Do Petitions to Departed Saints Offend God?

Do Petitions to Departed Saints Offend God? March 20, 2023

Dan Delzell, the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska, wrote the article, “Why offering petitions to departed saints offends God” (The Christian Post, 3-18-23). His words will be in blue.

If you are someone who regularly offers petitions to departed saints, try to imagine going a whole week only offering petitions to God. And then imagine yourself doing that for an entire month. You would be pleasantly surprised at just how refreshed your soul would be after 30 days of biblical, Christ-centered prayer.

Most of us who ask saints to pray for us, pray straight to God as well (probably the majority of the time), so this is a non sequitur. It assumes things that aren’t manifestly true. It’s the usual misrepresentation of Catholic practice, complete with the almost obligatory accompanying condescension, as if Catholics are unaware that we can pray directly to God.

Scripture instructs followers of Christ to offer petitions to the only One in Heaven who is worthy of such requests: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Sure, we can and do do that. But it doesn’t rule out prayer to dead saints; asking them to pray fir us or some cause. How do we know that? Well, our Lord Jesus taught it to us. He taught that a person in Hades (Sheol) could pray to Abraham (the rich man made both a petition and two intercessory requests):

Luke 16:24, 28, 30 (RSV) And he called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz’arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ . . . [27] And he said, `Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, [28] for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ . . . [30] ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

The usual responses to this are three utterly failed, miserable attempts at rationalizing the text away:

1) Abraham said “no”;

2) it’s only a parable, and so is irrelevant.

3) the rich man was dead, too.

As for #1: the prayer doesn’t have to be answered for it to be a prayer or for it to be proper to pray to Abraham. Abraham refused the request, and gave the reason why. God refuses prayer requests too. But if it were fundamentally improper or wrong, Abraham would have had to correct the rich man, and say, “Pray only to God! Why are you praying to me?!” He never did (nor did he say it was impossible for him to fulfill — by whatever means — any request); therefore, Jesus taught that it was proper and permissible to pray to someone other than God; a dead man.

Abraham appears in the story to be able to fulfill prayer requests by his own powers. Why is the whole story about the rich man asking Abraham for requests, rather than going directly to God and asking Him? God is never even mentioned in the entire story! Abraham didn’t say that he couldn’t cause or help cause these things to happen (as a praying intermediary), but that it wouldn’t make any difference, because if they were to repent, thy would have already done so as a result of reading Moses and the prophets (Lk 16:31). In the case of the first request, Abraham noted that it was not permitted (implied: by God) to cross from one region of Hades to the other. It matters not if both men are dead; the rich man still can’t do what he did, according to Protestant categories of thought and theology.

This just isn’t how it’s supposed to be, from a Protestant perspective. All the emphases are wrong, and there are serious theological errors, committed by Jesus Himself (i.e., from their perspective). It creates huge problems for Protestant theology and biblical inspiration alike; even for Christology (if Jesus Himself is dead wrong about something so central to faith as prayer).

As to #2: It’s not a parable, as I and many argue (they don’t contain proper names and are usually identified as a “parable” in context), but even if it were, Jesus couldn’t tell an untruth or false bit of theology in it. He couldn’t tell a parable, for example, in which there were four Persons in the Trinity or sixteen gods who have existed for all eternity, or a God that is not eternal. That can’t happen because 1) He’s Jesus, Who is God and knows all things, and 2) the Bible in which these parables are found is itself without error. So this “argument” proves nothing whatsoever. If we can never pray to anyone but God (i.e., ask them to intercede to God for us), then Jesus simply couldn’t and wouldn’t teach it in His story, whether it is a parable or not. But He did, so there we have it. I have argued this probably twenty times through the years and it is no less self-evident now than it ever was.

As to #3: if indeed it is absolutely forbidden to ever pray to anyone besides God, then it’s irrelevant whether the rich man was dead or not. He prayed to someone besides God. And Abraham didn’t rebuke him, and Jesus was teaching the entire thing for the instruction of His hearers (and later readers).

In fact, offering petitions to departed saints is actually offensive to God. 

It wasn’t offensive to Jesus, Who was God. He taught it!

In a CP op-ed 10 years ago titled, “Praying to the Departed Conjures Fallen Angels,” I wrote, “Prayers to the departed never reach St. Paul, or St. Augustine, or the mother of our Lord, or the brother of our Lord, or St. Francis of Assisi, or any other saint . . . 

Really? Why is it, then, that  the Bible teaches the following:

Revelation 5:8 . . . the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints;

The 24 elders are usually regarded as dead men by commentators. What are they doing with “the prayers of the saints” if all such supposedly only go straight to God and nowhere else? See also:

Revelation 8:4 and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.

Now angels appear to be involved with prayers, too. How can this be? And of course we also see dead men in heaven praying an “imprecatory prayer” (that enemies of God would be judged: prominent in the Psalms):

Revelation 6:9-10 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; [10] they cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?”

Why would God be offended when one of his children offers petitions to departed saints? Because it is hugely disrespectful to the Lord to offer petitions to anyone in Heaven other than God himself. 

That’s not taught in the Bible, either. Besides the rich man and Abraham, the rightness of which was confirmed by our Lord and Savior Jesus, Lot prayed to angels, and there is not the slightest hint in the text that this was wrong or improper:

Genesis 19:15, 18-22 When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city.” . . . [18] And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords; [19] behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life; but I cannot flee to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me, and I die. [20] Behold, yonder city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there — is it not a little one? — and my life will be saved!” [21] He said to him, “Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. [22] Make haste, escape there; for I can do nothing till you arrive there.”

The minute we turn to a departed saint to help grant our petition we veer away from biblical prayer.

Not according to Luke 16, which is straight from the mouth of Jesus, God the Son, in inspired, infallible Scripture (Luke 16).

You see, the Lord forbids his children from attempting to communicate with the departed. 

Then how could Jesus teach that departed Abraham could be prayed to?

In Deuteronomy 18:9-13, the Lord gave his chosen people the following instructions: “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices, the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God.”

Yes; that’s occultic practice, which all Christians agree are wrong and forbidden. Asking a dead saint to pray is simply not the same as that. He commits a fundamental category mistake. See my paper, Invocation of the Saints = Necromancy? [10-18-08].

Consulting departed saints by offering petitions to them is forbidden by the Lord.

It’s not, as shown above.

Likewise, when individuals offer petitions to departed saints, they are dabbling with dark power, . . . 

Then Jesus must be guilty of participating in dark arts of sorcery, divination, and spiritism.

. . . demons oppress people who engage in occult practices . . .

It’s fascinating that, according to the false speculations of Rev. Delzell, Jesus Himself participated in such evil practices by recommending them; therefore, He must have been oppressed by, or in league with demons, in this scenario: precisely what His enemies accused Him of:

Matthew 12:24 But when the Pharisees heard it they said, “It is only by Be-el’zebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” (cf. 9:34; Lk 11:15)

John 10:20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and he is mad; why listen to him?”

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Photo credit: The Bad Rich Man in Hell, by James Tissot (1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
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Summary: Garden variety arguments against petitions to departed saints are offered by Lutheran pastor Dan Delzell. I counter with the infallible teachings of Jesus in Luke 16.
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