Q: I'm a Christian who believes in Lord Jesus Christ & has his prayers answered. So I have no doubt about the fact that God listens to our prayers. However, there''s one question that's bothered me for long. I personally know people who are of different faiths & they all pretty much had their prayers answered when they prayed to their respective "gods". I've been with them in their time of need & I've seen how they got out of whatever difficulties they were going through.
So my question is: do these other gods my friends believe in answer prayer too? If no, then who has delivered them from their difficulties. Clearly, whatever they had been through needed some sort of divine help to get them out of there.
A: Great question. I think there are several parts to a good answer to this question.
A person may genuinely be convinced that their God/god has given them an answer, and yet they can be wrong.
Let me say something that may seem unfair, but I want to put this out in the open to start with. It is possible that a person can be lying when they report answered prayer. I mean that there are some people who will knowingly tell something that is untrue, because they will have a gain of some kind from this. The gain may be emotional or spiritual gain and may be simply underscore a certain belief they have. We usually reserve the word "lie" for serious and really openly intentional mistruth. But lying is rarely a complete fabrication, but it is usually a shifting of the truth in order to make your point. We know that people lie, and we can expect this to be the case at least occasionally from some. It is hard to prove it when this happens, as often the facts are not things we can verify. I do not think this is really the place to go to answer your question as this is not typically the real issue.
The second possibility is some people will claim they have been answered in prayer, but it is not something that can be proven. Their answer is tied necessarily into their interpretation of the events. It is essentially taking something that cannot be proven and shifting it to try to make it into something that gives evidential proof to others—when it cannot support this weight. In this case, a person is placing their own worldview on the events, weaving the events into their world view and then producing the claim that their G(g)od has answered prayer. This issue may happen for anyone from any worldview. It is human to want to boost what you think is true and right. I have heard Christians claim they have received a miracle answer to prayer. As I have listened to them, I am not convinced this is the case and the things they are saying do not uphold that Christ answered their prayer in a miraculous way. It may be true that they are now no longer sick or troubled in some way—but from the way they describe the events it could easily have been just the working out of events in time. In this situation it may not be wrong to say you are convinced that Christ answered your prayer, but to set it forward as evidence for Christ because He answered prayer is not sustainable evidence for others. In other words, the facts of the incident cannot hold evidential weight or proof that Christ did a miraculous thing for them. It may still be true that Christ/Krishna/Murugan/etc. did this, but it cannot be presented evidentially to others as true. For example, let us say that you are in the midst of the stomach flu and you have a presentation the next day that is very important. You pray to Christ and ask Him to bring you healing and enable you to present the next day. You wake up the next morning and feel OK; you get dressed and go and give your presentation. In this case, there is no evidence to present to others that Christ did this other than your conviction that He did heal you. You could easily have had a flu or sickness that was short-lived and it had run its course. It is certainly possible that Christ answered your prayer in an unusual way, but you cannot present this to others that this is the case. In the exuberance to proclaim what you believe this can happen.
It is really important to understand this point. If you are convinced that Krishna exists and is the true Lord of this earth, that he hears those who are devoted to him, and answers prayer, then you will interpret events according to this belief. Another example of this might be demonstrated with the question, “Which scripture is oldest?” Hindus will say that theirs is—based on the assumption that Hinduism is true and the scriptures they are thinking of (Vedas?) were written in ancient times when heard by the Rishis and passed on. Christians will generally answer that the Bible is the oldest Scripture in that it speaks of events recorded by Moses and speaking of even the creation of the world. My point? Whichever scripture is true will most likely be the oldest scripture; certainly which ever scripture is true will be speaking about the oldest events in the universe. Most people are not arguing based upon evidence in regard to this question, but in terms of their belief system. I.e. “I believe Hinduism is true, therefore, I hold the Vedas to be the oldest scriptures.” This often happens with prayer as well. If a person believes their G(g)od to be real, then of course their G(g)od answers prayer.
