by Bob Wheeler


Can God answer prayer?  Almost every Christian would emphatically say “yes.”  But skeptics remain unconvinced.  To them there are two major objections to the idea that God can answer prayer: 1) the physical world operates on the basis of natural law, in which every effect has a natural cause; and 2) human beings have a free will, making it difficult to see how their actions can be controlled or governed by God.  How, then, do we answer these objections?

We will begin with the first objection: how can God control what happens to us in life, if what happens in the physical realm is the result of natural causes?  Did God cause it to rain, or the cold front that moved through our area?  The weathermen, after all, never mention God in their forecasts.  So what really causes the weather – God or the forces of nature?

The answer is both.  God is the Creator of nature, and thus created the natural forces as work in the physical world.  But the Bible goes beyond that and asserts that not only did God create the world, He actively sustains it as well.  The apostle Paul, speaking to the Athenian philosophers, could say of God, “In Him we live and move and have our being . . .” (Acts 17:28; NKJV).  And writing to the Christians of Colosse he could say of Christ, “. . . all things were created through Him and for Him.  And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist” (Col. 1:16,17).  And the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews could say that Christ is “upholding all things by the word of His power . . .” (Heb. 1:3).  How is this possible?   Bear in mind that the idea that everything in nature must have a natural cause is only an assumption.  There is much in nature, from subatomic particles to the distant galaxies that we cannot observe directly, and much is shrouded in mystery.  And what is the ultimate source of energy and life?  Might it not be God himself?

Some theologians have explained the relationship between God and nature in terms of “concursus” in which God is the first cause, and the forces of nature are the second causes.  The first cause acts on the second cause, which, in turn, produces the observable effect.  In this way it is God who ultimately controls what happens in nature.

Scripture also makes it clear that God can override the course of nature and perform that which is miraculous and supernatural.  The Bible contains many accounts of such miracles, including everything from the Exodus out of Egypt to the resurrection of Christ.  It is at this point, of course, that skeptics will flat-out deny the biblical record.   But in the four gospels of the New Testament, all written in the First Century, two of them by eye-witnesses, there are accounts of Jesus performing miracles and Himself rising from the dead.  The Gospels according to Mark and John are especially vivid accounts, Mark based on the eyewitness testimony of Peter, and John being an eyewitness himself.  In both cases it is evident that Jesus left a very deep impression on those who knew Him personally.  If it were just a matter of only one account it could conceivably be dismissed as a fraud or delusion.  But the New Testament writers, coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, were unanimous in asserting that Jesus had actually risen from the dead.

What, then, do we make of all of this?  First of all, we should be able to go to God in prayer for our physical and material needs in the full confidence that He can meet those needs.  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you,” our Lord said (Matt. 7:7).  God is omnipotent; He is the Maker of heaven and earth.  He can “supply all your need according to His riches in glory” (Phil. 4:19).

By the same token it is pure folly to trust in human means when it is really God who controls our destinies.

“Unless the Lord builds the house,

They labor in vain who build it;

Unless the Lord guards the city,

The watchman stays awake in vain.”

(Psalm 127:1)

We may think that we have plentiful resources at our disposal: education, wealth, physical strength, and personal connections.  But how often have our plans been frustrated by forces beyond our control?  In the end it is God who determines the outcome, and thus it is on God on whom we must rely.  Our failures in life should be fresh reminders of Who is in control, and we should be humbled accordingly.

And let us never forget to acknowledge God’s blessings already received.  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (Jas. 1:17)m and we should acknowledge God accordingly.  As ancient Israel was about to enter the promised land, Moses sternly warned them of the spiritually stupefying effects of material prosperity.  They were about to enter a land flowing with milk and honey, but the danger would be that they would forget the God who made all of these blessings possible.  “. . .then you shall say in your heart, ’My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.’”   Moses tells them “And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day” (Dt. 8:17,18).  When we are prosperous and successful we become complacent and self-satisfied.  We attribute our success to our own effort, and forget who sent the sun and rain, the health and strength.  It is then we spiritually wither and die.  Is this not what is wrong with contemporary American Christianity?  We don’t pray because don’t feel our dependence upon God.  And He is far from us; or, as we might better say, we have departed from Him.  May God help us always to remember the source of our temporal blessings.