God’s “Natural” Laws and Prayer
Some people have questioned the efficacy of prayer from a more naturalistic consideration. They put forward the idea that we live in a world that operates according to fixed natural laws. It has been fashionable, in the past century or two, to think of God as merely the Architect and Creator of the universe, who set the universe in motion and decreed how it should operate, then stepped back and let it run without His direct involvement. This idea is almost like the Deist view that God made the world, just as a watchmaker makes a watch, then wound it up, so that it is now running by its own mechanism. He Himself makes no interruption, no interference, no intrusion into the plane of history.
That is not the God of Scripture. The sovereign God is the Lord of providence, who provides daily for His people and responds to their cries. The laws of the universe are not fixed, immutable, abstract, regulatory principles of inert nature. What we call laws simply refer to the ordinary and normal operations by which the sovereign God runs this planet. And that sovereign God is never at the mercy of His own creation. He is the sovereign God.
The fact that there are intricate mechanisms working in this world does not mean that God has to do an immediate miracle every time we pray for something. God is standing above the world and is orchestrating every molecule in that world, all of the so-called natural, normal, regulating causes. Therefore, God is able to answer prayer without in any way disrupting or interrupting the natural mechanism of the planet.
In fact, when we look at the miracles in the Bible, we see that some of them are wrought immediately—that is, without means, directly—while other miracles are wrought immediately—that is, by virtue of intermediary means. Think of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt through the Red Sea. What was miraculous about the parting of the waters of the Red Sea? It’s not miraculous for a great wind to blow; that happens all the time. It is certainly extraordinary, but not necessarily miraculous, for the wind to blow with such intensity that it creates a backwash of water in the sea. That has been known to happen without any sense of a miracle taking place. Yes, it was extraordinary, but it wasn’t necessarily miraculous.
What was miraculous about the parting of the Red Sea was that it happened on command. Moses held out his staff and the wind rose. The wind blows every day, but it doesn’t blow on my command. I can go to the seashore and command the wind to blow, and nothing will happen. Likewise, I can command the wind to cease on a blustery day, and again my words will have no impact whatsoever, but when the wind rose on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus said, “Peace, be still,” and the wind stopped (Mark 4:39). That was a miracle.
But in the exodus we have means. We have water and we have wind. We have nature operating, but it is operating under the power of supernatural, under the command of God in a crisis moment in the personal history of human beings. That’s what we mean by the special providential intervention of God to deliver His people. They prayed and God acted without breaking a law of nature. He can break the laws of nature if He needs to, but He doesn’t have to do so in order to answer our prayers.
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