Greg Loves Questions. In his best selling book Letters from a Skeptic, he responds to questions from his father, who was then an atheist. Tomorrow Greg will be hosting a AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit. We hope you can join us!
Here is an adaptation of one of Greg’s responses to a question from his father: Why would an all-powerful God need prayer?
The main purpose of talking to God (that’s all prayer really is) has little to do with asking for things. It’s to build a faith-filled, loving relationship with our Creator and Redeemer. What kind of relationship would I have with Shelley (my wife) if the only time we ever talked was to make requests of each other? Not much of one, I suspect. And so it is with God. The main function of prayer is simply to be with someone you love: to talk, to listen, or to simply “commune” with your Creator.
Asking for things—what’s called “petitionary prayer”—is simply one minor aspect of this total relationship. It’s not that God needs our petitions to be informed or empowered to do anything. He’s already as good, as concerned, as informed, as powerful as He can be. But because a loving relationship with Him is His highest agenda for us, He constructs the order of things such that a loving relationship with Him will be facilitated. And thus He ordains that some things will only be done through prayer.
Because God has love as His highest agenda, He gives us some say-so in the universe. We must have this if we are to be self-determining persons, and He must have self-determining persons in His creation if He wants to love to be creation’s goal. We humans have a good deal of power to determine the outcome of things, to have some say-so in our little corner of the universe.
Petitionary prayer is simply the spiritual aspect of the “power to influence” that God gives us. In the same way that God ordains that He will not do everything He’d like to do on a physical level—in order to give us freedom—so too He ordains things so that He will not always do what He’d like to do on a spiritual level. And he gives us this spiritual say-so for the same reason He gives us say-so on a physical level: to facilitate our freedom, our personhood, and thus a real, loving relationship with Him.
A genuine relationship, I believe, can only occur where there is personal interaction between two persons, where there is give-and-take between both parties. In other words, any genuine relationship requires that both parties are to some extent empowered over and against the other. This is as true in our relationship with God as it is in our relationship with other people. God doesn’t want to be the only one calling the shots. Monopoly by one person—even if that “person” is God—always squashes the personhood of others. So God ordains things so that we are to some degree empowered in our relationship with Him. He ordains things so that we can actually influence the Creator, not because He needs us, but because He wants us. And petitionary prayer, in my view, is the principle means of this human-to-divine influence.
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