Sidewalk Theology: Questions I Get Asked a Lot #1

Originally posted on Tuesday, January 19, 2021. Click here to view original.

Q: If God already knows everything, including what I need, why do I still need to pray?

This one has been a consistent favorite from young and old. The old are a little embarrassed to ask and sometimes have to work up to it. The younger folks just blurt it out. I like it when people blurt. Here's an email answer, pretty much as I sent it about a month ago to a young enquiring mind.

Dear Curious George (name changed),

I'll take a stab at it.

First, I'll be referring to God as 'HE' but not because I think He's a boy with boy parts. God is no more male than female and we know that's so because we're told that men and women are equally made in the image and likeness of God. Both are equal imagers because God is equally both. I could use 'IT' but that sounds so impersonal and since God is intensely personal, is actually false. God is in fact not a solitary being but is an eternal, personal relationship. Because of our language, I'm left only with 'HE' or 'SHE' and 'HE' is merely historically more familiar though not more correct.

Part of the premise of your question is spot on: God knows everything and where a thing, being, truth or event is placed in time is no barrier to His knowing it. Of course He knows the outcome before we ask since it's His nature to know everything. He can't help but know.

Here's the thing though: from all I just said you can't assume or infer that God causes everything to happen as it does at the time it does. Prayer is an independent initiative on our part and plays a role, as do our actions or inactions. The universe we live in isn't closed or totally predetermined. It's in a state of becoming, if that makes sense. I think there's more wiggle room in reality than some of the old preachers have told us. They were kindly gents who should have looked a little more critically at great grandfathers' theology and at least attempted to better square it with the craziness of life tumbling all around us.

Now, it's true that God will accomplish a BIG PLAN, but within the plan we are permitted by our actions/inactions, prayers/no prayers to have some effect on the outcome of the BIG PLAN. It's going to happen but maybe, within limits, we affect the timing or the clarity with which we or others see the outcome.

If every activity, word, syllable, prayer, movement, response and counter response that ever happened or will happen were a direct decree from the mind of God, that would be an amazing feat requiring a super intellect beyond imagining. If we once grasped the size and scope of it, awe would be involuntarily wrung from us and properly so. BUT, if His plan becomes a reality while also allowing us some part in making real decisions with real consequences, good and bad, that is an act of sustained wisdom, variable coordination and chaos management that is light years beyond mere decrees. That is our God. He's worthy of much more than open mouthed awe, but I'm not sure what it's called really.

So, yes, God knows what will happen before we pray, but it doesn't automatically follow that He directly and personally makes it happen. We have some effect and that gives us motivation to pray. We also have a monstrous responsibility to learn how to pray because it's participation somehow in what God is up to. I think He allows us tremendous freedom and latitude - it's called human life - while still accomplishing His ultimate plans. Simply because He is aware something will happen doesn't force us to say He makes everything happen. It's the difference between what theology calls foreknowledge and foreordination. I don't feel like dusting off the theology books, but you're nibbling at something pretty amazing Curious George. Tossing orders is celestial child's play. God is way beyond that.

Spending quality time reflecting on the nature and activities of God is mind expanding really. Our minds can entertain nothing bigger or grander. I think that makes it a very healthy thing.

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