“Selfish” Prayers

Question 135, from Nick, USA

I recently read Rabbi Kushner’s book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I understand his logic on free will and how prayer shouldn’t be about asking for things like God is Santa. He mentions that he prays for patience, wisdom, and understanding before he counsels his patients. My question is how can you distinguish from the two types of prayers? You are still asking for something whether it is pious or selfish.

If Kushner is not “asking” but praying that he will be patient and understanding then doesn’t prayer become meditation? I understand that their is a difference between how and why you ask for something during prayer (i.e., selfish versus praying for God’s will). Perhaps I shouldn’t be looking for something absolute (asking is asking regardless of how or why you ask) because if we can’t ask then all we can do is thank and praise Him and He might get tired of that.

Prayer, in Christian practice, takes many different forms, including specifically asking for things. It has become quite popular to characterise prayer as ‘conversation between the believer and God’, with an emphasis on ‘listening for God’s reply’. In some senses this is very similar to meditation, and it may be possible that the ‘benefits’ of prayer are actually more to do with taking ‘time out’ to think through problems, or to ‘pass on responsibility’ for problems to an external source.

In his recent book Prayer: Does it Make any Difference?, popular theologian Philip Yancey actually discusses whether prayer is a form of therapy or not {op cit pp 280-1]. Whether the psychological benefits of prayer which some people experience should be attributed to general principles of meditation and reflection, or supernatural intervention, is a subjective decision.

In Christian tradition there is definitely an expectation that God hears prayer and acts on it. This does raise an interesting question: does the believer’s prayer change the situation, given that God knows what’s going to happen anyway?

Jesus’ teaching on prayer outlines this tension. According to Jesus, God (more…)


Three questions about the Incarnation

Questions 132-134, from Paul, United Kingdom

I have a few questions that I wondered if you could help on.

Question 132: The Bible tells us that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. How can this be true after the incarnation? When Christ returned to heaven surely he took with him a human nature that wasn’t present in the Godhead before. Doesn’t this suggest a change in God?

Question 133: During the incarnation, how can God not be affected by the fact that Jesus is not omnipresent and omniscient? Surely this causes problems for the trinity as although God is three in one, we cannot just divide him up and say that only one person of the trinity is affected.

Question 134:
In Gethsemane, Christ prays to the Father saying “Yet not what I will but what you will.” But don’t they have the same will?

The Incarnation has been one of the key areas of Christian inquiry since the earliest Christian writers committed words to paper. Many of the issues raised in these questions have been grappled with over centuries, and in some respects, remain unanswered.
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