Prayer is what we say to God. It can be worship and praise, or it can come in the form of personal requests for ourselves or others whom we know or of whom we have been told and are in need of God’s intervention. Sometimes, prayer is simply conversation with God. It doesn’t take the form of worship, praise or request, but rather it is simply a personal sharing of one’s life similar to how one would do with a friend.
In his video, Deconversion—Prayer, a young atheist, Chris,tells of his first experiences with prayer. His experiments included things like flying to the moon with his cousin, becoming a robot and learning how to tie his shoes. His honesty can be compared with a child’s first conversations with his parents. His parents might appreciate his sharing his heartfelt desires, but they would understand one couldn’t ever build a spacecraft out of wood and fly to the moon. On the other hand, Chris’ parents would surely have helped him learn how to tie his shoes. Why that would be considered a silly prayer Chris doesn’t say. If we have a personal God, why wouldn’t he help the child who prays to learn how to tie his own shoes? Granted, most children will learn this task whether or not he prays, but does such a foregone conclusion preclude God’s answering a child’s prayer?
For reasons we are not told, Chris claims that the likelihood of answered prayer is directly proportional to the likelihood of the events occurring on their own—without intervention from God. In other words, it was more like a 50:50 probability that the events would occur without any intervention from God, but praying for them might tip circumstances in our favor. He also thought as a Christian, if he didn’t pray for those things, God might not permit those 50:50 events to occur in his favor. Such things are rather complex, and I’ve heard it compared with two Christians each praying for a different sports team to win. If team A wins does that conclusively prove that the Christian who prayed for team A tipped the chances for that team’s victory? Did the Christian who prayed for team B fail to touch God’s heart? Does God really care who wins the World Series or the Superbowl? On the other hand, would God care whose armies were victorious in World War II—that of the Allies or that of the Axis powers? God doesn’t claim to rule the sports media, but he does say he sets up kings in their respective nations and brings one against another in order to bring about his will in the kingdoms of men. This, too, is rather complex but we are simply wondering about prayer at this time and not defending God’s position as ruler of this world.
The problem with listing prayer requests and seeking to justify our prayers being answered is that sometimes what we pray for has absolutely no meaning either for the world in general or for our own lives—viz. building a wooden spacecraft in hopes to reach the moon. Even parents allow us our fantasy world, knowing we’ll come around to reality eventually. God is no different. Some things he has no opinion on and the events will occur by chance in our favor or not, just like the Scriptures tell us (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:11). Therefore, there is no reason to believe that such things could be realistically listed among our prayers to God and expect him to intervene. Moreover, studies done concerning prayer requests will not necessarily lead to the desired results, because too many things (such as faith, God’s own liberty, and the reason for the prayer request etc.) have to be considered, which is not ordinarily available to the one recording the survey.
What finally unraveled the plausibility of answered prayer for Chris was that God is omniscient. If God already knows the outcome of a matter, how could prayer work to help or hinder the event? This is the argument of many atheists, but they haven’t really thought out the argument very well. The Scriptures reveal that God created time through the One who became Jesus (Hebrews 1:2; cf. John 1:3). If God created time, then he is not bound by time. He may relate to time as he speaks to us in the Bible, because our existence is measured by time. Understanding this shows that God really doesn’t know anything before it happens. All things exist to God in the present—he has no past or future. If God wishes to show us his knowledge of our future, he is able to do so by intervening in our present circumstance and telling us what will occur—that is according to our perspective, not his. For God all things, whether past, present or future, occur in his presence in the moment.
Therefore, things can occur by chance (Ecclesiastes 9:11) without God planning their occurrence. Although God knows everything, everything isn’t foreknown or designed by him. The Scriptures do speak of God foreknowing certain events and certain people, and what is foreknown is part of God’s plan for his creation and will occur accordingly despite random circumstance. Therefore, God is able to answer personal prayers that affect random chance but does not affect his foreknowledge of events that must occur. God’s omniscience, therefore, has no bearing on whether or not prayer is answered in our favor.