The purpose of prayer in zero-sum situations

By | December 5, 2013

There appears to be a huge ice storm headed our way. I’m not convinced. Yet. These things have a tendency to split at the river, go north and south of us, and meet back up on the other side. I know there’s no scientific basis for that; but we sure do end up in a “donut hole” a lot of the time. But the forecasters sound pretty serious about this one.

The city is divided into two camps: those who will be standing with their noses pressed against the window panes tomorrow morning, and those who are screaming, “Nooooo!”. The latter side is bigger than usual because of the St. Jude marathon scheduled for Saturday morning. (And it would be a bummer if it had to be canceled, but at least the money has already been raised. And a clever marketing department could do an “Is an ice storm tougher than a St. Jude kid?” campaign on social media to raise even more money.)

There are lots of prayers going up on both sides. And lots of conflicting Facebook prayer requests. That’s not a bad thing; communication with God is always good. But I have trouble with zero-sum prayer, when somebody’s “win” means someone else’s “loss”. Praying for an ice storm when other people are praying for no ice storm is kind of like praying for the outcome of a football game (which has always bothered me). You know there are people on the other team praying just as hard as you are. And what about when it’s not a football game, but a tornado or hurricane? You pray for it to veer away from your home, but doesn’t that mean that someone else will get whammied? And aren’t they praying just as hard that it stays on its current path? What’s God supposed to do? Use some celestial algorithm of number of prayers divided by the number of collective sins, and the answered prayer goes to the worthiest? Nah…I think it’s more likely that he pats us on our heads like the silly kids we are and goes about implementing his perfect plan.

Prayer is always good, because it’s communication with God. I just have trouble with zero-sum prayer. Has it ever bothered you, even if it’s just a little niggle in the back of your mind? I would love to hear what y’all think about this. Maybe I’m just overly philosophical.

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