God, Part 2: The Problem with Prayer
There are two kinds of prayer. One is the kind in which you contemplate your God. The other is the kind where you petition it (or him, if you prefer, but unless somebody thinks there as a Mrs. God, "he" seems a little silly). Petitioning God means you're asking it for something, like world peace or or a new skateboard.
One of the most common petitions, practiced even by those on the edge of faith, is asking God to spare a loved one who is close to death, or to keep safe a loved one who faces some risk.
So let's suppose someone dear to you is on life support, hanging by a thread. Offhand, it would seem completely reasonable that you would pray fervently for his or her recovery. After all, you might think, it couldn't hurt, and it might even help.
The problem with prayer doesn't have to do with you praying - it has more to do with what happens if you don't pray.
What if you don't take time to petition the Lord for your loved one's recovery? Does he die because you didn't pray?
Let's say the answer is yes. Well then, this is a pretty interesting God who is willing to let the guy die because you failed to petition for his recovery, or didn't petition hard enough.
Let's say the answer is no, he doesn't die if you don't pray, in which case your praying is irrelevant.
When I was in high school, several of our basketball players used to cross themselves before every foul shot. Believe it or not, this made some sense to me, and still does.
It's not that I think God, who clearly has plenty to do, particularly cared whether this guy made his shot. (Furthermore, what if an opposing player crossed himself so the guy wouldn't make the shot - who gets priority here? And how come guys on winning pro teams are always thanking God for answering their prayers and watching over them...didn't the other guys pray, too?)
It's because that little act of hope had nothing to do with God, it had to do with the player. Any athlete in a finesse sport will tell you that the most powerful determinant of whether you'll sink the basket or make the putt or hit the bulls-eye is whether you think you will. And if crossing yourself or saying a Hail Mary gives you that confidence, more power to you.
But that's different than asking God to save your buddy. How confident you feel about situation is irrelevant. (How confident your buddy feels about it is not, but that's a different subject.) You have no control over the situation. You're just hoping that God does, and is listening.
One more thing: If you do happen to believe that failure to pray might doom your friend, you've got another problem, which is how much you need to pray to bring about the divine intervention. And whether it's the right kind of praying. And what happens if you take a short break at exactly the wrong time. And are you perhaps neglecting some prayers for another situation that is about to go south because of your negligence.
If I go down for some reason, go ahead and pray all you want, but do me a solid and call an ambulance first, okay?