I read a post by a Calvinist recently that raised a question along the lines of: “What does praying to an Arminian God actually accomplish, since He can’t compel anyone to believe? Arminians pray like Calvinists when they pray for Salvation”.
Calvinists don’t seem to realize that virtually everyone who isn’t a Calvinist also isn’t an Arminian, but Arminius haunts them and it’s kind of funny. But, that aside, this question is fascinating to me because there’s a much harder question to answer:
What does praying to a Calvinist God actually accomplish?
On Calvinism, God foreordained from the foundation of the world to accomplish exactly what happens. Literally nothing happens outside His will. You are, in effect, talking to a “read-only” entity, a being that wrote the script before Creation and is following it perfectly. You pray, on Calvinism, because God told you to. Prayer is about changing yourself, despite Scripture clearly indicating that prayer is about communicating to God like a person, not an unchanging god made of stone.
Some like to add further that free will is “too difficult for God to overcome”, but what they really mean is that God can’t be omnipotent unless He can do logically contradictory things like make square circles. God can’t violate free will because then it wouldn’t be free will. It’s not about power. It’s about the meanings of words.
How do we answer the original question then? Are non-Calvinists becoming temporary Calvinists when they pray for someone to be saved? No, not at all. When I pray for the salvation of people I love, it’s no different than when I pray for God to heal someone who is sick or help someone who is struggling with a sin. I’m asking that God actually does something. For my unsaved friends and family, it could be revealing Himself to them, it could be softening their hearts, it could be any number of things.
But, the Calvinist might respond, you can’t force God to save them, so your prayers might not be answered. This is true. The prayer might not be answered. But what, precisely, is the Calvinist accomplishing through prayer? On Calvinism, it is literally impossible for God to answer your prayer, because God has already ordained all that is going to happen.
If God wanted, God could unilaterally change the will of the one prayed for, and they would become a Christian. But God has already decided who will be saved and who would be damned. Your prayers accomplishing nothing here; if you pray for a predetermined saved person, God already has an exact moment that He’ll regenerate them and you can’t alter it. If you pray for a damned person, you may indeed love the person more than God (on Calvinism), but you absolutely won’t alter His will.
On Calvinism, prayer doesn’t alter God’s immutable will. The damned remain damned. The elect remain elect.
On non-Calvinism, prayer does alter things. God may do something He wouldn’t have done if you hadn’t prayed. And this may save someone. As a Molinist, I believe God knows what you’ll pray in advance and knows who will be saved, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t respond. Just as I know my children well enough to predict what they’ll ask, and can prepare for their requests accordingly.
Love this post. I wouldn’t call myself Arminian, but I pray for things like these:
I pray that the Holy Spirit will give me guidance in speaking so that what I say to this person is courageous, error free, unhypocritical and persuasive.
Where the unsaved person is beyond my reach, I pray the Lord will bring them in contact with caring believers who will say the things I can’t.
I pray that the Holy Spirit will bring conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment.
I pray that the love of Christ will shine through above all else.
I pray that the Lord will order the circumstances of the unsaved person’s life to draw his or her attention to the importance of the eternal. This may involve bringing about a need, an illness, the loss of a loved one, or anything else that serves as a wakeup call. I’ve had wakeup calls myself, and I know what they feel like.
I pray that the Lord will remove distractions so that the unsaved person can think clearly about the choice presented and that the words of scripture will ring in their ears, demanding a response.
I pray that the Lord will make all excuses, counterarguments and forms of denial sound as lame and unconvincing to the person making them as they really are. That includes protests about the failings of the messenger.
I pray that the word of Christ shared will be clearly understood. The god of this world is in the business of blinding the minds of those who are perishing. Is it wrong to pray, “Open their eyes, Lord”? I don’t think so. If anyone can stop the perishing from becoming the perished, it is our God, and he doesn’t need to remove the option of volitional surrender to make that happen.
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That’s an excellent list.
It’s even worse than you think, antemodernist. According to Calvinism, prayer isn’t about even “changing me.” Because “me,” (whatever the total state of “me” is, at a given point in time) was ordained to be whatever “me” is, before the foundation of the world. So even “me” is just a dumb terminal pointlessly playing out a rigid script written for “me” without my say-so or choice.
In fact, my choice to believe or not believe Calvinism was another preordained thing. Funny, then, that Calvinists love so much to argue…according to their “lights,” they can’t actually alter the state of anybody’s mind at a given moment. Not even their own.
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The message seems pretty clear. God gave the manna and water after Moses prayed. And not before. Provision of the needs of the hungry and thirsty Israelites did not happen before that action.
Israelites only won against Amalek if Moses kept his rod raised.