Dr, Fagin’s main point is that prayer is counterproductive because the effects of prayer cannot be proven. People would be better off spending their energy doing something that actually solves the problem (like thinking happy thoughts?). I would agree with Dr. Fagin that the effects of prayer are not usually empirically verifiable. One can usually find another explanation for the results of prayer. In fact, Romans 1:18 teaches us that those who do not have the Spirit of God will seek any other possible explanation of events. Of course, the lack of empirical verification does not prove that prayer does not work. I am sure Dr. Fagin would concede this point. He also would say that it is irrelevant.
The main problem with Dr. Fagin's argument is that he seems to misunderstand the nature of prayer. Prayer is not an incantation or magic lever that we pull to force the Almighty to comply to our wills. God is not under our control when we pray. Rather, prayer is communication with our heavenly Father. The same rules that apply to a child’s communications with her earthly father apply to prayer.My daughter often pleads with me for things. One might call this prayer. Sometimes I respond by giving her what she asks. Sometimes I respond by not giving her what she asks. If all an outside observer saw was her pleading and never saw me, this observer might conclude her “prayers” make no difference at all. After all, there would be no way to verify empirically that her pleadings made a difference. Since I do not always give her what she asks, does that “prove” that her pleas never “work?” When I do respond positively to her pleas, how would the outside observer know that I would not have given her, her request without her asking? After all, correlation does not prove causation. So, must we conclude that the pleas of a daughter with her father are a waste of time? I do not believe that is a reasonable conclusion.
God cannot be manipulated through prayers or incantations. He is a Father who hears the pleas of His children and always does what is best for them.
One might ask, "How could a good God ever allow something like the devastation of the Waldo Canyon fire?" It is very hard to conceive of anything good coming out of this fire that justifies the amount of destruction. At present, we cannot understand why God would not answer our prayers by sending rain and putting an end to the destruction.
Yet, if God is God, then we must approach Him with humilty. That is, we must assume that he knows more than we do, that He is wiser than we are, and that He actually knows what He is doing.
Children and parents often disagree on what is best. However, in most cases we would assume that the thirty-five year old parent has a better understanding of what is “best” than the five year old child. In the same way, Christians assume that the infinite God has a better understand of what is best than the finite child who is pleading with Him. So, when God does not do what we ask, we do not assume that prayer is ineffectual. Instead, we assume that we pray to a Father who knows more than we do.
Our confidence in God does not hinge on Him obeying our prayers. Our confidence in God hinges on the cross of Jesus Christ. It is the proof that God brings beauty out of the ugliest events. It is also the proof that God loves us. After all, as the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:32, "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?"
So, Dr. Fagin, you can keep your happy thoughts. In the meantime, I will keep praying for you.