The search continues.
With a little googling, I found another essay on prayer by C. S. Lewis. This one, titled “The Efficacy of Prayer,” printed in another collection, The World’s Last Night and Other Essays. You can read the essay on Scribd, so you have no excuse to miss out. I’ve never heard of Scribd before, but apparently it’s “the world’s largest social reading and publishing company.” Sounds interesting. I’ll take another look later.
But back to Lewis. “The Efficacy of Prayer” again tackles (or at least arm wrestles) the two patterns of prayer the Bible gives us. He focuses more this time on the confusing connection between praying and getting what you ask. He starts off by making the clear conclusion that prayer isn’t something we can test and prove scientifically. We can’t run experiments to see whether prayer actually does anything for us.
Lewis suggests it might help comparing prayer to our usual requests of other people. One example he uses that I particularly liked was a man asking a woman to marry him. Even here, there is no way to prove causation between the proposal and engagement.
“As for the lady who consents to marry you—are you sure she had not decided to do so already?” Lewis wrote. “Your proposal, you know, might have been the result, not the cause, of her decision. A certain important conversation might never have taken place unless she had intended that it should.”
An accurate observation, Lewis. Well done. He then draws the relation between asking something of your lady friend and requesting something of your Lord. We must have the same doubt of causation when we receive something from God. Our prayer may have already been something he intended to give us. Going on, Lewis points out that really we shouldn’t even discuss prayer as in whether it “works.” That suggests that prayer is some form of magic to use to get what you want. Lewis corrects this thinking.
“Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine,” Lewis wrote. “In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary—not necessarily the most important one—from that revelation.”
So petitionary prayer is interaction with the living God, not a scientific process that obtains wishes. God isn’t a genie. And here comes my most serious question: “Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men?”
As Lewis explains: “For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it.”
Why would God need or want to hear human requests? What good could they do? Then again, God often uses finite means to carry out his infinite will. He allows us to act in his plans, even though an all-powerful god would not need our help. He allows us to impact the world with our actions.
“It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so,” Lewis wrote. “They have not advised or changed God’s mind—that is, His over-all purpose. But that purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including the prayers, of His creatures.”
We are not watching a movie of life without any power to decide the story. We are players in the greatest video game. God allows us choices. Even with this understanding, Lewis still resists a firm conclusion like he did in “The Problem of Petitionary Prayer.”
“The reality is doubtless not comprehensible by our faculties,” Lewis wrote. “But we can at any rate try to expel bad analogies and bad parables. Prayer is not a machine. It is not magic. It is not advice offered to God. Our act, when we pray, must not, any more than all our other acts, be separated from the continuous act of God Himself, in which alone all ﬁnite causes operate.”
To leave off, he dispels one last misunderstanding. He says answered prayers, when we receive what we requested, do not prove a stronger relationship with God. The example of the Son of God in Gethsemane should be enough to show this. If God refused Jesus, how can we claim a stronger faith is necessary for answered prayers?
C. S. Lewis has covered most of my struggles with prayer and at least eased them if not gave me a complete assurance. His reasoning makes sense and has given me a new perspective to consider. I agree with his half-hearted conclusion that we can never fully comprehend the reality of God’s world. There will always be questions, and I can be content with that. What would life be like without a little mystery? The point is to keep asking the questions and trust that one day God will help me understand.
The search continues.