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.