Prayers for snow

I got a chuckle out of this picture posted on FailBlog as a “win.”

epic fail photo - WIN!: Snowpocalypse Prayers

A commenter says this picture was taken in Huntington, NY, which seems to be confirmed by this CBS New York post, but some Googling and squinting at the pastor’s name makes me think it’s more likely from Frederick, MD.

At any rate — I realize this sign is most likely meant to be a cute joke, but the fact that you could construct a joke like this says something interesting about how Christians think about prayer. It relies on some fundamental assumptions about how prayer is imagined to work.

Many verses in the Bible promise that “whatever you ask for in prayer” will be done for you. This sign implies that that message is correct. Someone prayed for snow, and they got a whole lot of snow. Done and done.

Except … weren’t people, such as the pastor and congregation of this church, praying for the snow to stop (or for there not to be snow in the first place)? If God will grant you whatever you ask for in prayer, how does he deal with contradictory prayers? This objection alone defeats the assertion. In this situation there will always be one side or more whose prayers are not granted. (There can be more than two sides. Consider the case where some people pray for a light drizzle all day, some people pray for a blizzard, and some people pray for clear skies.)

But let’s suppose we are in a situation where there is only one person praying for one specific thing to happen that clearly only affects them. No one else could possibly be praying for a mutually exclusive thing to happen. (Let’s also assume that they are Christian and praying in the “right” way, if you think that’s necessary.) Empirically, we see that this does not result in a 100% guarantee of the desired outcome! Anything less contradicts Jesus’ promise, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” In fact, we’ve seen that prayer doesn’t even improve the likelihood that the prayed-for thing will happen (and might decrease it in some cases).

Of course, when I ask religious people about this, they tell me that God has a perfect plan for all of us, and if we pray for something that doesn’t fit in with that plan, well, God answers all prayers but “sometimes the answer is no.” Sometimes, people have told me that it’s wrong to ask for things you want through prayer in the first place, other than to ask for God to “open your heart” to his plan, to help you want whatever he was going to do anyway. (Which should make you wonder: what’s different about that sort of prayer, at the point at which it must have been in God’s plan already to make you not want the things in his plan?) Not only is this in direct and blatant contradiction to the scripture I linked above, it’s also completely indistinguishable from your prayers not being answered at all. There’s just no way to make this belief mesh with what we know about the real world.

Maybe this sign is supposed to elicit a reaction like, “Haha, of course God didn’t make it snow just because someone prayed for it!” If that’s the case, the real joke here is Christianity itself.

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6 Comments

  1. How silly.
    One person is praying for snow, the rest are praying for no snow!!!
    Stop praying for snow!!! HELL!! I want to know who this guy is so I can get him to pray for me to get lots of money!!!

  2. Haha, exactly — this is an incredible power, why haven’t Christians harnessed it yet? They could pray for a cure for cancers, for peace on earth, for an end to hunger … oh wait, they already do, and look how far it’s gotten us.

  3. Questioning

     /  February 3, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    The sign did give me a chuckle, because I echo the sentiment. Whoever ordered all this, send it back, please!

    But yes, that was another piece of the puzzle that stopped fitting for me the closer I looked at my Christian faith. Whether I pray or not, the possible outcomes are the same. The only possible reason for prayer I can even consider is bringing oneself closer to God, or communing with him/her/it on some level. But asking for things doesn’t work. Even assuming a belief in the Christian God, he’s going to do what he’s going to do anyway, and you’re not going to change his mind.

  4. I think your closing paragraph gets it just right—both sentences. I can’t remember the last time I found a church-sign “joke” this agreeable.

  5. This reminds me of a church sign recently that said something like

    “Come and hang out this weekend
    – God”

    My first reaction was to laugh. But then I stopped to think why: I laughed because it was odd to think of God leaving a message on a church sign. In fact, it was odd to think of God leaving a message in any clear and unambiguous way.

    This sign, then, seemed to inadvertently poke fun at its own institution by using the impotence of God as the hook.

  6. Heh. I used to see a lot of billboards signed “-God”, white text on a black background saying things like “What part of ‘thou shalt not kill’ don’t you understand?” and “Don’t make me come down there.” I wondered what it’s like in the room where that ad copy is being written. Especially how those people felt about writing something for their god and signing his name to it … as though he couldn’t just transform a billboard to say what he wanted at any moment, or leave any kind of clear, direct message to humanity of that sort.

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