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#287 Middle Knowledge and Prayer

October 14, 2012

Greetings Dr. Craig! First I would like to thank you for all your work in the field of apologetics. Your writings have helped me immensely, not because I am struggling with my faith, but because I want to help other people to see that Christianity is plausible and rational world view.

Lately I'm reading more about molinism, and while I think it's a very powerful concept, it makes me wonder about a few things. I would like to read your thoughts on the power of prayer in light of molinism. Jesus and many other passages in the scriptures teach us that our prayer is capable of enormous things. This means that prayer gives us the incredible power to change very specific things around us, with impacts down the road that we can't predict.

This means that God have to take into account not only our free will, but also our prayers! Surely this puts Him in an even more difficult position, if molinism is true. What if our prayer clashes with the most optimal balance between saved and unsaved? I have thought of three possible solutions to this problem. Here they are:

1) Given middle knowledge, God knows what all of our prayers will be, so He only made the promise in the first place because He knew this would actually "help" Him (or at least not mess up His plans) to arrange the world with the best possible balance.

2) God directly puts the right prayer in the hearts of His saints. This means that our prayer only goes answered because it was God who made us make that prayer to begin with. That would be a more Calvinistic view, I think.

3) God simply answers prayers that don't clash with his optimal arrangement. My problem with this one is that it makes the promises of prayer seem somewhat empty.

What are your thoughts on this matter?

Thanks for reading this.



Dr. craig’s response


Far from occasioning difficulties for prayer, Fabricio, middle knowledge, in my opinion, illuminates how prayer makes a difference in the providential direction of a sovereign God.

We should not think of prayer as changing God’s mind or changing events. God knows from eternity everything that will transpire in time, so that prayers do not literally change anything. For God’s foreknowledge already takes our prayers into account. God’s foreknowledge is chronologically prior to the prayers we offer, but the prayers are logically prior to what God foreknows. If we were to pray differently or fail to pray, God would not be caught by surprise but have already factored that into His providential plan.

So then how do our prayers make a difference if they do not change things? Precisely by being factored by God into which world He has chosen to create! Were we not to pray, then perhaps God would not have done such-and-such. Because God knew that you would pray for a certain thing, God has so arranged the world that that thing happens. Had you not prayed, God would have created a different world instead. So through His middle knowledge of how we would pray in different circumstances, our prayers make a tremendous difference in which world is actual.

Now, of course, in some, perhaps many, cases, God has overriding ends in view that may prompt Him to say “No” to our prayers. To use your example, if our prayers conflicted with the optimal balance in the world between saved and unsaved, then I think it to be fairly obvious that God would prefer to let our prayer go unanswered than to let someone go to hell by answering our prayer! But those aren’t the only options. Perhaps if you were to fail to pray for the salvation of a certain person, then God would not have created that person but created someone else instead. Or maybe He wouldn’t have created you but created someone else instead who would pray for the person! There may be lots of worlds having the same optimal balance between saved and lost which are available for God to choose from.

Of your three alternatives, don’t think that only one has to cover every case. All three may on different occasions be the case. But I would put it a little differently than you have. I’d say that God can put us in circumstances in which He knew that we would freely pray for the things He wants to bring about, so that there is harmony between what we pray for and what He wills to occur. In cases where that is not feasible and God has overriding reasons to bring about some result despite our praying for the opposite, well, it is our prayers that go unanswered in such a case. But such cases obviously don’t make prayer futile, for in many or most cases, when we are walking in the fullness of the Spirit and pray for some event, God, knowing that we would so pray, can also will that the answer to our prayers transpire.

- William Lane Craig