1. Try praying
Beta Version from February 12, 2018
Copyright 2018 by Donald R. Tveter, don@dontveter.com

This document may be freely distributed provided it is complete and unchanged.

First, read Marshall Brain's essay: Try praying.

For some conventional Christian responses to Brain's "Try praying" essay, see:

Now, here comes my unconventional treatment on prayer. First, you need to know about the blockworld (or block universe, or spacetime or superdeterminism) that comes from 20th century physics and which has largely been ignored by everyone except a few specialists in physics and a few philosophers who specialize in the philosophy of time. In philosophy, the idea is called eternalism. At the moment I will recommend these two essays of mine for you to get up to speed on this idea: In the blockworld idea, the past, present and future of the actual physical universe are all completely real. The future physical world is already "out there". The real physical past is still there, it hasn't gone away. This is radically different from what most of us currently believe. Most of us think the past is gone, only the present is real and the future is not out there yet. In philosophy, this idea that only the present exists is called presentism. So now when God created the whole physical universe as described in Genesis chapter 1, every part of the physical universe from the Big Bang, out to now and into the distant future was created. When God created that future, He knew a lot. He knew what our prayers would be. And He built that future around our prayers. All our prayers, across all of time. In addition, it was built not just around actual prayer requests but also around our hopes and wishes. Hopes and wishes count as prayers too.

Anyway, with God knowing an awful lot about every one of us and about all our prayers across our entire lives, God built this physical world. But there are problems associated with doing that. Which prayers should he answer? For instance, suppose one day, John, an honest-to-God Christian, falls in love with Mary and prays to God that when he asks Mary to marry him, she will say yes. But God knows Mary will say no. God also knows that in the future, John will fall madly in love with Jane and will (has) prayed to God that when he asks Jane to marry him, Jane will say yes. But God also knows that a few years down the line, John will be happily in love and married to Nancy. And John will be thanking God that God gave him Nancy for a wife. Knowing all this, what should God do? Which prayer should He answer?

Also, suppose someone, say Chris, (another honest-to-God Christian) prays for millions of dollars in gold. (If he prayed for millions of dollars (even in small unmarked bills), God would have to make some counterfeit bills - not a good situation!) Suppose God knows what Chris will do with all that money. Chris will end up wasting it on wine, women and song. Then one day Chris dies and ends up in heaven. In heaven, Chris is pleased with his life even though he did not get millions of dollars in gold. He thanks God for his meaningful life. He realizes that if God had given him millions of dollars his life would not be as meaningful as it was without the millions of dollars. He thanks God for NOT giving him millions of dollars. Knowing this, should God have given Chris the millions of dollars anyway?

Then what happens if every time a Christian prayed for gold, God gave it to them? People would be kidnapping Christians so they could have the Christian pray for and get millions of dollars in gold! It wouldn't take long before gold was worthless! God realizes that if a really stable society is going to happen here on Earth, He can't go around giving millions of dollars of gold to everyone. And everyone who makes it to heaven will look at their lives and God's whole plan for life on Earth and know that giving everyone millions of dollars in gold would have been a bad idea.

Next, suppose we have a Christian who prays that all existing cancers are cured and no more cancers ever occur on planet Earth. OK, cancer is not fun. Everyone who has it wants it to go away. But then, what if getting cancer causes a person to suddenly get serious about life and death? You know, people get caught up in all sorts of activities here on Earth. A job, a hobby, children, sports, television. And now social media and computer games. And because of all that activity they don't bother to think about God and life and death. Cancer forces people to stop and reappraise their lives and their priorities. And some of them find God. And develop a relationship with Him. And they find that relationship more rewarding than money, children or a career. And then they make it to heaven. And in heaven, God says, "You know, you never would have made it here if I didn't give you cancer." Should God have honored that prayer to end all cancer even though the net result is that some people don't make it to heaven? So, you know, God realizes that if a little suffering now will get you into heaven later, it is better to go through the suffering now. So really, people should just trust God that all the unpleasant circumstances we find in life are good for us in the end. This is one of those cases where it is hard to believe that Brain can be so ignorant.

When it comes to healing in general, in James 5:14-15 we find this:
14 Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. (NLT)
People look at this and often expect instant healing in every case. And it doesn't happen. Well, if it did work that way, everybody could go to the elders and be healed and no one would ever die! People would live forever! But what Christian who actually understands how bad this world is, would want to stay here forever? Real, mature Christians are eager to move on to a better world. So it is not reasonable to think that James meant that people will get automatic, instant healing every time.

Here is a real case where God did not answer prayer but things worked out well in the end. Joyce Meyer was sexually abused by her father when she was growing up. That wasn't pleasant THEN. But God let it go on and on. As a person, she actually became quite a mess. But Joyce had this to say at about 5:55 in the January 16th 2018 TV show:
God took the horrible stuff that happened to me in my life, and I do not know how he does this, this sounds crazy, but I am a better person because of what happened to me than I would be if it wouldn't have happened.
So these days, Joyce's story helps other people overcome the same problem. The fact that she was a mess and can talk about how God has improved her over the years helps other people overcome their problems. Lots of people don't even realize that they have a problem until Joyce tells about how she had the problem and God has helped her overcome it. If God answered Joyce's earlier prayers to end the abuse, she would not be helping millions of people now.

Many people who have suffered and overcome report they are better because they suffered. So God thinks suffering is a good idea. From Romans 5:3-4 there is this:
3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. (NLT)
or here is James 1:2-4:
2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (NLT)
Or consider a secular source. There is a play, The Teahouse of the August Moon where a character says:
Pain makes man think. Thinking makes man wise. Wisdom makes life endurable.
So, Marshall, do you want people to skip the suffering and NOT get better and stronger? Don't you understand people (and life) at all?

This world is designed to give people a sampling of Heaven and Hell. It's a chance for people to learn about sin (selfishness) and the consequences that come from it. As such, it is never going to be perfect. There are prayer requests that will not be answered here. If they were answered, it would wreck God's overall plan for this world. And everyone who gets saved will get to Heaven and realize that God's plan was pretty good after all. They will all be approving of what He did here on planet Earth. Their approval in the future cancels out the uninformed prayer requests that they made in the past.

Then hopes and wishes count as prayers. God will, automatically, without a formal prayer request, give people at least some of what they want. Even bad things. So God lets people do all sorts of bad things. Like murder. And stealing. Using drugs. God allows people to have bad marriages. God makes some people rich even when it produces disaster in their lives. And then, God even gave the world the ideas of presentism and evolution and blinded people to the evidence for God just so they could live in a world in which they could believe there is no God. So, Marshall, God has answered your prayers! He's given you a firm belief in presentism. He's given you Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. If you want to live forever in a world without Him, He will give you that too! I think you should thank Him for all your prayers that He has answered!

Finally, there is another aspect to prayer. Prayer is not just about making prayer requests. Prayer is talking to God about anything. Now it is well-established fact that people can get relief from their problems by just talking to other people about their problems. God is always there. Always. So just talking to Him helps! And God can often do more than a person can. God can, directly or though His words in the Bible, provide spiritual comfort. It has worked for me. Even without a problem, prayer can improve your mood. So, yes, try praying!!!