Saturday, 10 March 2012

Can Anyone Explain the Purpose Of Prayer?

"Oh Lord! Won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz. My friends all drive Porche's, I must make amends!"

You see, what I just don't get is how prayer can possibly change the mind of an all-knowing, infinitely wise, all-powerful, omni-benevolent god who has defined right and wrong for us and knows our deepest, most secret thoughts.

Such a god would have ensured only the best for its creation and would have set this in motion right from the start, so the purpose of prayer can't possibly to persuade such a god to change its mind.

Such a god would know everything that is happening, so the purpose of prayer can't possibly be to inform it about some impending disaster or to ask it to prevent one from happening. Nor can it be to inform it that someone needs help to overcome some difficulty or recover from an illness.

Such a god will already be aware that something happening, or which is about to happen, is wrong, so prayer can't possibly to help it tell right from wrong.

Such a god would already know whether the person praying is truly sorry for having done something wrong, or having failed to do something right, so the purpose of prayer can't be to let it know or to fool it into thinking the person is sorry when they are not.

Such a god would know whether the person praying really loves it or not, so the purpose of prayer can't possibly be to tell it the person loves it or to fool it into thinking the person does when they don't really.

Such a god would already have decided whether to let a sick child live or die, or a baby to be conceived, or a famine, drought, epidemic or war to continue or end, so the purpose can't be to persuade it to change its mind.

And such a god would already be aware that a person is thankful for something or not, so the purpose of prayer can't be to inform it of that or to fool it into thinking they thankful when they are not.

And, of course, an omni-benevolent god would already have forgiven someone who deserved to be forgiven so the purpose of prayer can't be to persuade it to forgive or to trick it into forgiving someone unworthy or forgiveness.

So, the purpose of prayer must be something not connected with the god in question. The purpose of prayer must be for the benefit of the person praying or the purpose of the person cajoling them to pray.

The purpose of prayer can't be to help someone else. To help someone else you need to do more than make useless noises at an imaginary friend, even if that might earn you kudos for your piety amongst your fellow worshippers in the Church of Piety and Empty Gestures.

So, can anyone come up with a convincing purpose for prayer, other than self affirmation and a public display of piety?

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  1. Do you meditate?

  2. Prayer is not to update the knowledge of god, as he already knows you are a sinner. Prayer is the human act of relating to god, it is for the human and their benefit. It is a mirror for themselves, to reform themselves. Prayer in its finality is the acceptance of what is given as the goal of your efforts.

    Some people ask for cars in their prayer, only god can help them.

  3. Meditating and relating to god. Both answers that are becoming more common in recent years. Understandably since as Rosa's article demonstrates, prayer-for-results makes no sense and never did, but where does that leave the pope when he prays for peace. Is he standing up there meditating or is he just making his audience wait while he relates to god?

    What about people who pray for healing at Lourdes and at bedsides? Shouldn't someone explain to them that it doesn't work like that?

    Worse, there are all those who say "I will pray for you". What a strange thing to say if it means "I will go relate to god for my own benefit for you"

    Also I seem to recall a few examples in the bible which were prayers-for-results.

    Wasn't Samson supposed to have used prayer to knock down a temple, Joshua a city wall and Elisha to have some annoying children ripped apart by bears. I suppose we can't count the prayers of Jesus since he was talking to himself (and rather worrying getting a reply).

    The fact is that inventing prayer was always a case of painting yourself into a corner. You can't claim prayers work and yet you can't admit that they don't. The day was bound to come when people said "hang on a minute... this makes no sense...". The 'meditating/relating' explanations are a futile attempt to tip-toe across the wet paint, trying not to mess it up.

  4. Prayers are only wasted words on the desert air. The greatest mental crime ever commited is that of teaching a child, ''while still upon its mother's knee'', its duty and obedience to god.

  5. Simple answer: the purpose of prayer is to build a relationship with God.

    Prayer the way I understand it is communicating or relating with God. He knows everything but we don't. We need to grow just like children relating to their parents, then friends, teachers, mentors, then spouses and each relationship grows the more time we spend nurturing it.

    Prayer therefore is more than asking for stuff, it's honoring (God does honor us), creating (God passes on ideas or solutions and we share ours and get feedback), worshiping (we worship him), it's celebrating (rejoicing over victories) etc etc. And he has mirrored that relationship in many ways for us in our day to day relationships to enable us have a picture of what it could be like with him. My parents may know the issue I am presenting to them, but that doesn't stop them from letting me tell my version of it. They listen, advise, love, admonish me etc... That's how prayer should be. A relationship, with many facets. Talking to God, which is commonly what prayer is known as, is only one facet. And the more time we spend building that relationship, just like any other, the more we know who he is, and even how to communicate (pray) better.

    1. So your omniscient god doesn't know your thoughts and desires unless you tell him, and so you need to educate him, eh?

      Not sure how you've confused your parents with gods. Do they claim to be omniscient and omnibenevolent too?

    2. Obviously prayer hasn't worked for you cnamagulu, because you don't know who SHE is.


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