Apr 29, 2008

Reflections on Answers to Prayer

This is a section of an interesting discussion with questions that many, myself included, have had to ask with regards to prayer. To see the discussion, click here. This is not a comprehensive treatise on the matter, but it has points worth considering for people of all belief systems.

Here is an excerpt:

I agree that many human beings exhibit a tendency to enjoy worship, for whatever reason. The annals of history contain much of people worshipping. One may take the stance that this tendency is explained by a nuance in their being, a psychological or sociological element that drives them to worship. Though these sociological and psychological elements have no doubt played into the fact that humans do worship, there is no evidence in these fields of study to declare that these are the only possible reason. We cannot observe a result only and say that we know the cause definitively. Many, with varying a priori assumptions, have conducted studies on the matter. Acknowledging that there may be psychological and sociological influences, I suggest that there is also genuine worship based on the existence of God, that the existence of God and our relationship with Him propagate some of this behavior, and that this statement cannot be proven true or false. We are left with the observation: humans worship. The cause is unknown, but we’ve definitely discovered influences. We have correlation, but not causation.

Your next statement takes us to the same question of underlying assumptions. “That prayer makes people feel different is certain.” Again, there are many records of people “feeling different” connected with prayer. But again, as third-party observers, we only have correlation, not causation. One can equally assume that the “feeling different” comes from God as they can assume that it comes from another source, like our hypothalamus or limbic system. To say that chemicals in our make-up have no part in our feelings would be utterly false. To say that series of chemical reactions were solely responsible for every reaction within our bodies is beyond the scope of science, or at least, humans’ ability to confirm. So again, we are left with the observation: prayer often correlates with “feeling different.” The cause is unknown for every situation. One may legitimately believe or disbelieve either claim.

So if I am saying that prayer, as a third-party observer, gives no definitive answer to whether or not God exists, how is it a tool to give us knowledge of God? Prayer is only a tool with which we can perform the experiment of belief. It is faith (belief is the word that we have been using) that God is interested in cultivating, and prayer is an effective means to that end.

It is logical, therefore, that if God wants us to develop faith, many of the answers that we receive may reflect enough wiggle-room to make us turn to faith again. If the development of faith is a prerequisite to knowledge, there may be a number of answers received that seem frustrating: we want a definitive answer, but we only got “feeling different” or something that seems only coincidental or nothing at all. At these junctions of analyzing our experiences we are presented with an option: will I continue to believe or not? I have no outstanding evidence in either direction. Personally speaking, it is after these crux-moments, choosing to believe, that I gain added insight, clearer thoughts, and ultimately, knowledge.

Why would God want us to develop faith? The God I know definitely wants us to develop knowledge, but why also faith? Is there any intrinsic value to faith? Most conceptions of God are associated with some form of life after death. I do not presume to know all that such an existence would entail, but I believe that God would have a very good idea of what is expected in such a realm, and it is likely that faith development is important, for whatever ends God has in mind. I give the following example from our lives to illustrate a possible application: faith, on a rudimentary level, is the driving force in all things. I believe my car will start, so I go out and I turn the key. I believe that home owners insurance is helpful, so I pay for it. I believe that a scientific experiment will yield meaningful results, so I perform it. Our calculations or our expectations prior to any meaningful action lead us to that action, and in a very basic sense this is belief. Now, I do not submit that it is this rudimentary case alone that God wishes we develop. It could be that there is something intrinsically valuable to faith that is apparent to God, but not yet apparent to us. Considering that it often precedes action, the development of faith suggests an involvement or a worthwhile movement or meaning to our existence after this life.

When will God grant the knowledge we seek connected to our experiment of belief? God would be the only one who knows how much faith developed is sufficient. It may be immediate for some, or after a prolonged testing for others. I wish that there were a cut-and-dry measurable answer for belief, but alas, we have no ability to measure such a thing as belief.

No comments: