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Gospel Disproof #50: Verbal answers to prayer

Here’s an interesting experiment you can try, at least if you’re living in America and I assume most other countries as well. Get a dollar bill (or equivalent local currency) but don’t look at it. Printed on that bill is a serial number. Ask God to tell you what that number is, and write down what He tells you. Then compare it to the number that is actually on the bill. Did God get it right?

Verbal answers to prayer are one example of a whole class of things you can ask God for that He will never be able to give you. Believers, naturally, have built up a vast network of excuses and rationalizations for why this should be so. For example, they will tell you that God takes offense when you ask for things like that—that you’re asking with wrong motives, that you’re testing Him, that you’re even rebelling against Him. And yet, these excuses run exactly counter to what believers think prayer is supposed to be.

According to believers, God wants us to pray. Our requests do not bother Him, and if anything He chides us for not making enough of them. Nor is He supposed to be at all shy about answering them. The whole point of prayer is that we are supposed to ask Him for virtually everything, so that ideally everything we receive can come to us as an answer to prayer. Not, of course, that we’re necessarily supposed to get everything we ask for (e.g. a kid asking God for a flame thrower), or that God can’t overrule our requests in order to bring about a greater good. But the fundamental principle is that it’s supposed to be both normal and good to ask God for things and for Him to grant them.

In that context, then, it’s highly suspicious that there’s a universal and systematic absence of specific types of answers such as direct, accurate, verbal ones. Believers commonly hold that it’s somehow presumptuous to expect God to speak to you directly, but why? In many instances, a simple, clear, verbal response would impose far fewer demands on God’s unlimited resources than when believers expect Him to run around re-arranging world events, subtly influencing people’s decisions, and otherwise intervening in mundane affairs in order to bring about some convoluted chain of circumstances that will make a good testimony at next week’s Bible study. So why would it be more presumptuous to make fewer demands on Him?

Or believers will tell you that, by not answering requests for direct, verbal information, God is telling us that He wants us to figure things out on our own. Or so they assume, since (again) He does not say so. But here again, that excuse is contrary to the whole spirit of believers praying to God and God granting their requests. It’s certainly commendable and pragmatic to tell people to get off their knees and get to work for themselves instead of waiting for an answer from God, but if you read what the Bible says about why believers should pray, you get the exact opposite message: that God wants us to learn to lean on Him and trust Him and rely on Him in all situations. And then you’re supposed to expect Him to grant you whatever good thing you prayed for, because receiving God’s answers is a vital part of the whole faith relationship.

Notice, the pattern here is not that some verbal answers are good and others aren’t. The pattern is that God can never give you any answer that an imaginary friend could not. If you do not know what the serial number is on that dollar bill, you cannot discover it by an exercise of the imagination alone, and therefore your imaginary friend cannot reveal to you what it is. And God has the same limits.

There are many reasons why frequent, accurate, verbal answers to prayer would be not merely consistent with everything Christianity teaches about prayer, but virtually inevitable, given the character and motivations that the New Testament ascribes to God. Yet none of those answers ever happen, beyond the ordinary scattering of random guesses that even your imaginary friend could do. And even then, you have to distort the significance of such “answers” by giving God credit only for the ones that turn out to be right, and excusing Him from responsibility for the ones that turn out to be wrong—a “heads I win and tails don’t count” approach that simply lies about the facts.

The pattern we see in prayer is exactly the pattern that would naturally result from God being a myth. The absences are too systematic and universal to be mere coincidence. You can predict exactly what God will and will not be able to do simply by examining what an imaginary friend could or could not do, and you’ll be right every single time. An imaginary friend cannot speak verbally, audibly, and accurately, in the hearing of others, and therefore you will never see God doing this either.