Christians claim that answered prayer shows God controls events in our world and in our lives. Some time ago, I read about a group of religious leaders who were trying to convince a philosopher (I think it was Voltaire or Rousseau but I’m not sure) that God is supernaturally involved in our world and answers prayer. They showed him statutes in a church that were given by fishermen who were in peril from a storm at sea, prayed to God, and made it to safety. The philosopher asked: Where are the statutes of the fishermen who were in peril in a storm at sea, prayed to God, and drowned?
Concluding God answers prayer from a few examples such as the above fishermen is committing the logical fallacy known as “hasty generalization”. We take a few examples out of a much larger population and use them to reach a conclusion. In this case, only the fishermen who survived were present to make their case. The ones who drowned could not contribute to the conversation. Also, those fishermen who did not pray but made it to safety are also excluded. Is this how we validate our theology? Do we only look at successes and totally ignore the failures?
If our prayers are not answered, it is likely we will say the failure to receive that for which we asked was God’s will. How do we know it was God’s will? That is something we must take on faith which leaves us with no rational basis for determining if God answers our prayer at all.
When I worked for the railroad, I met an individual who had converted to Buddhism. He told me he had been chanting for certain things he wanted (a better relationship with his wife, several material things such as a house and horses) and he had started to receive those things. There are non Christians who receive that for which they chant or pray. Does this prove their religion is the correct religion, that their God is the one true God?
If we are intellectually honest, we must admit we cannot prove God answers prayers and therefore we cannot use answered prayer as proof that God controls events in our world and in our lives. Next week, we will look at a more difficult problem with God’s sovereignty—the problem of evil.