My philosophy book this semester featured an article with a dialog between a Christian and an atheist. Early in the dialog, they said this:

Miller: Gretchen, [may I] say a prayer for your speedy recovery?

Weirob: I think I’ll pass on that, Sam.

Miller: I know you’re not exactly a confirmed believer in God.

Weirob: It’s not just that. Suppose I were. Suppose I believed in your Christian God. Just how do you think a prayer would help? Do you think God doesn’t know that I have the flu and am miserable? … In fact, not only does he know that I am miserable, but he also knows that you would like to see me get better. So how in the world does a prayer help? You simply would be communicating to God what God already knows, thereby wasting God’s time and yours. Not to mention mine.

Sam responds by saying,

The true value of prayer would be its effect on us, not any effect on God. It would remind us that however bad you feel, however much you sneeze, however achy your limbs, however much your head hurts, we are in the hands of a loving, beneficent God. 

Sam! What are you saying!!?? Why did you give up on prayer so quickly? Prayer isn’t just a way for us to feel better; we Christians believe (or we ought to) that when we ask God for something it actually makes a difference. 

A much better way to answer Gretchen’s question is demonstrated by C. S. Lewis:

‘Praying for particular things’, said I, ‘always seems to me like advising God how to run the world. Wouldn’t it be wiser to suppose that He knows best?’ ‘On the same principle’, said he, ‘I suppose you never ask a man next to you to pass the salt, because God knows best whether you ought to have salt or not. And I suppose you never take an umbrella, because God knows best whether you ought to be wet or dry.’ ‘That’s quite different,’ I protested. ‘I don’t see why,’ said he. ‘The odd thing is that He should let us influence the course of events at all. But since He lets us do it in one way I don’t see why He shouldn’t let us do it in the other.’ 

Perry, J. (2010). Dialogue on Good, Evil, and the Existence of God. In Introduction to Philosophy (5th ed.). Oxford University Press.
Lewis, C. S. (1970). God in the Dock. Eerdmans.

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