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Prayer Constraints


GeorgeW
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Although theists claim that God is omnipotent and responds to prayer, it seems to me that (theist) prayer has certain constraints. There are things that would be within an omnipotent God’s ability, but are not requested. Some examples that come to mind:

 

People do not typically pray from impossible things like making an old person a teenager again.

 

People don’t typically ask for great financial success. They may ask for relief from financial distress, some financial help, but not great wealth. Maybe this violates some intuitive constraint against greed.

 

People don’t typically ask for things that defy natural law like turning water into wine.

 

People don’t usually ask to win competitive contests or that their opponent perform poorly. In games, players often ask that they perform to the best of their ability, avoid injury, etc. (hoping that it will result in victory), but not explicitly asking for victory per se.

 

People don’t ask that God undo history and reverse some regretful action or event.

 

While people do ask for healing, most seek medical assistance at the same time.

 

 

I suggest that there are constraints that implicitly recognize divine limitations while saying there are none.

 

George

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George, I think it is important, when it comes to a topic such as this, to differentiate between different types of theism i.e. supernatural theism and panentheism. Both are theism, but they see God and God's relationship with/to the world quite differently.

 

I'd agree with you that supernatural theism tends to view God as omnipotent and as intervening in (and suspending) the natural processes of the world in order to answer prayer or accomplish God's will. In this kind of theism, evidence for God is viewed through the suspension of the laws of the universe and/or violating what makes sense to us or how the world works. Supernatural theism posits that God is not here and therefore must break into the world.

 

Panentheism, on the other hand, tends to view God as enabling potential or influence that works in and through the natural processes of the world. So prayer is more aligning ourselves with the influence of God toward life and love then it is trying to get God to do something. In this kind of theism, evidence for God is seen in the natural laws and processes of the universe and in the observation that there are somewhat consistent patterns or cycles to things. Panentheism posits that God is always here, that we are in God, and we look for and join in with God's work in the world.

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Panentheism, on the other hand, tends to view God as enabling potential or influence that works in and through the natural processes of the world.

 

There must also be another view as i see much of what you said of Panentheism but also enabling a potential in us that sometimes defies the natural processes of the world as presently known. i personally would not rule out the supernatural from either view.

 

Joseph

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Or do they feel God is not likely to respond to selfish or unreasonable requests?

 

Steve, what is unreasonable? Is it unreasonable to ask that God reverse some hateful act that one does?

 

George

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George, I think it is important, when it comes to a topic such as this, to differentiate between different types of theism i.e. supernatural theism and panentheism. Both are theism, but they see God and God's relationship with/to the world quite differently.

 

Yes, I guess I was not clear. I am referring to "supernatural theism," i.e. the belief that an omnipotent God intervenes in affairs of this world and at the request of people who ask.

 

If one really believes this, why not ask to be made younger? a different size? more intelligent? a different race?

 

George

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It was the belief in an interventionist God that added religious support to the materialistic view of science. God's intervention must other than natural.

 

Richard Foster opens his chapter on prayer: To pray is to change.

 

Aren't we framing a very narrow definition of prayer?

 

Dutch

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Aren't we framing a very narrow definition of prayer?

 

Sorry, I didn't intend to frame a definition of prayer. I was just examining the claims by 'supernatural theists.' Confessed beliefs (God is omnipotent and answers prayers) and their prayer behavior don't seem to be consistent.

 

George

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Sorry, I didn't intend to frame a definition of prayer. I was just examining the claims by 'supernatural theists.' Confessed beliefs (God is omnipotent and answers prayers) and their prayer behavior don't seem to be consistent.

 

George

 

George,

 

Many, many years ago, I heard a simple sermon. Yes, G-d is omnipotent, and so G-d can say "no".

 

Myron

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Yes, I guess I was not clear. I am referring to "supernatural theism," i.e. the belief that an omnipotent God intervenes in affairs of this world and at the request of people who ask.

 

If one really believes this, why not ask to be made younger? a different size? more intelligent? a different race?

 

George

 

I love the idea that someone would pray to be made a different race! 'dear lord, please make me chinese...'

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No doubt my mind’s lazy streak would just as soon take a pass on examining the particular distinctions between this or that theoretical theism. I would, however, hazard offering a resource in consideration of constraints (and other aspects) of prayer vis-a-vis an omnipotent God.

 

3:2.2 Within the bounds of that which is consistent with the divine nature, it is literally true that "with God all things are possible."

 

108:0.2 God cannot do wrong; he is infallible.

 

118:5 OMNIPOTENCE AND COMPOSSIBILITY

118:5.1 The omnipotence of Deity does not imply the power to do the nondoable. Within the time-space frame and from the intellectual reference point of mortal comprehension, even the infinite God cannot create square circles or produce evil that is inherently good. God cannot do the ungodlike thing. Such a contradiction of philosophic terms is the equivalent of nonentity and implies that nothing is thus created. A personality trait cannot at the same time be Godlike and ungodlike. Compossibility is innate in divine power.

 

 

Imo, the above quotes present a view which provides interesting context to the question of God’s power in relation to prayer, no matter how we might choose to slice and dice theism. Some quotes below from a purported session between Jesus and his apostles contain other seeds of insight regarding constraints upon prayer.

 

Prayer is an expression of the finite mind in an effort to approach the Infinite. The making of a prayer must, therefore, be limited by the knowledge, wisdom, and attributes of the finite; likewise must the answer be conditioned by the vision, aims, ideals, and prerogatives of the Infinite.

 

The prayer of a God-knowing person may be so distorted by ignorance and so deformed by superstition that the answer thereto would be highly undesirable.

