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Can humans assess God's will through prayer?

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star Webmaster's comment:

There are over 8,000 essays in this web site. They cover thousands of individual topics.

I personally regard two topics as the most important -- particularly for Christians:

  • Scapegoating: the transferability of sin. That is, if one person commits a sin, can the sin be transferred to the person's children, grandchildren, additional desendents, neighbors, nearby followers of the same religion, everyone of the same nationality, and/or all humans, etc? Scapegoating is mentioned in many passages in the Bible and is involved in what are perhaps the two most important events in history, according to the Bible:
    • Original Sin, by Adam and Eve that many Christians believe has been transferred to their children, grandchildren and down through history to all other humans -- about 100 billion in number.
    • The torture death of Jesus by the Roman Army in which the Son of God suffered cricifixion as a "substitute for human sin, satisfying God's just wrath against humankind's transgressions due to Christ's infinite merit," thus allowing salvation for all those who qualilfy. 3

  • Can humans assess God's will through prayer? i.e. this section

I urge you to read about these two topics.

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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:

  • Among Christians, there is an important Bible verse at James 1:5 which says:
  • "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." (NIV)

We assume that "ask God" refers to the act of prayer.

  • Among Muslims, 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 religions, and of other monotheistic religions, have an active prayer life, and many sincerely feel that they regularly receive a response.

  • Atheists, by definition lack belief in the existence of any deity. Agnostics are not certain whether one exists or not; they feel that there is no convincing evidence either way. Some of the latter believe that humans can never know whether a God, Goddess, gender-neutral deity, or pantheon of such deities 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, and they would probably become a theist.

  • 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.

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The importance of correct beliefs about assessing God's will through prayer:

Believers in a deity often feel that assessing God's will through prayer will help them make correct decisions about important topics in their life. Many others believe that what is perceived as God's responses to prayer are only coming from within the individual's mind. So it is critical to study whether prayer can actually access the will of God. If people make important decisions based on an incorrect belief that they had actually assessed the will of God, then disastrous results could occur!

One example of disastrous results may have involved President George W. Bush and the Iraq war. According to Ewen MacAskill, writing for The Guardian, President Bush:

"... met a Palestinian delegation during the Israeli-Palestinian summit at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, four months after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003."

The Palestinian foreign minister, Nabil Shaath, is quoted as saying that:

"President Bush said to all of us: 'I am driven with a mission from God'. God would tell me, 'George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan'. And I did. And then God would tell me 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'. And I did. ... And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, 'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East'. And, by God, I'm gonna do it." 1

If President Bush had ignored what he believed to be the message from God about the war in Iraq, then perhaps 600,000 deaths of combatants and civilians might have been avoided. 2

Of course, if the U.S. did not invade Iraq in 2003, then activities in the Middle East would have developed along an entirely different path, and more or fewer fatalities may have resulted.

A note about "God":

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

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Topics covered in this section:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. , "George Bush: 'God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq," The Guardian, 2005-OCT-07, at: https://www.theguardian.com/
  2. Philip Bump, "15 years after the Iraq War began, the death toll is still murky," Washington Post, 2018-MAR-29, at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/
  3. "Penal substitution," Wikipedia, as on 2019-FEB-02, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/

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Copyright 2001 to 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-JAN-12
Latest update: 2019-FEB-09.
Author: B.A. Robinson

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