“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Can Prayer Affect the Past?

…If God created the world and ordained future events in light of our future prayers, which he foreknew, might he not ordain some event in light of a prayer that would occur after it just as he often ordains future events in light of prayers said before them? That is, could it be possible to affect the past through prayer?* Consider this: you know your friend died yesterday, but you do not know whether or not he was a believer. Is it reasonable to say, “Lord, may it be that he knew you”? Or perhaps you know nothing of the accident in which he died, and you pray that he would come to know God although he is in fact already dead. At first you might think this kind of prayer could not be effective because the past is already set in stone, and you cannot change it. But perhaps God has already answered your foreknown prayer in past events which are not yet known to you. God transcends time, and his actions in a temporal world need not be bound by time – why should God wait for us to pray in order to take action in answer to our prayers?

The important thing is that you do not know how God may have acted in the past to answer your present prayer. The real issue is not the time of the answered prayer, but our knowledge. It is an epistemological issue. Consider, hypothetically, that you knew, with 100% certainty, what would be the outcome of some event in the future. It would be pointless to pray, “Lord, may it not be so,” because you would be praying for a logical contradiction. Complete knowledge of future events in this way is not a realistic possibility, but I give this example to show that it is not an issue of time, but human knowledge. Although all of history is predestined and set in stone according to God's redemptive plan, we pray (in addition to other reasons) because we do not see the outcome. Although past events have already occurred, we may not know what happened, and because of this we can pray…

*I mean effect the past, not change it from what it “had been.” That is, I mean causing the past to be what it always was by praying to God. And perhaps “cause” is too strong a word – I am not sure. When we pray, we are not praying that God would change his plans, but that they would be carried out and his will done.

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