The futility of prayer flowchart
Recently I saw a new meme here and here of a flowchart outlining the logical futility of prayer doing the circles in various atheist blogs and websites. This meme assumes that something is inside or outside of God’s divine plan which means that prayer is either redundant because it is going to happen anyway, or it’s futile, because it was never going to happen. Thus prayer serves no purpose.
Like most memes it is designed to make a simple (yet profound) point. However the simple point of this meme is unfortunately wrong. It’s wrong because it caricatures prayer.
In the Christian sense prayer is people ‘communicating and speaking to God’. It is much more multifaceted and complex than this meme suggests.
First, there are different types of prayers. Some are prayers of thanksgiving such as Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving concerning the Thessalonians (1 Thess 1:2-3), ‘We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ’. Similarly there are prayers of praise (or adoration). Indeed many of the Psalms have this character (Psalm 68:4), ‘Sing to God, sing praises to his name; life up a song to him who rides upon the clouds – his name is the Lord, be exultant before him’.
The meme is correct in suggesting that the Bible depicts God as having a grand plan. This plan is outlined in Ephesians 1:9-10 where everything will come under the headship and rule of Christ, ‘With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fulness of time, to gather up all things in him’. However Paul does not see this as a necessary obstacle to praying in general nor to saying prayers of petition (i.e. asking for things). In the very same letter Paul prays/asks that the Ephesians receive wisdom and revelation (1:17-18), strengthening (3:16), ability to comprehend God’s love (3:18) and that he might declare the message fearlessly (6:19). Paul exhorts the Ephesians to always pray (6:18), ‘And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.’ Paul prays these things because they align with the plan of God, but he prays these things because they express his own desire that everything align with God’s plan. Paul’s prayers reflect his own trust and dependence on God.
Hence at its heart, prayer is about the the expression of a relationship. Prayer is not like the way we relate to a magic genie. The Bible depicts this relationship in a filial sense i.e. the relationship between a father and son. For example Jesus encourages people to pray to God because he wants to give gifts (Matthew 7:9-11). The reason God wants us to ask is because prayer is about expressing our dependent trust in him. We pray to him trusting that he will hear our prayers and answer according to our needs and his grand plan. Any sensible parent doesn’t grant every request of their children, but a parent does want their children to talk to them and ask for things and to express that relationship. Sometimes parents also like to surprise their children!
Prayer is neither redundant or futile. It is only redundant if prayer were considered in the sense of a magic genie. Prayer is an expression of an ongoing and dependent relationship.