The Corner

Prayer: The Nature of Numbers

Greetings Jonah,

Greg Popcak here (K-Lo does my radio show periodically).

www.exceptionalmarriages.com/weblog

Regarding the prayer issue. Two brief points.

1. Certainly God does not change his mind because somebody prays hard enough. As C.S. Lewis is reported to have said when his wife was dying of cancer, “I do not pray to change God. I pray that God would change me.”

2. That said, regarding the efficacy of prayer in the natural world, I would appeal to chaos theory, and in particular, the so-called “Butterfly effect” to attempt an answer to your question. It seems to me that if the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings in South America could conceivably influence weather patterns in China, then could not the prayers of one person, or moreso, a large group of people, have a similar effect?

Think of it as the “power” of 10,000 butterflies.

No doubt theologians would demur or suggest that this was “too mechanical” an explanation for the action of grace in the world. But I say that grace has to work somehow, and that action ought to be able to be observed and explained somehow.

Perhaps chaos theory offers a possibility.

Just a thought.

And….

Hello Jonah,

I’ve always considered the power of prayer to be a statistical thing, but not in a democratic way. God doesn’t take a vote, but He does listen to those He considers good and just enough to merit His attention. So, in a mass appeal to pray hopefully someone in the masses is good and just enough to appeal to God on the matter.

I use the term “just” as a reminder that, just because a bunch of good people want something doesn’t mean their desire is just. Lot was bargaining with God on the matter of competing goods. God was concerned about world while Lot was concerned about some individuals.

Although, when you consider the final outcome, God could have just been humoring Lot since He ultimately destroyed the city. Did God know there were fewer than 10 good people in the city all along?

And…

Jonah,

Whoever think that numbers don’t matter in prayer has never read the Dr. Seuss class Horton Hears a Who! Horton Hears a Who! . Every voice counts and can be used to voice different concerns, but they can also be united toward a single cause. That’s why we are all encouraged to vote every Election Day. Do you think God would have spared Nineveh if only a couple of citizens had repented? God doesn’t take polls, but like the godless judge in the Gospels who finally answers the door after persistent knocking (like your Abraham example), he takes notice as more prayers are made, whether one individual says many prayers or many individuals pray once together.

One of your readers touched on a great mystery – that God would allow us to petition him and possibly answers our prayers (though not always as we would expect).

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