How Failed Prayers Are Rationalized

Neil Carter has an excellent post about the many ad hoc rationalizations that Christians offer to protect their beliefs and claims from any rational disproof. This section on the ways that failed prayers are so often rationalized really stuck out for me:

Claim 1: If you pray for X, it will happen.

I was taught to inform the critics of my faith that you can’t view God like he’s Santa Claus, beholden to each of us who asks for a pony, for a raise, or for whatever our selfish little hearts desire. For shame! I was taught to make people feel guilty for thinking they can ask God for things. The only thing is: That’s exactly what the New Testament tells us to do. Jesus instructed his followers to ask for things. He didn’t guilt them for suggesting such; in fact, it was his idea. But Christians quickly forget that and rush to bury that fact under a plethora of qualifications and ad hoc provisions.

Take prayers for the sick for example. Both Jesus and James unequivocally tell us that if we pray for the sick, they will be healed. They forgot to supply the requisite fine print which stipulates that only prayers already aligned to the sovereign plan of God will be rewarded, and that your motives have to be right, and that you cannot doubt, and that there cannot be unconfessed sin in your life, etc. Also, if you ask for someone to be healed whom God doesn’t want to heal, you’re out of luck. So sorry. And as for determining which ones are which, that part’s easy! Just wait and see who gets better. Anyone who is healed—even if it took years of medical treatment—they were the ones God wanted to heal. As for the others, his ways are higher than our ways, so tough luck, man. It wasn’t his will.

Once you take into consideration this arrangement of excuses, you see that it is impossible to falsify the claim that praying for X will make it happen. Over the centuries this claim has come to be flanked by rationalizations which ensure that this promise can never be proven false. Whenever what Jesus and James promised fails to occur, you can simply fall back on one of the following:

  • Your motives were imperfect.
  • It wasn’t God’s will.
  • His answer was “yes, but not yet.”
  • You didn’t believe hard enough.
  • There’s a life lesson you have to learn from this suffering.
  • Shame on you for expecting God to jump through your hoops and perform for you!

That last one is the most effective because not only does it sidestep any resolution between the expectation and reality, but it goes a step further into guilting you about having any expectation at all. If they can make you feel bad enough, you might even forget that the Bible is what gave you these expectations in the first place. Achievement unlocked!

The claim that prayer changes anything is simply incoherent.

POPULAR AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • dingojack

    Michael: I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.

    Sam Weber: Ah, come on. Nothing’s more important than sex.

    Michael: Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization? “

    😉 Dingo

  • D. C. Sessions

    The claim that prayer changes anything is simply incoherent.

    Manifestly untrue. Over milennia, there has been an enormous investment in getting other people to pray, and that investment has paid off fabulously. Look at Pat Robertson and all of the other megamillionaire prayer merchants — they would all be out engaging in vastly less lucrative scams but for prayer.

  • Kevin Kehres

    Gotta agree with DC. Prayer definitely changes things … it results in money being lifted from your wallet and into the wallet of the preacher. That’s if things go as planned.

    I have a few hyper-religious friends, and it amazes me how they’re always praising dog for answering their prayers of healing when they spent weeks in the hospital, undergoing complex surgeries and other medical interventions. But science gets zero credit. It’s all dog and Jeebus.

    Worse are the prayer circles for kids with inoperable brain tumors and the like. No amount of wishful thinking is going to have any impact at all on these kids — but they all believe in magic. And when it doesn’t work — oh well — LOOK, there’s another sick kid over there! It’s religious ADD.

    I know their motives are good — but bake a bunt cake, volunteer to babysit, host a fund-raiser, will ya? Anything other than sitting there with your hands folded and eyes pressed tightly together. You’re really creeping me out.

  • John Pieret

    I too, have to agree with D.C and Kevin … if you pray for suckers that will send you money to pray for them, your prayers will, more often than not, be answered. The trick of prayer is to ask for what what is likely to happen anyway. That way you are only occasionally disappointed.

  • Alverant

    George Carlin did a bit about how selfish prayers were. “You really thing God is going to change his divine plan JUST FOR YOU?” And if he knows the future he knows what you’re going to pray about so why bother?

  • Sastra

    I think they usually get what they pray for: someone is praying. Please, God, don’t let there be a world where nobody prays. And thus it is answered.

    Persistence in the face of failed prayer is rarely considered a sign that you can’t recognize what’s actually true. Giving up means just that — you gave up. You gave up on God, yourself, and everyone else. Because God never makes a mistake, you never make a mistake, either — as long as you keep trusting God.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Well, your prayer would’ve worked, but somebody God liked more was praying against you. Gary, probably. That bastard.

  • http://www.stupiddinosaurlies.org/ Crazyharp81602

    And I wasted years praying for a concert grand pedal harp when I should’ve seriously started raising money to buy the harp much sooner (I’m an aspiring harpist, you know). And then after all these years of wasteful praying, my prayers are finally “answered” with rental harps that’ll eventually be sent back due to expired contracts and the harp itself having issues. So much for me praying and praying and believing hard enough. I think I’ll stick to raising funds and putting money towards buying the concert harp instead of praying and praying and getting nothing out of it.

  • busterggi

    The Lord helps those who make excuses for him. Or at least they’ll make an excuse as to why he doesn’t.

  • Larry

    You didn’t believe hard enough.

    Wait, god is Tinkerbelle?

  • progjohn

    “Wait, god is Tinkerbelle?”

    Hell no, I believe in Tinkerbell, I seen her in several pantomimes.