November 24, 2008

Praying for Augustine’s Conversion

If Augustine was right in suggesting that God created and is thus outside of time; can I pray for his conversion to Christianity in the same light as I pray for the conversion of Richard Dawkins? Meaning can I intercede for “past” events?

I asked this question to the group eating brunch at our house after church on Sunday. From that discussion (of which there were a variety of opinions) I came up with a range of consistent options that differ in how they view prayer* but keep the original proposition that the past and future the same:

A-If we view prayer as having no influence on God’s Will then we shouldn’t pray to change things in either the future or the past, but rather to see and be apart of God’s will no matter what happens or has happened.

B-If we view prayer as voicing our desires to God (the way in which we would like things to be, knowing that they might not correspond to God’s will due to our limited perspective); then we could voice desires for both the past and the future (no matter what the actual outcome of the past actually is).

C-If we view prayer as having the ability to change the outcome of things; then we pray for both past and future outcomes, but when praying for the past we pray for the way things actually happened (believing that we shaped the past just as we shaped the future).

I actually find a well rounded view of prayer through a combination of the above. “A” keeps us in perspective with God’s will, “B” deepens our relationship with God by strengthening our honesty with Him, and “C” lets us embrace our limited perspective and lets us pray with power and conviction concerning events (accordingly I think past prayers for C don’t work as well unless you slip into 4th dimensional thinking often).

Any thoughts or Scripture references that would support or correct the above train of thought?

*Note that I am just talking about the supplication part of prayer. Thanksgiving, adoration, and repentance are other important aspects of prayer not discussed here.


Blake said...

Dude, how many times do I have to tell you to stop producing blogs that go over my head!?

Just kidding!

...but seriously...

Joshua Butcher said...

Position A does not seem consistent to me. If God determines all that happens, then He also determines those prayers that are efficacious.

Position B presents an impossibility. Yes, we may desire to alter the past, but the past as we know it has been accomplished. The future has been determined, but not accomplished from our vantage point, therefore what desires we have for it may be prayed for with expectation, whereas the past cannot be unaccomplished by our prayers. I'm unaware of any Scriptural example of praying for events that have already occurred.

Position C has the impossibility of praying (efficaciously) for the past, as well as the impossibility that we have shaped the past by our present prayers. God is indeed infinite and eternal, but his created agents and agencies are not. That God's knowledge and determination is eternal does not imply that our prayers accomplish God's determination in the same way as His decree does.

Laura said...

i don't know that you are accurately representing the conversation.

ninepoundhammer said...

I think this particluar question could be answered in the negative because the Bible instructs us not to pray for the dead.

As for the overall point, Butcher has it right--God has decreed all things, even our prayers. So, we pray to be in accord with His will through our desires while rejoicing in the outcome.

I am always reminded in such conversations of a good line in the C.S. Lewis biopic 'Shadowlands' in which one of the atheist Inklings asks Lewis why he bothers praying for his terminally ill wife--does he think he will change God's mind? Lewis (played by Anthony Hopkins) replies: 'I don't pray to change God; I pray to change me.'

'Nuff said.

Jacob Haynes said...

Thanks for the responses.
Josh: I was working all of these positions off the proposition that the past and the future are of the same reality (there is really no present that moves from past to future from the perspective of God). This is debatable for sure but if it is proven wrong then none of the positions make sense.

Laura: I was never trying to reproduce the conversation. Just trying to get out my thoughts as they were affected by said conversation. Thanks for trying to keep me honest though.

Matt: I do not think of praying for past people when they are alive as praying for the dead because they are alive at that moment, just as you are dead sometime in the future. But even if we were to throw out praying for anyone who is currently dead; what about praying for people in the past that are still alive today? This is actually the more relevant question anyway. Say Brian asked you to pray that he would do well on a test and you did pray for that exact thing only when you prayed for it at 10:00 he had already taken it at nine. Was your pray any less effective then if you had ‘got it in on time’?

I like Lewis’s quote and it sums up what I was trying to ultimately get at with this whole question.

And BTW, eveyone have a good Thanksgiving.

Joshua Butcher said...

I hope your Thanksgiving was joyous Jacob! We had a great time with Hannah's family.