“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 20, 2008

Effective Prayer to a God Who Foreknows

The whole concept of prayer to an omniscient and omnipotent God can be difficult to grasp. If God has exhaustive foreknowledge and had all of history planned out from the foundation of the world, what reason could there be for human prayer? How can prayer be effective if the future is already known to God and ordained by God? It might seem that God leaves no room for himself to respond to our prayers.

The problem with this view of prayer is not that God’s knowledge and power is thought to be too great for there to be room for prayer, but rather that God is thought of as less knowing and less powerful than he really is. Let me explain. The mindset that says, “prayer is pointless if God has it all laid out in his mind” assumes that God does not also foreknow our prayers and is not big enough to work our prayers into the rest of what he has ordained. It assumes that when we pray, God can only respond, “sorry, I’ve already decided what will happen – there’s no room for effective prayer on your part.” This need not be true at all. On the contrary, there is no reason why God cannot foreknow our causally effective prayers and integrate them into the rest of his plan. God ordains the future according to his purpose, but he also ordains it in light of our prayers, which are foreknown from eternity as well.* The whole of reality is a sort of interwoven web – any given thread may depend on others, but every thread is fully dependent on the Grand Weaver. All is ordained in light of who God is.

Consequently, we can pray knowing both that God’s answer is already set and that our prayer is causally effective. It is causally effective because God ordained it to be so according to his eternal plan – God appointed us to make a difference through prayer. We can even prayer for the salvation of others, knowing both that God has already chosen his elect and that he has ordained our prayers and evangelistic efforts as the means for their salvation. Predestination and missions are fully compatible.

It is also important remember that our prayers only affect God’s actions because he himself decided that was how things would be. In certain passages in Scripture, God responds to his people by doing something other than what he had said beforehand he would do. It seems that he changes his mind, but he only acts differently because he is responding to the prayers of his people, which he foreknew. Indeed, it is hard to imagine God Almighty, the Lord of heaven and earth, changing his mind…

*This does not mean we are mere pawns or robots in a deterministic world. Some see a connection between foreknowledge and predetermination, but I do not see any reason for making that connection. Why should God's foreknowledge restrict human freedom of choice? Is God so small that he could not foreknow our free actions?


  1. Though I am a great believer in God, I rarely pray. I feel that God knows what my preferences are and that to come to him in a certain way telling him what I want is a bit like how kids act when they talk to Santa Claus.

    I have an inner knowing that all is well, that there is no reason to worry, ever. Love is the highest truth, we get to live forever, and the best is yet to come.

  2. True, God does know all ou preferences and thoughts, yet at the same time he tells us to pray (Matthew 7:7-8, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Ephesians 6:18). As you say there is a certain way of approaching God in order to get stuff for ourselves, as if he is Santa or a "divine vending machine." But if we bring our requests to God in a God-centered, God-glorifying way, submitting to his will and not trying to impose our will on God - that, I think, is the kind of prayer that God desires and delights in.

    I definitely resonate with your description of an "inner knowing" that all will end well. This is definitely something I feel as well - I've written about it in a number of posts. It seems to me that the resurrection of Christ is exactly the sort of historical event you would expect, if we know deep down that there is a "happy ending" to everything. And just as God puts a knowledge of his moral law and his beauty and majesty in our hearts (Romans 1-2), it seems that he puts a similar knowledge of his Great Story in our hearts with this "inner knowing." At the end of his essay "On Fairy Stories," J.R.R. Tolkien talks about this "eucatastrophe" or happy ending being an essential component of any "fairy story" as well as the central part of THE Story - Christ's resurrection and triumph over death.

  3. Amen, AMEN to your wonderful blog post. That is good to remember when anyone questions me about prayer and the sovereign will of God. It's very encouraging to meet young people who are deep in the Word and holding true to reform theology. We need more Christians like that! I guess I become so discouraged at my church (where none of the youth are into the Word or reformed theology) that I believe there's no hope for my generation. But I need to not lose hope!
    Keep up the good work in Christ!

    "Why should God's foreknowledge restrict human freedom of choice? Is God so small that he could not foreknow our free actions?" -- Mm, great questions. :)

  4. I have to say that I love your posts. My faith is emotional and based on feeling and prayer. It's good to see someone put what I feel into words.


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