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Can humans assess God's will through prayer?

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A range of views exist:

  • Essentially all Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe in the existence of a kind, loving deity who values the fellowship of humans, and to whom one might pray to determine God's will.

    For example, there is a specific prayer for guidance in Islam called "Salat-I-Istikhara." One translation from the original Arabic to English is:

    "Oh, Allah! I seek Your guidance by virtue of Your knowledge, and I seek ability by virtue of Your power, and I ask You of Your great bounty. You have power; I have none. And You know; I know not. You are the Knower of hidden things.

    Oh, Allah! If in Your knowledge, (*) is good for my religion, my livelihood and my affairs, immediate and in the future, then ordain it for me, make it easy for me, and bless it for me. And if in Your knowledge, (this matter*) is bad for my religion, my livelihood and my affairs, immediate and in the future, then turn it away from me, and turn me away from it. And ordain for me the good wherever it may be, and make me content with it."

* The individual who is praying inserts a description here of the item for which guidance is sought.

Most followers of these three religions, and of other monotheistic religions, have an active prayer life, and many sincerely feel that they regularly receive a response.

  • Atheists, by definition have no belief in the existence of any deity. Agnostics are not certain whether one exists or not; some beleive that we can never know whether God(s) exist. Most consider it very unlikely that a person's prayer to God can have a useful outcome. If an Agnostic had some indication that God was responding to their prayer, then this would be proof that a deity does exist.

  • Deists believe in a God who created the universe and its physical laws, and started it up. God then left, and hasn't been seen or heard from since. Many consider it unlikely that prayer would work with such a deity.

Believers in a deity often rely on prayer to make decisions about some important topics in their life. So it is important to study whether prayer can actually access the will of God. One theory is that God's responses to prayer are only coming from within the individual's mind. If people make important decisions based on an incorrect belief that they have assessed the will of God, then disastrous results could occur.

A note about "God":

To make this section more easily read, we will refer to deity simply as "God" in the essays attached to this menu. This matches the beliefs of most North American adults, who believe in a single deity, who is often viewed in practice as male. They believe that God the Father is omnipotent, omnipresent omnibeneficient, etc. If you view deity as plural, female, male and female, as gender-neutral, as absent, as evil, as lacking in power, etc. please mentally substitute a title or description of your choice.

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Copyright 2001 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-JAN-12
Latest update: 2017-NOV-29.
Author: B.A. Robinson

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