Lewis: Work and Prayer

Work and Prayer

This is from Chapter 11 of the book God in the Dock by CS Lewis.  In this essay Lewis presents a short response to the view of prayer that can be summarized as below:

If [God] is all-wise … doesn’t He know already what is best?  And if He is all-good won’t He do it whether we pray or not?

Lewis’ response obviously is one on the power and usefulness of prayer.  But the above question is a good question.  I recently discussed Lewis’ essay Evil and God (Chapter 1 of God in the Dock) which states that Goodness is defined by the character of God Himself.  So if God is Good, and will only then do Good things, won’t He just continue to do Good things whether we pray or not?

Another summary that Lewis states of this excellent question is:

The case against prayer (I mean the ‘low’ or old-fashioned kind) is this.  The thing you ask for is either good — for you and for the world in general — or else it is not.  If it is, then a good and wise God will do it anyways.  If it is not, then He won’t.  In neither case can your prayer make any difference.  But if this argument is sound, surely it is an argument not only against praying, but against doing anything whatever?

So what’s the point?  Lewis goes on to discuss something mighty similar to the Action Axiom:

In every action, just as in every prayer, you are trying to bring about a certain result; and this result must be good or bad.

We know that we can act and that our actions produce results.

In the fact that we act, either for good or ill, shows that the Free-Will God placed within us is very Good.  If it wasn’t so, wouldn’t God act so that all of our actions were for good?  Allowing our free-will in this case is apparently more good than the good achieved by disallowing the human choices for evil.  If such is so then Lewis begins to conclude:

[God] made His own plan or plot of history such that it admits a certain amount of free play and can be modified in response to our prayers.

In our church’s Community Group, we’ve been listening to Andy Stanley’s message “Discovering God’s Will“.  In it, he discusses three types of God’s will.  “His providential will, what God is going to do anyway; His moral will, what He has told us is right and wrong; and His personal will for each of our lives.”  So in Lewis’ essay he is directly referring to God’s providential will as the “plan” or “plot of history”.  That little bit of free will of ours, that’s nothing compared to God’s providential will.  There is nothing no human can or ever could do (excluding Jesus) to ever change God’s providential will.  However, as God is Good, and the independent free will of Humans is Good, God’s providential free will can allow a huge array of human action, of human free choice, without steering off God’s providential will.

Lewis’ conclusion on Prayer, what it does, why it is important, why it may or may not be answered is summarized in this allegory:

It is not unreasonable for a headmaster to say, “Such and such things you may do according to the fixed rules of this school.  But such and such other things are too dangerous to be left to general rules. If you want to do them you must come and make a request and talk over the whole matter with me in my study. And then — we’ll see.

This post is the first of a long series of commentary on quotes pulled from God in the Dock, a collection of essays by C.S. Lewis.  For additional reading please see the short review (unfinished) of the book itself and a list of other commentary like this post.


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