Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Paradoxes of Prayer - Part 2

A Theological Paradox

The following question has been asked, in one way or another, over and over again:

"If all events are foreknown, decreed and predestined by God, why should I pray? What difference does it make?"

It's a nod in the direction of fatalism that seems to be the natural response of a sinful mind to the doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty. Anyone who has seriously considered the doctrines of grace has probably been forced to face it. Yet the question itself has a stultifying effect upon our praying whenever we entertain it. In the following, I will endeavor to demonstrate the folly and illegitimacy of this question, without affording it the dignity of a direct answer.

First, a few questions . . .

Does faith make any difference?
Does the preaching of the Gospel make any difference?
Does obedience make any difference?
Does the sovereignty of God lessen the significance and power of any of these things?
Then why would prayer be any different?

They are all means by which God fulfills the purposes He has ordained. If we fail to participate, He is not to blame. Faith is required. The preaching of the Gospel is essential. Obedience is non-negotiable. Prayer is nothing more than the practical expression and extension of our reconciliation with God - a reconciliation which Christ purchased for us at the cost of His own life. A reconciliation in which we live and move and breathe each moment. Praying is valuable in every way. It is an evidence of grace. It is just as indispensable as faith, and the Gospel, and obedience.

We must hold these two unalterable Biblical facts in tension:
1. God is completely sovereign.
2. Prayer is powerful and effective.

Both are strongly stressed in Scripture, so let us be equally committed to both.

Biblically, prayer and sovereignty interact in at least two very direct ways:

First, God often accomplishes a planned action by decreeing that someone shall pray. The action is then performed in response to prayer, which increases faith, inspires thanks and magnifies His glory. Instead of wondering whether it works, or how it can be, let's BE that someone who prays, who connects with God, who walks with Him day by day, who enjoys His presence and delights in His will. Let's pray the prayers for which God has decreed answers.

Second, when we pray, we speak from finite time and space directly into the ear of the Eternal One who is authoritatively and effectively able to accomplish whatever we ask. Rather than hindering, this empowers and encourages prayer. So, let us pray with full confidence (in Him).

Thus the theological paradox of prayer is swept aside by the little phrase, "God uses means." The apparent contradiction is not so much solved as proven irrelevant. Once that is done, we are able to conclude that it is our privilege and blessed duty to participate in the means God has sovereignly chosen, graciously provided, and sacrificially purchased for our benefit.

Ephesians 3:20-21 "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen."


  1. Derek,

    Perfect! Thank you.



  2. Tony,

    Thanks for the encouragement. Once again I have swept a seeming paradox into oblivion! Although I do push for the affirmation of SOME irreconcilable paradoxes (maybe only one from which all others flow, in the final analysis), I do find that many seemingly contradictory truths are rather easily reconciled - or at least brought down to a manageable level. So, in the end, you'll find that most of my proposed paradoxes are not actually beyond understanding. Nevertheless, they leave us mystified over God's incredible grace. Even after we've satisfied the "what-s," of a paradox, we remain amazed at the "why-s" because God is so wondrously great. The key difference between Him and us is in the motives (the "why-s"). He is ALWAYS motivated by LOVE and TRUTH, while we are typically and naturally motivated by the opposite.

    By grace, we get a taste of what it's like to be motivated in His way, but there is always the feeling of contradiction because we are still sinners. The work of the Word and the Spirit in our hearts is nevertheless strong enough to overcome what we are by nature. Eventually, our experience of grace will be perfected and we will be freed forever from this troublesome sin nature. Until then, we cling to Christ and FIGHT! I'm starting to sound like Calvin now, and I guess I'm also writing an entirely new article in response to your brief comment. If I keep going along this line, I'll probably end up with a very inferior version of the Institutes. But you can read them easily enough without my plagiarism.



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