With the appropriate preparation mentioned in previous posts, we can begin to perform an experiment. There are many methods to experiment our belief in God, I’m sure, and I can’t claim that the one I suggest here is the only possible way. I cite the following as a method that has been tried repeatedly with substantial success for many people (however I do recognize the varying responses outside of my point). For me, the most natural step forward in trying this experiment would be prayer.
For many, the word prayer is a foreign term. Many who describe themselves as having no belief in God occasionally find themselves reaching towards a Greater Source at important points in their lives. One such man, an antagonist of religion in general, said the following in a document wherein his goal was to debunk religions, “I confess that I sometimes find myself praying in times of great fear, or despair, or astonishment at a display of unexpected beauty.” I don’t say that this man has “given in” to believing, for I don’t think he would agree with that. However, I think we both recognize, at some point in our lives, we are likely to feel the desire to reach out to Something More. I believe that this Something More is God, and that as we reach out, we can cultivate the ability to understand God in our lives. And there’s no loss in trying.
The value of this experiment is that it can be done anywhere. To begin this aspect of experimentation on believing, one only needs to address God, whether in mind or vocal, at home or abroad, for relief or for gratitude, in inquiry or in awe, for strength or even for sleep. If this experiment is valid, He will hear us in our individual situations; we do not necessarily have to be in a specific environment for prayers to be valid. However, as persons who have prayed much have observed, that the more conducive our situation is to having reverence for the Divine, the more productive our prayers.
The response to prayer is not a function (meaning, I input x and can always immediately expect to receive y); many things factor into our receiving that response: our sincerity, our willingness to accept a response, our desire to know truth, our willingness to not distort the response, and God. God is a factor, because knowledge of this kind would not happen without His consent, as He would be in control of such knowledge. It is possible that the knowledge answer may not come for a while: not until a lot of effort and mental exertion and willingness has been put into it. I mentioned before that if we were to ask a question to someone that we revered as very intelligent, we could not predict their response, or we would have no reason to ask them in the first place. I think of Socrates and his disciples; when asked a question, Socrates could answer in many very-unexpected ways. (And as a side note: if God were to answer our question with a question as Socrates was wont, it would be in our best interests to try to figure out the answer to that question, bringing it again to Him.) I do not wish to paint the picture of God as Socratic guru, but I want the reader to recognize that God is not a computer, wherein we can simply upload our inputs and then download His outputs. If God, as far as many believers are concerned, exists, He is a supremely intelligent Being. (Some would argue that He isn't a Being, but for the case at hand, I'm just trying to point out that He is more intelligent than anything we could imagine.) If we couldn't predict the responses of Socrates, Admiral Nelson, Winston Churchill, or Nelson Mandela, why should we assume that God's responses can be predicted?
Nevertheless, the promise has been made; God will answer. The big caveat on that promise is that He will answer when and in the way that seems appropriate to Him. I give an imperfect analogy: if a father's child consistently asks for ice cream and candy every day, should the father give the child the ice cream? No, because fathers know better than that. To the child, it seems perfectly reasonable that he/she have ice cream and candy all day, every day. Isn't candy good? The child can't see the consequences, nor, really, is the child interested in the consequences. The father may respond with a "no" or with something healthier, or maybe with "later", or "after you've eaten your vegetables." There are many plausible responses, depending on a situation what a father could give a child, as he has wisdom, and the child does not.
While recognizing the weaknesses in the analogy, we can say that if we ask for something, it may seem perfectly reasonable for us to have it. Why shouldn't we get everything that we ask for, in the way we ask for it, when we ask for it? We would have to recognize that things in this life that seem good or convenient or reasonable may be just candy and ice cream to us in our lack of wisdom and foresight; if there is something more beyond this life, wherein God has interest, He may have a better idea of what we do and don't need and when. If the time, situation, and our state are right, we might just get our candy and ice cream. But even more, when the time comes, we may have changed, and we may realize that we want something better than candy and ice cream anyway.
I do not say the experiment has to be this way, only that it usually comes much slower than we think we need. Why? Because there’s something valuable in cultivating belief. Thus, God’s answers will come at the level that we can understand, the intensity that we can appreciate, and at the frequency that we can bear. I don’t presume to answer all the questions of prayer at this time, nor do I presume to know all the answers, but I have thought much on the topics of both answered and unanswered prayer. My guess is that there will be posts that explore some of these questions later on.