If God is impassible and immutable, as classic, Christian theism asserts, then what is happening when we pray? How can God be unmoved and unchangeable and still enter into the relational exchange of prayer?
There are a few theological frameworks that we can use to view this question, and in this post I want to sketch out a classical theistic (CT) approach. In later posts I will sketch out two free will theistic approaches to the conundrum.
According to CT, God determined all things before time and creation. Accordingly, God is strongly sovereign over every detail of life. Yes, that includes evil. This account of the God-World relation raises at least two serious problems: the problem of evil and human freedom/responsibility. I will leave those issues to the side for the time being, and focus first on the issue of prayer.
So if God is unchangeable (immutable), cannot suffer in response to his creation (impassible) and he has determined all things prior to creation then prayer seems to be a rather hollow exercise. At best it would appear to be a humorous prank or at worst a cruel joke.
CT escapes this quandary by arguing that if God ordained all things then he mostly certainly ordained the cause of all things. As such, when we pray it is because God has willed us to do so as the means for the ends he desired. Prayer on this account connects causally to events in reality, but the connection is ultimately due to divine determinism. However, while this elegant solution may relieve the pressure regarding the questions of prayer it certainly increases the pressure on our concepts of human freedom/responsibility and the problem of evil.
If God ordained us to pray (or not pray) as part of his pre-determined plan for the universe then what of human freedom and responsibility? Why are we commanded to pray without ceasing if it is God’s decree that has determined if we will pray and whether that prayer will cause the divinely desired result? If I don’t pray, then how am I responsible for my inaction, and if I do pray, then how am I credited for my action? According to CT’s solution, prayer isn’t the cruel joke; but human freedom is, so it would seem.
More disturbingly, if God has ordained all things, including evil, and human responsibility is a shame (so it appears), then what kind of God are we worshipping? Is he truly worthy of such devotion given the horrors of evil in this world?
So have we solved one problem only to create two more larger problems?