 

The child is always within his rights when he presumes to petition the parent; and the parent is always within his parental obligations to the immature child when his superior wisdom dictates that the answer to the child's prayer be delayed, modified, segregated, transcended, or postponed to another stage of spiritual ascension.

 

All genuine spirit-born petitions are certain of an answer. Ask and you shall receive. But you should remember that you are progressive creatures of time and space; therefore must you constantly reckon with the time-space factor in the experience of your personal reception of the full answers to your manifold prayers and petitions.

 

 

If you find value in these ideas, you might also be inspired to appreciate the entirety of UPaper 91: THE EVOLUTION OF PRAYER, which addresses primitive prayer - evolving prayer - prayer and the alter ego - ethical praying - social repercussions of prayer - province of prayer - mysticism, ecstasy, and inspiration - praying as a personal experience - & conditions of effective prayer, in some depth.

 

In loving service,

Brent

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Brent

 

"Within the bounds of that which is consistent with the divine nature, it is literally true that "with God all things are possible."

 

One could also say that humans are omnipotent (i.e. within the bounds of human nature). The question then is, what are the bounds of divine nature?

 

George

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I propose that ‘supernatural theists’ tacitly recognize that God has limitations and the divine capability is limited to the scope of natural laws and that which has been observed to occur. One will pray only for things that are possible to occur based on human experience and in which a divine agent can be inferred.

 

These constraints are, I think, even more limited than the theoretically possible according to laws of physics, chemistry, biology, etc. As an example, in biology, some animals can regrow lost limbs, but humans cannot. Therefore, people will pray for cancers to be healed, but not amputated limbs to be regrown.

 

George

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I have read of those who say prayer helped bring about the death of King George II and started a jeep deep in the jungle that had stranded missionaries (personally related to me). I remember the lyrics kinda," I expect the supernatural intervention of of God." I think it is hard to say what expectations someone else has when they pray.

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I think it is hard to say what expectations someone else has when they pray.

 

I agree, however I think it is possible to make reasonable inferences from what people actually pray for and what they do not pray for.

 

Kings die, but don't come back to life. Jeeps spontaneously start, but they don't become helicopters. The former examples are possible and have been observed to occur. The latter examples have never been observed to occur although they would presumably be within the capability of an omnipotent god.

 

George

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Yes, I guess I was not clear. I am referring to "supernatural theism," i.e. the belief that an omnipotent God intervenes in affairs of this world and at the request of people who ask.

 

If one really believes this, why not ask to be made younger? a different size? more intelligent? a different race?

 

George

When I still believed in supernatural theism, I didn't make these kinds of prayers because they were considered to be selfish and self-serving. It was like with the Pharisee and the tax collector where the Pharisee was praying to God about all these selfish motivations but the tax collector wouldn't even lift his eyes up to heaven and we were supposed to be emulating the tax collector with our prayers. So it would have been acceptable to pray to God to help give you strength to do your best on an exam or something but it was selfish if you prayed to God to give you an A and didn't do any studying on your own and just expected to God to give you an A on a silver platter without any part on your end.
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Some of this conversation is a bit over my head, but I'll just say this part: on my end, I find prayers take many forms. Sometimes I pray for intervention, sometimes I pray for guidance. Sometimes I pray for strength and other times just give it over. Sometimes prayer is more like a conversation, or a venting session, or like a psychologist's chesterfield. All those, and more types, come from one person - and I can't imagine I'm the only one. Is there constraint in prayer? The only constraint I've come across are ones I've put there with my own ego.

 

As for what God can and can't do, I think it's more what He will or won't do. Could God change a jeep into a helicopter? Why not? More importantly though, why would He?

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Could God change a jeep into a helicopter? Why not? More importantly though, why would He?

 

To get stranded missionaries out of the jungle.

 

The fact that these examples are considered absurd, I think, supports my proposal. We think it normal to pray to start a stalled jeep (something that happens in this world), but not make it into a helicopter (something that doesn't occur in this world).

 

I am not suggesting that this is the only form of prayer or all all people who pray believe in an omnipotent, interventionist God. I am just proposing that those who believe that God is omnipotent, don't exhibit this belief in their prayer.

 

George

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When I still believed in supernatural theism, I didn't make these kinds of prayers because they were considered to be selfish and self-serving.

 

I think there is a non-greedy constraint on prayer. People play the lottery really hoping to win a gazillion dollars, but it would be unseemly to (at least publicly) pray to win.

 

George

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I will offer my own prayer.

 

"May we find a way for people not to suffer. May we find a way for people not to suffer at our own hands. May we rejoin "You" so that people do not have to suffer?"

 

Myron

Edited by minsocal
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I am not suggesting that this is the only form of prayer or all all people who pray believe in an omnipotent, interventionist God. I am just proposing that those who believe that God is omnipotent, don't exhibit this belief in their prayer.

Since we are not talking about our own prayers but those of others and we are talking about the phenomenon that people don't act according to their beliefs, let me suggest that if God were supernatural there can be no miracles.

 

The argument goes something like this.

There must be an interface. Something about God must be like something in nature or God could not intervene. If you want God to put that nail into the piece of wood God will have to affect the atoms or molecules or cells for the nail to move into the wood. If God can interface with the material natural world then something about God is natural. One would have to posit that God is both part of the natural world and the supernatural world. In this view then the divide is not between the natural world and the supernatural God, the divide is between the natural part of God and the supernatural part of God. A dualistic God. Of two worlds.

 

So if God is solely supernatural there can be no interventions. If God can intervene then God is natural or of two natures.

 

Dutch

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People don’t usually ask to win competitive contests or that their opponent perform poorly. In games, players often ask that they perform to the best of their ability, avoid injury, etc. (hoping that it will result in victory), but not explicitly asking for victory per se.
Tim Tebowism seems rather popular in football circles right now though.
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