Regular Prayer: A Hobbesian Vindication

A couple months ago, Pastor Phil Vance at my church—Living Faith Fellowship in Pullman, Wash.—preached a thought-provoking message series about prayer. One message made the point that if we pray in Jesus’ name—meaning according to His will and with His authorization—we will see God acting in our lives more, and more answered prayer.

This got me thinking.

Since God is generally accepted to be omniscient, omnipotent and unchanging, it seems that a slight perspective change to this point was needed. What if, instead of God acting more in our lives (with ourselves as the fixed reference frame), by praying in Jesus’ name, we our actually moving ourselves closer to his fixed will, meaning that the reference frame is fixed on Him? While this may seem a small semantic or philosophical distinction it does have some importance.

Some people think the mention of God’s predetermined will implies an affirmation of predestination or denial of free choice. Not so, I argue; I think God has his own general plan, but as part of our being created in His image (imago dei) he has given us the free choice to go along with his will or to deviate from it. Our flawed, sinful nature means that we tend to deviate away from His plan, regardless of the ultimate consequences.

This deviation is where prayer comes in. Some people wonder why we should pray, if God is omniscient, has His own plan or knows our needs. I argue that, strictly speaking, God does not need our prayers; however, he desires them as a means of building relationship. Also, if I may be so bold, I think prayer is more for our own benefit than for God’s. When we pray—both in the sense of supplication (asking for things) and communion (fellowship)—we are pouring out our thoughts to Him and surrendering them to Him. Also, if we are praying in His name and according to His will, we are in essence aligning ourselves with Him and giving Him our allegiance and authorization to work in our lives.

That word authorization is key, and may ring a bell with readers of English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. In his book Leviathan, about the founding and nature of commonwealths and political society, Hobbes states that a commonwealth is formed when a group of people contract with each other to give up their natural rights—mostly the ability to kill and be killed—to a supreme sovereign. They then authorize that sovereign to govern them using those rights they have handed over. While I don’t agree with this view as a good means of human political governance, given the ability for the sovereign to turn out a tyrant, I find this a good metaphor for a Christian’s relationship with God, who is the supreme ruler of all creation.

While God does not need our authorization to work in our lives, because He has given us free will he normally does not force Himself into people’s lives. However, when they surrender to His authority and give Him authorization—through the prayer described earlier—He is willing to work in our lives as He wills. The result may not always be what we immediately want, but the end result or effect is that of good (Romans 8:28 HCSB, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.”). The qualifying statement “who love God” is important, as John 14:15 states, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” As Mark 12:30 states, the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Part of this act of loving God is praying in fellowship and according to His will.

Anyway, that’s a bit of philosophical/theological thought I had about a month ago and finally had a chance to write down, tying Hobbes and prayer together. I hope this is of some value, help or encouragement. What do you all think?

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2 responses

  1. I think that I have been teaching theology and the Bible for forty years and this is one of the most cogent (and Biblical) statements of the nature of the will of God and prayer that I’ve read. Nicely done and nicely reasoned.

    1. Thanks, Larry!

      Glad you found it insightful and well-written. The whole concept came to me during and right after Bible study a couple days following the message. The Hobbsian element came from the fact that I was reading Hobbes in my modern philosophy class at that time.

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