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#597 Praying Retroactively

September 22, 2018

Dr. Craig, thank you so much for all you do. In a recent Defenders class, you discussed the concept of special providence. I was hoping that, during the Q&A session, my question would be raised by another student, but it was not. I believe that God orders the world such that there are acts of special providence. Some of the examples you gave were of God specially providing in answer to our prayers, such as His arranging for an interviewer that will freely choose to hire me to be present at an interview, when I pray for God to help me get a particular a job.

Are you suggesting that there is a backwards causation at work? Or is it that God orders the world to place that interviewer in that situation, knowing that I will pray that prayer and need that person present at the interview in order to get the job?

These two options seem to me to only be semantically different, and actually identical in reality.

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Question 2:

Good day, Dr.Craig. Can we help to our dead friends or members of our family by praying for them? For example if they didn't find God before death can we help them not to go to hell by our praying?


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Dr. craig’s response


Eric, I’m so glad you’re taking advantage of our Defenders class! If you stick with it, I can guarantee you that you will become better educated in theology than most seminary graduates.

I am not suggesting that in acts of special providence backwards causation is at work. I recommend that you look at the chapter on backwards causation in my The Only Wise God (Wipf & Stock, 1999). There I argue that while backwards causation is logically coherent, it is nonetheless metaphysically impossible due to the nature of time. If, as I think, temporal becoming is an objective feature of reality, then backwards causation of a present event is impossible, since the event would in that case be caused by nothing (since the future cause in no sense exists).

Nonetheless, backward causation, if it were real, would have the same practical consequences as divine foreknowledge. God, knowing that I would pray for something, sets things up in advance so that the answer to my prayer occurs without miraculous intervention. Similarly, if effects could precede their causes, then something in the future could cause something in the present to happen. Because these two notions have the same practical consequences you are misled to think “these two options seem . . . to only be semantically different, and actually identical in reality.” Clearly, there is a world of difference between them metaphysically.  God’s knowing the truth of future-tense propositions involves no causal connections at all, whether between some (non-existent) future event and a future-tense proposition about that event or between a true future-tense proposition and God’s cognitive state.

Now this has relevance to your question, Ehor. If your deceased loved ones really “didn’t find God before death,” then you know that God will not answer your prayer for their salvation. The Bible permits no second chances after death. So the only hope is that God, knowing that you would pray for them, saved them during their lifetimes, unbeknownst to you. And how do you know what transpired in their heart of hearts? So if you feel led to pray for them, go ahead, trusting that God has foreknown and answered your prayer for them in advance.

- William Lane Craig