I am going to use this page to highlight particular reactions and comments that I think are especially pertinent and warrant an extended response. I will link to the corresponding post before each response.
This is a response applied to the “Pray Tell” post.
NOTE: The nature of this site is such that responses are often emotional and passionate. I have always maintained that I will not edit comments and posts – if I think they are bothersome or offensive enough to warrant being altered, then I should not approve them in the first place. This will necessarily be a PG-13 site, but I have no problem – as in this case – editing quoted text for profanity, content etc. where it does not change the tone or meaning of the original.
The comment I’m replying to was not actually posted on this site, for some reason, but rather on a re-posting of my link. The comment was actually a segment of a George Carlin standup bit. I am responding, because I think the sentiments are probably shared by a large number of people. It must be said that Carlin was always clever and funny, if crude. He was by no means a scholar or theologian, but he typically had great insight into human behavior and real life. The original quote follows:
“I’ve often thought people treat God rather rudely, don’t you? Asking trillions and trillions of prayers every day. Asking and pleading and begging for favors. Do this, gimme that, I need a new car, I want a better job. And most of this praying takes place on Sunday His day off. It’s not nice. And it’s no way to treat a friend.
But people do pray, and they pray for a lot of different things, you know, your sister needs an operation on her crotch, your brother was arrested for defecating in a mall. But most of all, you’d really like to @$%# that hot little redhead down at the convenience store. You know, the one with the eyepatch and the clubfoot? Can you pray for that? I think you’d have to. And I say, fine. Pray for anything you want. Pray for anything, but what about the Divine Plan?
Remember that? The Divine Plan. Long time ago, God made a Divine Plan. Gave it a lot of thought, decided it was a good plan, put it into practice. And for billions and billions of years, the Divine Plan has been doing just fine. Now, you come along, and pray for something. Well suppose the thing you want isn’t in God’s Divine Plan? What do you want Him to do? Change His plan? Just for you? Doesn’t it seem a little arrogant? It’s a Divine Plan. What’s the use of being God if every run-down shmuck with a two-dollar prayerbook can come along and @$%# up Your Plan?
And here’s something else, another problem you might have: Suppose your prayers aren’t answered. What do you say? “Well, it’s God’s will.” “Thy Will Be Done.” Fine, but if it’s God’s will, and He’s going to do what He wants to anyway, why the @$%# bother praying in the first place? Seems like a big waste of time to me! Couldn’t you just skip the praying part and go right to His Will? It’s all very confusing.”
This demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between God’s Plan and God’s Will. I said in the Pray Tell post that I was not going to use that opportunity to discuss the whole dichotomy between predestination and free will, but I feel that I need to go at least a bit in that direction now. While God has a plan not only for the Earth, but also for each individual person, we are given the opportunity to deviate from that plan at each and every point. The end result of the entirety of human history is already decided; it is merely how we get there that changes. Praying is one way that we can alter the path, even if just infinitesimally. Of course, there are reasons for prayer other than to simply effect change or “get stuff,” as I mentioned in the original post. We each have plans for our life, and work to accomplish our related goals; the difference is that we do not have the final scene predetermined.
“God’s Will” differs in that it represents his truest desire for each person and moment. When I give my daughter a choice – for example, would she prefer to clean up her room or have toys taken away – there is one option that resides in my will and another that will make me sad. I hope that she will make the right decision, but it is important as a father that I give her the opportunity to make the choice so that she will grow and develop into a competent and productive adult. God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). However, He gives each of us the opportunity to accept or reject His grace and mercy. He could easily have created a world where all would see, know and accept Him, but that would be a world of automatons where no love would be freely given. His will is definite and powerful, but we are all allowed to choose. When we choose to live outside of His will, it simply means that He may have to nudge the world a little more in another direction to compensate for our disobedience. In the Garden of Eden, it was God’s will that his creation obeyed Him, so that they could live in an uncorrupted world and live in full peace, love and joy. They disobeyed, and God had to send His Son to redeem the world as a result. His plan will end with the same result, but there is much more pain and suffering that attends it as a result of that – and our – sin.
As to how this relates to prayer, God encourages us to pray in His will, so that He can give us what we truly desire. We cannot change the final result of eternity, and prayers outside of His will are ineffective, at best. We can, however, change the course humanity takes by our actions. We can also change – by a power of one – the number of people that are working to effect His will, for the betterment of everyone. Our prayers have just as much effect on us as they do the world, but they certainly can change the world.