2006-04-19

Can we pray for the past?

I got a great question from one of my students named Meg.  I thought I would throw it out for consideration and debate:

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If God is part of a separate time where he is both the past present and future all at the same time, why is it that we only pray for two of those time frames the present and the future? Is it possible to alter the past by praying for a past occurrence? I'm not talking about praying to learn from one's mistakes so as to not continue to do it in the future but actually praying for something to change in the past and actually receiving your prayer?
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Meg,

Actually, this is really easy to answer:

1. Yes, God is outside of time, and all time is present tense for him.  Thus, this does open the possibility for the type of prayer you speak of.  And, as far as I know, there is no Scriptural basis for dealing with this question, so we are on our own, left to our own reason.  The Bible implies that it is always best to pray for things in the future, because future and present-tense prayers are the only prayers we find there (and in Church history for that matter).

2. Yet, neither the Bible, nor Tradition, nor Reason, forbid us to pray for the past. Indeed, Paul makes one passing reference to the Corinthians "baptizing for the dead" (1Co 15). We do not know what this exactly means, but one interpretation was that they were being baptized as "stand ins" for those who had died.  Mormons practice this. Orthodox Christians have always insisted that one is only baptized for one's self.  But, it does open the door to the idea that some in the early Church were wondering the same thing.

3. As for the nature of God, God does not contradict Godself. God cannot do things against his own nature, and be non-God. This transfers to our universe as well. Logic and math dominate the ordering of the universe (without excluding free-will).  But it does mean that nothing in creation can create black whiteness, or square circles, or an unmovable moving object.

4. Thus, like God, nothing in creation can be and not be in the same way at the same time.  Make sense so far?  OK... here is how it relates:

5. If you have definite knowledge that a certain event has happened in a certain way, it is a logically-closed event for you to pray for.  It cannot be other than it is. The prayer for these types of events IS to pray to learn from them.  In fact, learning from you past is a way of praying meaning back into a past event that was not there in the first place.  The learning that results from the event actually makes the event a different event: because now it is an event with meaning.

6. However, if you have no definite knowledge of what happened in the past, I find NO REASON not to pray for it!!! As long as you do not know, it is not a logically closed event for you... and maybe God has heard your future prayer and answered in the past, and you will find that out in the present.  I will admit, I have prayed prayers like this before, and will do so in the future.  However, with that said, I think it is a far better use of our time to pray PRO-actively (before the event) rather than RE-actively (after the event).

7. If your question has roots in your worry over whether or not someone was "saved" before death... then YES pray for them!  You never know what God might do, and what you might find out when you go into God's presence. However, do not spend so much time in the past that you are not interceding for those alive right here, right now.

That's my answer.  Hope it helps.

May Christ fill your life,
Nate
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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.