This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series: ‘Theology of Prayer’ (Palmer)
PALMER, B.M. Theology of Prayer
Chapter 6 Second Objection to Prayer: Having no Place in a Government of Law
This objection may be thus stated: ‘As God governs the universe by determinate and fixed laws, there is no place in such a system for prayer; which is without significance, in that it demands continual intervention in the mechanism of nature.’
We are not obliged to show how or why prayer articulates itself in the government of God, but only to investigate the claim that prayer cannot have a place in that government.
1. This objection abridges God’s liberty, and assumes that he cannot, or will not, control or suspend the laws of nature. It effectively rules the Deity out of his universe, and cancels his government of the same. It assumes that his agency terminated when he created matter: ‘henceforth he is shut up behind the screen of his own laws, an idle spectator, watching the grand machinery as it grinds on in its predetermined course.’
But the laws of nature must be seen only as the expression of the Creator’s will, and not therefore in themselves invariable. ‘The physical laws of the universe are not necessary and unchangeable like the laws of morality and truth, simply because these last have their foundation not in the acting of the divine will, but in the divine nature lying back of that will.’
So then, even if prayer involves the suspension or modification of the laws of nature, let it be so.
This does not leave us free to pray for that which is contrary to the revealed will of God; that would be fanaticism, not piety. ‘But there are a thousand things in which this will is not ascertained; and in this region of the contingent, which is the sphere of prayer, why should not the worshipper carry his petition to his Father above? In such cases he bases the prayer upon the condition that it is agreeable to that Father’s will; and the method by which the answer shall be conveyed is remitted wholly to his discretion. This concerns God alone. If he shall choose to do it by what we call the miracle, or through the interaction of nature’s own laws, who has the right to abridge his liberty?’
2. It will be further objected that although the laws of nature may not be invariable in their essence, they are in fact found to be so in fact, by the researches of science. But what if (as Chalmers hypothesises) prayer itself operates under a law of its own; a true cause giving rise to a given effect?
Note that there are different kinds of law; those governing matter, those governing mind, and those governing in the religious sphere. Just as in the material realm one may trace (if able) an intricate series of effects and causes, leading eventually back the a first cause, so, says Chalmers, ‘along this extended chain of causes and effects, reaching from earth to heaven, God may have articulated prayer, the subtlest of all causes, far beyond the scrutiny of science, yet with causal efficiency, working its way downward until its due result will be reached in the blessings which it draws upon the creatures head.’
3. But, ‘God provides an answer to prayer through the operation of general laws, in the original arrangements of his providence, prayer being simply the necessary condition.’
‘Law has no meaning except as the authoritative expression of a personal will’. Is it difficult to see that will as God’s? And when the vast and complex arrangements of nature work for good (or apparent ill), can we not trace this to the providence of God operating in response to prayer, not against the laws of nature, but through them?
“God,” says Chalmers, “may work in secret and yet perform all his pleasure – not by the achievement of a miracle on nature’s open platform; but by the touch of one or other of those master springs which lie within the recesses of her inner laboratory. There, and at his place of supernal command by the fountain-heads of influence he can turn whithersoever he will the machinery of our world; and without the possibility of human eye detecting the least infringement of any of its processes, at once upholding the regularity of visible nature and the supremacy of nature’s invisible God.”