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.



  1. Ned Champlain says

    How about, the next time a JW or LDS comes a knocking you ask them to pray for the serial number of the bill in your pocket?

  2. says

    Praise the Lord! It’s a miracle, he correctly let me know one of the numbers on the serial number on a twenty dollar bill in its correct location! A 1 out of 11 chance, praise Jeebus!

    Seriously though, this is a silly thing anyway cause just open up the Bible to Judges chapter 6 – Gideon and the Fleece – and God’s very own champion asked him for signs to prove his was the true word (of course it becomes a bit weird cause why would a monotheistic society need proof that God was the true God talking – yay for Canaanite Polytheistic erasure.) God has no problem answering prayer for miracles and proof in the Bible.

    • kagekiri says

      Yeah, Gideon is a pretty direct refutation of “Don’t test God”. Gideon, who’s ALREADY TALKING TO GOD, asks for multiple signs; what a jerk.

      God physically manifests in front of Israelites on the Exodus as a pillar of fire and a giant cloud for their many years of wandering in the desert….for no reason at all. Along with doing stuff like literally raining fire from heaven for Elijah (or was that Elisha…I always get them confused).

      Of course, God’s also an asshole about answering. Like with Job? Christ on a stick, Job gets a gigantic lecture for asking God to just answer what he’s done wrong. And it’s particularly unjust as HE HADN’T done wrong, God was just being a vain-glorious piece of crap.

      But yeah, Christians have kinda caught on to the testing loophole, and like to badger God with blatant appeals to his vanity. “Oh Lord, for the sake of your glory, let your hand be felt, heal this person!” “Oh Jesus, we pray that you be glorified here, that your will might be done, that we’d know your presence here, let us reach the donation goals!”

      For me personally, this whole “when things happen, it means God is testing you” bit massively “back-fired”. When I was still Christian and incredibly depressed, I tried to escape my self-hatred by begging God to just kill me, that I’d stop sinning, stop inflicting harm on him, stop wasting my life. I was tired of all the guilt I felt at Jesus’ sacrifice for my personal sins when I didn’t have my life together.

      God’s apparent “answer” was to strike a friend with heart cancer, which he died of within two months. I, who wanted to die and saw no future, lived, and my friend, who had dreams left unfulfilled and who I thought of as a particularly great teacher, died young. It sure “sounded” like a gigantic heavenly “fuck you, loser” to me at the time. Apparently, “God” was leading me to become an atheist, because that “answer to my prayer” directly led to me losing my faith.

  3. busterggi says

    But god may take your prayer too seriously – I asked to shut up for five minutes forty years ago and he still hasn’t started speaking to me.

  4. The Lorax says

    My motives are to gain absolute certainty that God exists, so that I can dedicate my life to him and be saved.

    Not much to ask for a few numbers, yeah? I guess one soul isn’t worth it.

    “But you have to want to believe!”

    I do. You’re offering me an eternity of happiness, and you think I’m going to refuse? You’re fucking crazy. Thing is, stuff like that always has a catch. I’m no fool. Show me that the briefcase is full of money before I hand you the secret documents.

    God, step down and say “hello.” For an omnipotent being, this should be an infinitesimal exertion of effort, and you will have saved one soul for all eternity, an infinite reward. My intentions are pure: I DO want salvation, but I need to know it exists first. You know that I need to know this, because, supposedly, you created me. So my need for your proof is your own fault, by definition.

    … Nothing yet. I’ll keep you guys posted.

    • Ron Maddax says

      Reading your post touched my heart. I am a Christian; have been since 1977. How did I get to this website? I’ve been working on a lesson on prayer for a few days. God spoke to my heart and revealed how very, very few times we Christians actually wait for Him to answer us. We tend to think of “answers to prayer” as being defined by when something happens as a result of prayer. We need to learn to stay in prayer expexting God to give us His response. I believe that He will.
      Anyway, that’s how I got to this website. I googled, “God’s verbal answer to prayer”. I had no idea what type of site of this is, just doing research. I certainly do not want to offend or start an argument, but if I can help, I’d be blessed to do so.

      • Deacon Duncan says

        Hi Ron, welcome to the blog. I feel that it’s my duty to point out one flaw in your approach: it will keep you believing that God answers prayer even if God does not exist. You teach yourself to interpret feelings and impulses in your own heart as being “God speaking,” regardless of whether or not He actually exists, and you teach yourself to blame yourself for being too impatient or too blind or too flawed in some other way, so that you do not have to acknowledge His failure to respond in any significant, objectively verifiable manner. This deprives you of the ability to discern whether or not the Gospel is true, since it leads you to declare that it is true, regardless of the circumstances. Belief alone, apart from truth, is merely gullibility.

  5. A Hangman on Tyre says

    The other thing about prayer that always didn’t make sense to me was that God apparently has a plan for everything. He knows all and sees all.

    So, when someone prays for something that isn’t part of God’s plan what are they expecting? God to change his grand plan just to answer that person’s wishes? A little arrogant don’t you think? To think our need is greater than the perfect plan God has laid out.

    Or if God will not change his plans basd on a person’s prayer, then what is the point of praying at all?

    • Len says

      Which is why the prayers also contain “If it be your will, …” or “If it please you, …”. The get-out for a non-miraculous response clearly being that it wasn’t his will, so tough luck. He obviously has another, better plan – that strangely enough he’s also not going to tell us about either. We’ll just see what does or does not happen. But it’s all down to him, clearly working in our lives.

      • Len says

        Which also makes me wonder: if the clergy (or whatever religious leaders or spiritual elders you want to think about) are god’s agents on Earth, then why do they also pray in such a way? Doesn’t god speak to them? Why ask him to do something that might not be in his will – don’t they know?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *