Does Prayer Work If God is Not Listening?

Rev. Dana Horton

Sometimes we can be too quick to denounce traditional prayer, which is typically visualized as imploring an all-powerful God to change his (usually gender-specific) mind about something. Or maybe speed things up if He already agrees with us.

But, y’know, this type of praying has a lot of appeal.

It can be easy to visualize an anthropomorphic God who is listening to our individual needs. It can help us be specific in our thinking. And it can help us let go of the anxiety about a problem if we think an outside deity has got it covered.

Inevitably there will be times when we do not get what we want, no matter how hard we pray it up. Then what? If God is out there somewhere and He is making the best decisions for all concerned, then we have an out if things are not coming our way:  God has decided it is not the time for our manifestation … yet. Or maybe He has decided that the prayer for the Lamborghini is not really for our highest good, and has decided to remain silent on the matter so we can figure that out for ourselves.

And for the record, we are not buying that unanswered prayer is a test of our faith. Why would a loving God need or want to play games with us like that?

Unanswered prayer if we are One with God. But unanswered prayer is a bigger challenge if we have a theological concept of being one with God. That means we are co-creating stuff along with God. If that is the case, we have to somehow accept partial blame for our unanswered prayers. Crap.

Prayer and the Atheist.

We assumed that prayer would not be a discussion issue for atheists. We were wrong. This week we ran across an article posted by Sally Fritsche, an atheist in the chaplain program at the Harvard Divinity School (that seems like an oxymoron, but let’s go with it). Sally says:

But, with no God, what’s the difference between prayer and just reflecting on a concept in the privacy of your own head? And when I need help, or want to express gratitude, it would feel silly to turn to a listening ear I don’t believe actually exists. Why pray when no one’s there to hear me?

That quote is pretty much what we would expect from an atheist point of view.

But Sally goes on to say how her entire viewpoint on prayer changed one night in the hospital (she’s a chaplain, remember) when she was asked by a family to pray with them as their father was dying. Sally went through the motions, still not believing she was praying to a spiritual being. But she witnessed the comfort and transformation that happened for the family she was praying with.

At that moment prayer became, not a supplication to a deity, but a confirmation of our connection to one another.

Sally still does not pray on her own (there’s still no point to it for her). But she also no longer hides when someone wants prayer to help them through a tough situation. Here’s the link for the story in her own words.

Wrapping up.

We probably did not resolve anything here today. But damn if we didn’t create some new brain synapses for the next time someone brings up the power of prayer.

If you find yourself in need of some help with prayer, contact our Prayer Team.