- This one is a little verbose (not like me, huh?) but I wanted to share it
with you. It is an answer I wrote for someone who asked me why pray, if
God has already done all good anyway. The discussion started over my
suggestion that we all pray for Timothy McVeigh. Hope you like it.
Love and prayers,
This is a tough question, one with which I have wrestled myself
for a long time because I love intercessory prayer so much, but here
goes. Please bear in mind that ALL God analogies will limp, but they're
all we have to resort to...
God is eternal and without change. The catch is in the second part. God
does not act in a chronological fashion as we do (and as we have been,
even in Scripture, reduced to describing Him as doing.) Unlike ourselves,
God does not get up in the morning and decide what to do. He does not
"do" in that sense, He just "be's".
God is pure act and perfect good. That means God did all that He was
going to do, including all the good He would give the world all at once,
in one act of infinite, tremendous majesty which will continue to unfold
until the end of time. Scripture, esp. in the Old Testament, relates this
differently, as sequential behavior, a,b,c, because it is the ONLY
language we limited humans had to express what happened to us IN time by
a divine Agent OUTSIDE of time. Phrases that suggest God changed His mind
are examples of this. God is perfect. His mind does not change, it cannot
and need not, because, unlike us, God was always right the first - and,
in His case- the only time.
God's pure action and love unfolds in time, as it is happening to us, so
we quite naturally see it as sequential, but it isn't. I hate to use an
analogy so dumb, but it's rather like dropping a whole alka-seltzer
tablet in water. The tablet is already formed, with chemical properties
stable and complete. The bubbles which result come one by one. A bit more
poetically put, the bulbs of next year's tulips already have the bud and
flower within. It is we who confuse the process of the flower's
development and unfolding with it's existence. The bulb doesn't wake up
next Spring and decide to "make" a bloom. It's already a done deal.
Bear with me here, I know this is getting long, but it is a tough
question and it takes some time.
Because we have all grown up with the sequential idea of Scripture, with
phrases like God relented, even the one that always gets me "God
regretted (!)" what He had planned to do to Nineveh, we get a flawed
notion of the function of prayer, we think we can change God's mind or
sway His will. Whooops! God's mind is perfect, can't be wrong, can't
change, cannot do evil. No amount of democracy or prayerful opinion poll
here is gonna change His mind. If His mind could change, we would be VERY
displeased with the decidedly imperfect results! Still, as God knows from
all time, if those flawed analogies can get us to pray, they can't be all
bad. It is the prayer, our prayer, that is important and is willed by
There is the important thing: God WILLS us to pray for, thereby truly
participating in, the good He has done from all eternity. It is His free
and gracious and loving gift to us. Neither we nor our prayers DO the
good or effect it, but we participate in God's act and will and this
tickles God immensely, so to speak, it delights Him. My favorite analogy
looms: it is like a mother getting a toddler to "help" her make cookies.
Do the cookies get made? Sure! Did the kid really help? Yes! Could the
mother have done it alone in half the clean-up time? You bet! But she
wanted the child to be a part of her work out of love. So it is with God.
We get to help and He wants us to do that. Our doing so pleases Him. More
than enough reason to do it right there.
Think of how many rivets there are in the Empire State Building. Imagine
that there was a fundraiser that allowed people to "buy" a rivet. They
probably wouldn't all get sold, but the Empire State would still be
there, with rivets sold or unsold! No one who bought a rivet would dare
say they built the building, but everyone who bought one could truly feel
they were a real part of it. Now, imagine that the fundraiser was today,
when the building is already there. That's a little bit like what goes on
Our prayers let us make cookies, buy rivets and be part of every single
act of mercy, love or compassion throughout the cosmos, throughout time
and beyond it. Not shabby. Our prayers thrust us to the very core and
heart of history as participants, not mere observers. Our prayers enable
us to cooperate with God.
God IS going to save Timothy McVeigh, in fact, I stated that wrong: God
HAS saved Tim already, from all eternity. Only Tim can thwart that by his
free will. However, that saving by God was not effected, nor will it be
effected by a last minute prayer at midnight on the 15th of May, it was
part of the pure act of God from all eternity. God ALLOWS us to be part
of His goodness and wants us to be.
Prayer DOES seem to change things. What I wrote before was accepted
theology, this is just my own wandering opinion. I KNOW that God does
not mess with free will, but I often wonder if WE aren't able to by our
prayers. Nothing in theology would prevent that. I wonder if there isn't
some way that our collective, praying consciousness has power and force,
not only on people, but even on microbes and cancer cells and events.
That is possible, but we'll never know until heaven. I also wonder if, in
doing His one pure act, with perfect foreknowledge, God was not moved by
knowing in advance how many would pray, delighting in advance with the
loving response of creatures He knew were coming millions of years hence.
Mind-boggling, isn't it?
Pray, my dear. I don't know exactly how it works, no one does. But it
works! And God wants us to.
Love and prayers,
PS: Want another mind-blower? If there is such a thing as the one prayer
that turns the tide, none of us praying for Tim might be saying it. It
could have been said by a forgotten hermit who didn't know who he was
praying for, who died alone in the forests of Gaul in 410 or so. God is
outside time! You can pray for Charlemagne when he was four. You can pray
for your mother on her first date.
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