If there is no theistic God does prayer even make sense?


Question & Answer

Q: By A Reader

If there is no theistic God does prayer even make sense, who would I be praying to? 
A: By Rev. Dr. Robin R. Meyers
Dear Reader,

This is the most common question that I am asked when discussing non-theistic options for God.  If God is not a person who can listen and respond to my prayers, then what is the purpose of prayer?  Who would I be praying to?  Notice, not “what” would I be praying to, because sentient creatures do not ask favors of inanimate objects.

In fact, if God is not a person, then how can persons be expected to have any kind of relationship with a non-personal Deity?  The answer for those of us who are non-theists requires a discussion of what prayer is to begin with—a discussion the church needs to have.  If prayer is a transaction, like a long-distance call or a form of communication between humans and a Deity that “hears” them and chooses a response, then prayer indeed makes no sense.  For a non-theist, no one is “listening” and no one will “answer,” as millions know from the prayers that rose from concentration camps in the Holocaust, or from desperate parents on behalf of dying children, or from mothers grieving their sons and daughters who died in wars that God was said to favor.

But if prayer is not a transaction at all, but rather a spiritual discipline that helps us gain access to the Mystery, then prayer remains a powerful and meaningful act.  If prayer is a self-conscious act of humility, to empty oneself in silent mediation by holding open empty space, or by offering trembling and carefully chosen words that allows us, and perhaps others, to overhear ourselves seeking higher ground, then prayer can become to worship what poetry is to the soul.  We can model honesty, vulnerability, courage, and a deeper and more profound trust.

Prayer is vulnerable speech, not transactional speech.  It should never be a weapon, or a thinly veiled and self-interested bargain. Nor should prayer ever be used to put words into God’s mouth in order to sanctify whatever the humans are up to.  If we expect an “answer” to prayer we remain helpless and in need of rescue.  But if we pray as a spiritual discipline to open our hearts to the possibility of the love we must embrace and practice, then we become the answer to our own prayers. And the divine that is in us, not separate from us, will speak through us and to us.

~ Rev. Dr. Robin R. Meyers

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author
Rev. Dr. Robin R. Meyers is retired senior minister of Mayflower Congregational UCC Church, Oklahoma City, Distinguished Professor of Social Justice Emeritus at Oklahoma City University, and Adjunct Professor of Homiletics at Phillips Theology Seminary.  His is a fellow at Westar, a member of the God Seminar, and his most recent book is Saving God from Religion:  A Minister’s Search for Faith in a Skeptical AgeVisit website here:  RobinRexMeyers.com

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