Prayer: Telling God What to Do

There must have been a significant surge in traffic on the prayer-waves during hurricane Sandy recently – assuming, of course, that when people say, “My prayers are with you” that they actually do pray for the individuals concerned. People of faith tend to have a lengthy list of clichés that they regurgitate ever so often, such as, “God is good all the time”, or “He/she is in a better place” when someone dies. Those words are as “meaningful” to me as saying ‘Bless you” when someone sneezes. But if the prayers genuinely went up, God must have had it rough during Hurricane Sandy and I wouldn’t have liked to be in his shoes. Just imagine millions of people all over the world praying at the same time to keep their family and loved ones safe. It must have been a challenge for God to decide who to keep safe during the super storm and who to let suffer or perish. I wonder what criteria he used. Did he spare those with less sin – those who are more faithful to him? Isn’t it interesting that while one family is relieved and giving God praise for his protection and his loving mercies, other families are grieving the loss of loved ones and struggling to pick up the pieces? Those who have been spared couldn’t care less why God chose to favour them and not some poor, desolate people in Haiti for a change. It’s really a dog-eat-dog Christian world out there; each man for himself – for his own salvation.
This time around, I am prepared to give the religious the benefit of the doubt. Let us pretend that there is actually someone up there in the sky who listens to billions of prayers every day through telepathy. Let us assume that hurricanes are not caused by areas of low atmospheric pressure, moisture, and warm air from the ocean. Instead, let us agree, according to a US preacher, that Hurricane Sandy was God’s punishment for the homosexuals and all those who dare to promote homosexuality. Let us agree that those natural disasters are signs of the end of times as predicted in the good book. Or, maybe we can concur that God did not directly cause the hurricane; he only allowed it to happen as part of his divine plan. My question then is: What exactly are all those prayers supposed to achieve during the tropical storm? Are they supposed to convince the all-wise God that he is making a mistake and that he should consider changing his plan? Are prayers an attempt to suggest to God who should be spared and who shouldn’t? Do people pray to make some kind of special plea for themselves and their loved ones because they believe they are more deserving of protection than other people?
If God is responsible for natural disasters, then he ought to know what he is doing. He is not called “almighty God” for nothing. He doesn’t need anyone’s suggestions or guidance concerning who to protect and who to let suffer. If he panders to individual pleas and changes his mind about wreaking havoc on certain households or countries, while allowing thousands of people from other countries to suffer and die, then it means he is an indecisive God who shows favouritism. Can you imagine a God who changes his mind ever so often so he can satisfy the selfish demands of his praying followers? If, on the other hand, you understand that natural disasters are not supernatural events and that gushing water and raging winds can have severe destructive capabilities, then it should not be difficult to understand that damage to property and loss of life should be expected, particularly in vulnerable areas prone to flooding. In other words, your prayers are unnecessary and futile. They have absolutely no influence on the development, the course, or the effects of a storm.
Intercessory prayer – praying on others’ behalf – is just as futile. It implies that God won’t hear your individual prayers, but his poor heart will bleed and he will succumb to your desires when he realizes that several people are also praying for you. If you have the power to pray on behalf of someone else and make God do something that he had no intentions of doing, you might as well open an office somewhere and start what should be a lucrative business. I am not at all suggesting that people stop praying, especially if it makes them feel that they’re actually doing something to help someone in need. I am suggesting that prayer be regarded as what it is, merely a tradition – one similar to putting a tooth under your pillow as a child. The only difference is that the child grows out of the superstition and quickly learns that there is no tooth fairy.

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