Today’s question comes from Yvette. She writes: “As a man of God, you may have a skewed view – but here goes— do you believe the power of prayer? Or do you believe that our fate is predetermined?”
There are a couple great questions here. Let me address each separately.
The first question has to do with the power of prayer (and – by extension – its purpose). The short answer to Yvette’s questions is, “Yes, I believe in the power of prayer.” What I mean by that, however, might be different than you expect.
When some say they believe in the power of prayer, what they really mean is “the power of prayer to change GOD.” When I say I believe in the power of prayer, I mean I believe in “the power of prayer to change ME.”
What do I mean by that?
Well, I believe that each of our lives is strongly shaped and influenced by those with whom we spend time. The longer we spend with our loved ones, for instance, the better we understand them – and the more we incorporate their ideas, their values, and their way of being into our lives.
I believe a similar thing happens when we spend time with God in prayer and/or meditation. The more time we spend opening our hearts, minds, and spirits to God; the more we can become like God in our ideas, our values, and our way of being.
So when I spend time in prayer – thinking about a loved one, for instance, who is battling cancer – the more compassion and strength I draw from God and the more I feel equipped to be a loving companion to my loved one on their journey: whatever the outcome of their illness may be.
So why am I not comfortable with the notion of prayer being about changing God (and – by extension – God’s mind)?
Let me give you an example.
Let’s say my Aunt Betty has breast cancer, and my friend Ryan – who is an agnostic – has an uncle with lung cancer. Then let’s say I pray fervently for my Aunt Betty while Ryan never prays for his uncle.
I don’t believe that God would cure my Aunt Betty of her breast cancer just because I prayed for her cure, and God would cause my friend Brian’s uncle to die from lung cancer just because Ryan didn’t pray.
In that scenario, God would take on too many qualities of us human beings (i.e. liking/saving those who like/accept God and rejecting/killing those who don’t like/accept God). I believe very strongly that God’s capacity to love and care for ALL people is FFFFFAAAAARRRRR greater than our capacity!
This leads to the second question you raised about the matter of what some Christian theologians call “predestination”. The belief in predestination is linked to the belief that God has an eternal and unchanging plan for our lives. Nothing we can do can cause us to veer from that plan.
I do not believe in predestination. My belief in free will tells me that God had such a profound love and respect for us – that God extends to us the freedom to make our own choices.
That’s why, for instance, I do not believe that God’s plan was for Adolf Hitler to rise to power and exterminate millions of non-Aryans. I believe instead that God entrusted humanity with the ability to choose their leaders. The fact that human beings then (and human beings NOW!) are susceptible to those who use fear and intimidation to lead and give overly simplistic answers to complex issues is not God’s fault; it’s our responsibility! Unfortunately, all too many blame God for humanity’s choices.
Yvette has raised excellent questions for conversation. I would like to invite you into the conversation as well. What are your thoughts on these matters?