This weekend Molly and I were debating prayer. I’ve always wondered how exactly prayer works. There are many complexities to deal with. My chief questions are:
- What happens if one person prays for one thing while someone else prays for the exact opposite?
- Doesn’t God know what’s best for all of us?
- Does he really need direction from me?
Abraham Lincoln summed up the dilemma best in his famous second inaugural address when discussing the north and south
Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes. . . . Fondly do we hope–fervently do we pray–that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether”
These are tough questions, but I like how Lincoln ends it by basically saying I don’t understand it, but I’ll trust that god knows what’s going on. And it’s clear that in most spiritual traditions, we are commanded to pray in some way.
It’s not the most satisfying answer, but sometimes you just have to accept that you can’t know everything. I don’t know how the atomic bomb works, but I’ve seen the terrifying results.
I think prayer is that way too. I don’t really understand the theology behind it, but you only have to look at the changed lives of so many praying people to see the positive results. Maybe prayer is more to help us than to help God?