Traditionally, the Church has given four reasons to pray:
- contrition (sorrow for sins)
- petition (for self and others)
When the Apostles asked Jesus how to pray, he said the Our Father:
- “hallowed be thy name…” = adoration
- no explicit thanks…
- “forgive us our trespasses…” = contrition
- “give us this day our daily bread, and lead us not into temptation…” = petition
I personally have no problems with 1-3, but I confess to major problems with #4, petition.
There are two points of view regarding petition as far as I can see:
- You are asking God to intervene in the world on your or someone else’s behalf; perhaps breaking natural laws.
- God, a being outside space and time, knew eternally that you would pray for x, and He has already factored that into His calculations when He created the universe. In other words, if you pray that Aunt Tillie gets cured of cancer, God knew that you would do that before the creation of the universe, and He factored your prayer into creation and the natural laws that led to Aunt Tillie’s illness. No need to intervene in the world and/or break natural laws.
I would agree with position #2. But exactly how that works seems to be a mystery. But of course it would be for a being who is trapped in time and space and trying to figure out how a being outside time and space operates. I’m not arrogant enough to claim that I understand God or His methods. See Isaiah: “My ways are far above your ways…”
It also seems to me that saying “It’s part of God’s plan” is not only illogical, but heretical. It denies free will. God may well have a “plan” (whatever that means), but at any given instant any person in the world is free to deviate from that plan. And to say that any deviation is PART of the plan is nonsensical. Again, it denies free will. God would have perfect knowledge of the “future” (of course to God, it’s NOT the future), but clearly evil caused by man’s will is not part of any divine plan. But that leaves evil caused by natural forces and laws (earthquakes, floods, disease, etc.) and no one has yet come up with a good explanation of why these things exist.
At least one other poster argued that you could confine petition to spiritual matters: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…” but on the other hand “give us this day our daily bread…” certainly is material, and I don’t think there is any way around that. Other Biblical verses certainly imply material aid.
I agree with clarkgamble’s comment: God is immutable. Petition asks Him to change His mind. This seems contradictory–God cannot be both immutable and constantly changing His mind. But if you hold position #2 above, the problem is solved.
So does God answer prayers of petition? According to the Bible, yes. But how? We simply don’t know. (And to say that God answered MY prayer and got me a new job or saved me from the tornado is ignoring the fact that millions of other people also prayed for a new job or prayed to be spared from the tornado, and it didn’t happen.)