The Corner

The Power of Prayer

Something’s been bugging me all weekend and I thought maybe the Cornerites around here might have an answer. First, a disclaimer: This is purely a theological question and not an attempt to denigrate or single out anyone’s religious views.

I constantly hear about the power of prayer. Often, when I listen to televaneglists, represenatives of the Catholic Church and a host of lay and civil leaders there is a declared or implied view that the more people who pray for something the more likely it is that it will happen. Televangelists are the most obvious example. They often ask viewers to join with them in prayer to do this or do that. But what made me think of it was a A&E documentary on the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping. Various peoplee said they needed as many people as possible to pray for her recovery.

Anyway, so my question is: Why should the number of prayers or praying petitioners matter? Surely God isn’t a politician. Surely he doesn’t ignore the just and deserving prayer of one man while heeding the same or lesser request from 10,000? God, after all, is a dictator of inifinite wisdom and justice. His will is no less His will if everyone disagrees with it.

Of course, Abraham (and Moses) both argue with God. And Abraham in fact negotiated God down to a minimum number of good people in Sodom and Gamorrah that could save it from destruction (“And what if there are ten good people, will you kill them too?” I’m quoting from memory.) So presumably numers and persuasion have always played a role in God’s thinking.

So what is the theological underpinning of this widespread religious locution? Without doing any research I can think of only two answers. The first is that prayer is considered a good in itself and therefor anything which brings people in closer contact to God or the Church is therefore a good thing and should be encouraged. But, when pressed, theologians would say “No, no, God doesn’t take a poll.”

The other answer is that this is the product of three centuries of mass-politics bleeding into religious affairs. Anyway, I thought it might be an interesting topic for Monday morning chit-chat.


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