Why Pray? [POLL RESULTS] November 17, 2011

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hate binaries, too.  I’ve written whole chapters arguing against binaries.  But sometimes they’re interesting, at least as an intellectual exercise. And they’re definitely a conversation starter.

Over the protestations of some commenters, I asked readers to take a poll yesterday, and the results are really surprising to me:

Do the results surprise you?

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  • Considering your audience is a little more broad than most EC types, I am a little surprised by the weight of the results. I myself did vote for “changes me,” but not without a bit of trepidation. I’m certainly no Thomist, and I don’t consider God the unmoved mover, so I think there has to be at least a tension between the two options. If it is really to be a relationship between myself and God, there must be mutual participation, should there not?

    • JoeyS

      My sentiments exactly.

  • I am among the 8% (do I hear a new occupy movement!)

    I do think prayer changes me, but I chose prayer changes God because I really want to hold onto a relational dynamic between people and God. Just like we are able to change, I want to think God is. I don’t think that prayer forces change on God but, in a loving relational dynamic, interaction produces change in both parties.

    That’s what I thought. I am surprised by the results as well. I guess the open theists just aren’t online!

    • CJ

      It’s interesting to hear you all say that. I voted with the majority, but I am an open theist. I guess when I hear someone say “Prayer changes God” my visceral reaction is that this way of thinking plays into the puppeteer God mentality that I find deeply troubling. It has that ring of “If you pray hard enough and with enough faith, God will heal you/rescue you/make your baby live/stop the tsunami/whatever.” I don’t believe God works that way. But for me that’s not at all the same as believing that God is unchangeable.

      I think God is always active and changing, I just don’t think God changes because I tell God to or that the person with the best prayer wins. I see prayer as a way to change myself so that I can stay open to whatever God is up to.

      • CJ, that’s pretty much exactly what I was thinking also when I voted.

        I don’t know how I would know if prayer changes God.
        But I’ve experienced prayer changing me. I believe God is at work in the world through you and me and them and us. In my experience, I seem more aware of that work of God’s Spirit in the world when I pray.

        Still, that doesn’t keep me from not praying.

      • That makes sense to me also CJ. When I read it I didn’t think of having like an authority over God’s actions and being able to control him. I choose “changes God” but didn’t think of it in an absolute way. I still think He is God after all 🙂

  • Zachary: You make a good point. I have found from my journey that sometimes God’s silence is Him being patient with me while I deal with the consequences of a poor choice that I made…when I come to Him…it is not me crying “fix this God”…it is me saying “God, I feel like an idiot…what am I not seeing?” Just like the Dad in the story of the prodigal son…God sometimes will wait for us to come to our senses.

  • Hey Tony,

    Wishing it could have had a simple third option of changes things. Too stereotypical perhaps, but I wonder where that would have ended up on the list, and how many answered changes God thinking of it as God changing things.

  • Dan Hauge

    I completely agree with the relational dynamic that Zachary and James talk about, but I could only choose one . . . so I figured that in the grand scheme of things I was figuring (and hoping) that I’m changing more than God is in our conversations 🙂

  • Marcy

    I’m wondering if you would have gotten the same response if you’d worded the second option differently. Having had it drilled into my head from an early age that GOD DOES NOT CHANGE (his eternal nature and all that), even at my most conservative stage of life I would have had trouble checking that box. However, if you’d worded it something more like ‘prayer changes circumstances or events’ (through God’s actions) my conservative self would have happily checked that box.

    • Right, Marcy. That’s exactly what I’m getting at. Saying that “prayer changes thing” — when that means metaphysical things, that’s just a euphemism for saying that God changes.

  • Ric Shewell

    There might be a little Bradley Effect happening in this poll. It just looks better and feels safer to say that prayer changes me. But I think more people actually go into prayer attempting to put God into some sort of action that God is not seemingly doing.

    • Exactly, Ric. I think that’s exactly what’s going on here.

      • Dan Hauge

        Perhaps. Except that I would argue that ‘asking God to change something in the world’ is not exactly the same thing as saying “God is changing who God is.” Even if you want to argue that those two are actually the same thing, that might not be how most people intuitively view it in answering this poll.

  • While my prayer may affect God and others I understand and feel how giving my thoughts, actions, desires, frustrations, solitude, creativity, and attentiveness to something beyond my experience deeply changes and affects me.

  • Sticking with binaries, I’d be interested in how your readers would respond to a choice between “prayer makes a difference” and “prayer doesn’t make a difference.”

  • Jeremy

    Here’s a vote for “Both” thanks.

  • Zach Lind

    I answered that “prayer changes me” but I think that more indicates an approach to prayer while not necessarily a guess at how the mechanics of prayer play out.

  • No real surprise considering that your (excellent) site is probably mostly read by emergent types – I guess if we had been invited to answer the question with an essay you would have had a more nuanced response.