Prayer: Useful or useless?

Monday, November 05, 2018

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Dear Editor,

It would be inconceivable that not one of us has ever prayed; either for ourself or for another person, or for any number of things. But does prayer produce intended results?

In my view, perhaps one of the most iconic prayers ever, for those people who are at least of the Christian faith, is Jesus' Gethsemane prayer. Let's examine this prayer: In the first place, no one heard Jesus praying. So the writers of the Gospels who recorded his prayer, assumed omniscience; and so they relate his words to us as if they were actually in attendance and heard Jesus praying.

It is true that some of his disciples were in the Garden. But Jesus left them and took only three of them closer to him — Peter, James, and John. But even these three Jesus left behind, and went elsewhere to pray. But each time Jesus came back from prayer he found them asleep; and for this action he chided them. So they had no knowledge of the words that Jesus spoke.

let's, however, take at face value what the Gospels say about Jesus's prayer, but with the proviso that these are their words. But, in doing so, let's see if Jesus's prayer produced the intended result or not. For if the intended result was achieved, this would be a sure sign that if and when we pray, we too would obtain results.

Each gospeller has different details; however, despite these uncertain facts – and this is to be expected because the Gospels were put together long after Jesus' crucifixion, and were put together by different authors for different audiences — how effective was Jesus's prayer?

Well, Jesus's prayer did not change the course of events for him, because he was destined to meet that fate: It was preordained by his Father, and it was clearly his Father's will that he die. So if Jesus's prayer could not save him, what does it tell us about our own chances of success or otherwise regarding our prayers?

It says that our prayers may or may not be answered, but 'answers' could mean different things for different people. However, what seems certain is that prayers serve as psychological props which allow us to undertake or to endure certain ordeals.

Also, it is fairly certain and obvious that our prayers will not move actual mountains (figurative ones, perhaps). Prayers won't cause the blind to see; cure cancers; raise the dead; makes us instant millionaires; stop wars, famines and natural disasters. Human efforts can mitigate or ameliorate some of these conditions, but not all of these conditions.

So although prayer is impotent to change the course of nature, prayer is however potent in that it can “psyche” us up to deal with hardships. For, as with Jesus's prayer, it was already a foregone conclusion that he had to die, so all that his prayer did was to give him the fortitude to accept and face his very unpleasant fate. We have to recognise, therefore, that prayer has its limitations.

But here is the good news about prayer: It releases our human or natural and psychic energies in the hope that we can harness or leverage forces beyond our control to our advantage — forces and circumstances that we see as either benign or malignant.

George S Garwood

merleneg@yahoo.com

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