that. There's no elaboration on how much this will increase the rate of answered prayer, or any way of confirming that a relationship is established.

You then start apologizing for why the prayers still wouldn't be answered, despite that. A whole parade of hand-waving ensues.

Then you end with saying that the first prayer answered is the one asking for a relationship, with doesn't appear to have any capacity for confirmation.

From beginning to end, you appear to be describing a delusion - one that is not confirmable at any point.

Nope, we're just supposed to pretend that something is happening... and trust in that make-believe world, whether reality actually corroborates the belief or not.

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