To actually discuss this issue across world views, there must be evidence presented which goes beyond mere interpretation. For example, when the Apostle Paul was preaching at Troas, a young man fell out of the window and died. It says that they picked up the young man and he was dead. Then Paul came and put his arms around him and brought him back to life. Now, if you were there, and actually saw these things happen, then it would be evidence that the God Paul serves is real and answers prayer. But in order to bring evidence of this, you would have to either have been there, known someone who had been there, or at least read the account from someone who had been there. From the first to the last of these, the weight of the evidence lessens. The first of these would be powerful evidence; the second would be powerful testimonial evidence, and the third would be evidence based on the reliability of the written account. These events are hard to misinterpret. One could say, “Well he wasn’t actually dead!” Yet the account says that the men picked up the young man and they realized he was dead. Most people can tell when a person is dead (no pulse, no breathing, etc.). This account bears evidence across a world view, particularly to those who were actually there, saw the young man dead and saw Paul bring him to life again. It is not dependent on one’s world view or interpretation in order to be true. Notice in the New Testament that when people came to believe in Christ because of a miracle, it is usually because they were present at the event. When Jesus performed a miracle, it is sometimes reported “and many people believed in Him.” E.g. in John 2:23 it says, “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name.” This is because the evidence is so weighty by their presence at the events and actually seeing them happen. With a testimony from another person, the weight of the evidence is dispersed in that you are asked to rely completely on the witness. In reading about the testimony of an event, you are asked to rely completely on the witness and the writings of the event.
For a claim of answered prayer to be powerful evidential weight, it must go beyond the interpretation of the person involved. It must go beyond the inner emotions, thoughts and view of an individual. If a person says, “I was anxious and trembling. Then I prayed to my God. Then I felt peace” –OK. But this cannot be proof of answered prayer. If you saw a person before an athletic competition in complete anxiety—so much they were physically shaking, then watched him pray to his God, and then perform exceptionally, this would have some weight, but may be explained by other factors. If you knew a person with Parkinson’s, shaking and trembling, then pray for healing to their God and the shaking and trembling and the Parkinson’s disease go away permanently, now you have powerful evidential proof that must be taken seriously.
In your question, you said the incidents you have spoken with others about had to do with “their time of need.” If these needs you spoke of were something of the order of: cancer, a broken limb, death, etc. and you observed them personally receive a response from their God, then you definitely have something to consider seriously. I suspect it is more that their need is a circumstantial need of something such as finances, or personal relationship crisis.
Does this mean that we don’t tell others of how Christ has answered prayers that are more inner in nature or are prayers that cannot bear the full weight of scrutiny as real objective evidence? No. But we must not expect that this evidence will be powerfully convincing. In the same way, when another person explains how their God has answered their prayers, we are not usually powerfully moved or convinced. If we are convinced that some sort of divine help is needed to explain how people get out of all these troubles, then we must determine who is the true God.
Let me say as well that whoever is the true God, most likely answers many prayers and needs of men. Does not the Bible say, “He gives rain to the just and unjust alike?” Would it not make sense that the general needs of people would be provided for by whoever is the true God? Should God require someone have a genuine and sincere belief in Himself before he give any help or aid to anyone? The Bible says He does not. We must be careful here—but it does seem that the Bible says that God helps the deserving and undeserving in some ways.
Let me give an example. If there are three farmers, one a Christian, one a tribal animist, and an atheist. Let us say their land is right next to each other and there is a drought. The Christian asks God to send rain, the animist seeks to appease the evil spirits with offerings, and the atheist looks at a weather map and hope rain will come. Eventually rain will come. I don’t think there is any farm land where rain has not eventually come. Let us say for our example that four days later, rain comes. The Christian would rightly say that God has answered his prayers—if His God actually exists. The animist would say that his appeasing of the spirits has actually worked--- if the spirits he appeased were the actual problem. The atheist would confirm to himself that there is no God and he needs not supplicate any divine being for rain to come on his fields. This is what I mean by saying that your interpretation of reality often is the only proof for these kind of events. There is no objective evidence that your God or your worldview is correct because rain came.
For the Christian, it seems that God provides food for all people—just and unjust. But what you are talking about seems to cross from general help and provision into the realm of evidential and miraculous. In order to weight these, we would need to make certain that 1) they are true objective evidences 2) they are actually miraculous and therefore proof of the existence of God.
I hope this helps,
Wyatt, for Karma to Grace