This week, a tornado tore through Oklahoma with devastating results. As usually happens after such events, several celebrities posted statements stating that they are praying for the victims. Other celebrities responded by mocking those who are praying stating that prayer does nothing. The thought seems to be that if prayer worked tornadoes would not happen, nor would anything else bad. Normally I pay little attention to the opinions of celebrities. Just because someone can play the guitar well does not mean that he is qualified to speak on spiritual or political issues, and it would be quite foolish to trust the word of someone whose profession is to pretend to be someone they are not (like an actor). However the sentiment against prayer deserves some evaluation as it is one that many people from all walks of life hold.
The argument goes something like this:
If prayer works, all prayers to a good God would always be answered with a good result. All prayers are not answered as is evident by evil in the world. Therefor prayer does not work (and likely there is no God).
There are two flaws in this argument.
The first flaw is the assumption is that God will always answer prayers when asked. The undeniable fact that many prayers go unanswered is given as proof that prayer does not work, or at best seldom works. This is the appliance version of God. God is viewed similar to a toaster. If I put bread in a toaster and return a few minutes later to find the bread unaltered, the assumption would be that the toaster is not working. The logic goes like this, "I put bread in the toaster. It does not turn to toast. Therefor, the toaster does not work." When applied to prayer, the logic looks like this, "I pray to a god. The prayer is not answered. Therefor, this god does not work."
The flaw in this argument is that gods are not toasters. Deities, if they exist, have personality. We should therefor apply the same rules to their decision making as we do to other people. I may send a letter to the president, and he may or may not reply to my letter. He may or may not act on it. Yet for me to assume that the president does not exist or is not working because he does not answer my letter is foolishness. He is a person with his own will. He can do as he pleases and he may decide not to answer my letter. In the case of the president he will almost certainly not answer my letter. Who am I that he should hear my petition? (This is also a question we must ask of any deity we pray to. Why should any god listen to you?)
The second flaw is that a good god will always answer prayer with a good result. One might argue, "I buy that gods are personal beings, yet if so they are either evil and will not answer prayers with good results, or are impotent and cannot answer prayers with good results. Therefor why pray."
This argument makes two assumptions. The first is that the praying party knows the difference between good and best. A good god may well allow bad things to happen because he knows there are better results to be gained if he allows evil to happen. God could override the free will of all living things. This would eliminate evil. It would also eliminate love as true love demands a choice. God could also wipe out every evil person on earth and allow only the good people to remain. Yet if he did this, would you be among those who God deems good enough to live? Christianity shows God making great sacrifices for the sake of a greater good. The greatest sacrifice was Himself. One could argue, if God is good and all powerful, why did Jesus die? Personally I'm glad that particular bad event happened because it led to my salvation and adoption as a son of God.
The second assumption is that a good god even hears your prayer. Ask yourself, "Am I really a good person? Am I good enough that a good god should even listen to me? Am I even significant enough to this god?" One reason a god may not answer your prayers is that he is not listening to your prayers. You may not have his ear.
If you want to make sure God hears your prayers, I have both bad news and good news for you. The bad news is that you are not good enough that God should hear you. Neither am I. Everyone on this planet is by nature a bad person. If you don't believe me just look at the world around you. How much evil do you see? One may argue that the evil around us is the work of a few bad people, but the whole of humanity is mostly good. If this were the case, the good humans would quickly undo the bad that the evil humans do. Have you ever seen something wrong and done nothing to fix it? You probably did today and didn't even realize it. In that knowledge, can you still claim to be a good person? The good news is that Jesus' death paid the penalty for the bad in you, so God no longer holds the evil things you have done against you. More than that, He rose again so that through Him we can be adopted as children of God. And being a child of God makes you significant enough to be heard by Him.
This offer of adoption as a child of God is available to all who believe. But don't take my word for it. Read John 1:12 "Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." You can become his child too if you believe. And then you will know that your prayers are heard by the Lord of the universe who will answer in the way that is best. Why would you not want this?