Why do Christians pray? If God is sovereign, and He is executing His plan according to His Kingly freedom, then why does it matter if we pray?
After all, God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8), so it’s not as if He needs us to instruct Him as to what He should do. When we pray, we are bringing our tiny perspective to a God that knows everything about every inch of the Universe (Job 38). If I’m praying that my kid will win his basketball game and a Christian parent in the opposite bleacher is praying the same for his kid on the opposing team, then are the prayers we send to heaven competing like our kids compete on the court?
If you really think about it, whenever people pray, could you say that they are actually competing with God? When Christians pray, are we trying to convince an all-wise King to do something that He hadn’t already planned to do without us to advise Him? Is our will in a given situation competing with God’s will? Why ask things of a God who already knows what to do better than we do?
The question becomes sharper when we consider that God is already (and always) more loving than we are. Goodness and love are at the core of His being, so it is not as if He needs us to convince Him to be better than He is. In prayer, we bring our limited goodness to a God who defines the very meaning of love (1 John 4:8). Wouldn’t we do better to simply be quiet and watch Him unfurl the events of this world, including everything that impacts each of our lives?
In view of God’s sovereignty, why pray? Before answering, let us establish the premise of the question, namely, that God is absolutely sovereign over all things.
There are systems of philosophy that do not begin with this premise. In fact, most do not. Because we all experience ourselves making choices, choices that have consequences and for which we are responsible, many philosophers assume that our creaturely will is truly free. God has not decreed everything that comes to pass. Man is master of his own destiny. This view that asserts the autonomous will of man, not the autonomous will of God, is actually a bedrock of almost every religious or philosophical system on earth. There is, accordingly, a strong tradition within Christianity that vigorously upholds the free will of man. This Christian free-will tradition often goes by the name of Arminianism, named after a Dutch professor of theology who died in 1609, but it goes as far back as the early church fathers.
The contrasting view, called Calvinism, named after the man who (along with Luther) was a primary leader of the Protestant Reformation, also goes back to the early church fathers (like Augustine) and, I would argue, the Apostles and Prophets themselves. Calvinism is known for its assertion that God (not man) elected a particular people before the foundation of the world, predestining them to receive forgiveness of sin and eternal life. But this view of how God saves according to His sovereign choice is only part and parcel of a larger assertion, namely, that all things happen according to God’s sovereign decree. So, whether it be in the salvation of a sinner—our most pressing concern, or any other matter whatsoever, Calvinism asserts that God has decreed everything that will come to pass.
Is Calvinism biblical? Is it true? The answer to these two questions is necessarily the same. And yes, the Bible teaches that God has a sovereign Decree.
“The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations” (Psalm 33:11). The certainty of God’s plans are juxtaposed in the preceding verse to the plans of the hearts of man, which are far from certain, far from autonomous. “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples” (Psalm 33:10). There is only room for one absolutely free will in the Universe, and according to the Scriptures, it does not belong to us.
Even the most wicked scheme that humankind has seen through to completion was not outside the foreordained plan of God. According to the willful decisions of Pontius Pilate, Herod, the Jews, and the Romans (each one operating according to the individual desires of their own hearts), the only innocent, the infinitely valuable, the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, was hung to die upon a cross. Although they had creaturely wills that chose according to their desires, they did “whatever