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