Good question! But first a joke.
Q: What do you call a paralyzed shark?
A: A quadri-pelagic.
So there you are, plunging off a thousand-foot cliff, and miraculously you have the presence of mind to text me this important question. Not that impressive as far as miracles go, since by now you are either a comical you-shaped pancake lying on the canyon floor, or you just went ahead and prayed and your life was spared. Hosanna! In any case, I’m flattered that you thought of me. Maybe not flatter than you though. (Get it?)
But what if you prayed, and still plummeted to your hilarious-looking doom? This conundrum is what jolted me out of my “naked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez” fantasy and prompted me to reply, even though you may already be deceased.
SHOULD YOU PRAY?
I’ll just pick a random religion, say……CHRISTIANITY, and analyze it from their point of view.
If you asked the Bible, and the Bible had a head, it would start shaking it back and forth super fast like it was shocked and disoriented. And if it had a hand it would start slapping itself in the face to make sure it was awake, and not just dreaming it had heard such an unbelievably stupid and obvious question.
After all, praying is just the verbal expression of one of the Bible’s bedrock principles: FAITH (believing in something you have no reason to believe in). Prayer doesn’t even need to be mentioned. It goes without saying. It’s assumed. Nevertheless, you can barely go ten page clicks without reading about how wonderful and reliable prayer is.
Way back in the day some Judean yokel asked renowned Judean prayer expert YESHUA OF NAZARETH how to pray, because he and his fellow Jews had only been doing it for a couple thousand years and hadn’t quite got the hang of it. Yeshua (also known by his Roman pals as JESUS) responded with the now famous Lord’s Prayer — sort of a catchall for when you have a hankering to talk to the Big Guy but can’t think of what to say. If you have not heard it, it goes like this. I’ll paraphrase in italics and comment (in parentheses) –just like a real scholar!
Our Father who art in heaven
Dad — the one in heaven (not the one in Cleveland/the bathroom/rehab/wherever)
Hallowed be thy name
Your name is super special (God. It’s literally the thing that you are, like that car Le Car, or that guy Guy. Way to totally OWN all those other gods with hard to pronounce names like Ptah and Q’uq’umatz! Brilliant branding, God.)
Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
You are king of the universe and you do whatever you want (which leaves me wondering how much point there is asking you for things, but…)
Give us this day our daily bread
We eat every day, so give us some food for today, k? (Really odd reminder there, and really low-bar request to a guy who could give us LITERALLY ANYTHING, but… Pretty please?)
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us
We forgive other people, so can you do the same for us? (Wait. Did I get that backwards? Why am I giving God morality instructions? This prayer is getting weird.)
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
Please don’t trick us into doing things you told us you would send us to hell for (because that would be so incredibly dickish that we might start to question your great love for us. I am definitely weirded out by this prayer now). Instead, help us out of any jams we may get into, such as falling off cliffs. (Finally, a sensible request.)
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever
(More over the top ass kissing — er — PRAISE.)
Over and out.
Maybe not what you’d expect as far as “quintessential communiques with the Supreme Being of the Universe” go. Kind of just a thick PRAISE SANDWICH with a measly request in the middle. And that bit about forgiveness. How weird was that!
But if you are praying to ASK FORGIVENESS or THANK/PRAISE God, then definitely go ahead. He seems to live for that last one. If you’ve ever asked forgiveness or thanked/praised a real person, you know how good it can make you feel, and asking forgiveness or thanking/praising a god like God can be almost as soothing. Plus, unlike people, God never rejects thanks or praise, or refuses to forgive you , so there is zero risk!
Of course, also unlike people, God’s feedback to your thanks and praise can be ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO DETECT. So, you know. FAITH!
According to modern prayer experts, nearly 99% of all prayers fall under the category “petition”, also known as ASKING FOR STUFF. Give us bread, for example, or, Please God don’t let me die. Don’t let me die.
So, even though I totally just made up that statistic (but come on, think about it), should you pray to ask for stuff? And will your prayers be answered???
An unknown Greek (or maybe Roman) going by the name “Matthew” quotes renowned prayer expert Jesus as proclaiming, Ask and you shall receive. Pretty straightforward!
Another Roman (or possibly Greek) calling himself “Mark” has Jesus saying, Whatever you have asked for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it shall be yours. Strong words indeed!
Yet another foreigner who never met Jesus or even saw him, and spoke a completely different language than him, “John”, kicks it up a notch and tells us that Jesus tells us that, with prayer you can do all the miraculous stuff Jesus does…AND MORE! Now we’re talkin’!
Mark agrees, and gets specific: You can heal people, drink poison and play with snakes (can you say life of the party?), speak foreign languages, and cast out demons! Who hasn’t been in a housemate situation where that wouldn’t’ve come in handy, am I right?
I know it sounds like schoolboys trying to one-up each other: Oh yeah? My dad can eat googol-plex times infinity hot dogs, dude. But remember, this was all said by one man, Jesus, who could not tell lies! Says so in the Bible probably.
Well maybe Jesus was just exaggerating—he could be a tad BOASTFUL at times—not to mention CRYPTIC, just like any decent cult leader.
BUT NO! His disciples reply: Whew! Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Like, Finally Lord, some straight talk instead of your usual mystical psycho-babble!
There is no interpretive wiggle room here, folks. Prayer works as advertised. Anonymous people writing down popular hearsay 40 to 70 years after Jesus’s death affirm this unequivocally! I even have evidence of my own to share with you.
As I was awaiting my turn at the DMV the other year, I heard a woman’s jubilant shout: Praise Jesus! Took me seven tries, but I finally passed my driving test. Thank you, Lord!
Hallelujah and case closed.
BUT WAIT! my little thinker piped up. What was Jesus doing the other six times she asked? Was he on smoke break? Helping other customers? Also, I passed the test without praying even once. All I did was study. Was somebody praying FOR ME??? I also did not pray for the three square meals I enjoyed that day. What’s up with that?
And speaking of WHAT’S UP WITH THAT (my little thinker continued), Jesus healed some disabled people and a couple of lepers. Then he taught his peeps how to do the same AND MORE using prayer, which they did—a few times. Why didn’t they heal ALL THE LEPERS? Why are there STILL LEPERS?
IS NO ONE PRAYING FOR THE LEPERS???
And what about earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes? People pray like mad, but they strike anyway. And they don’t just wipe out the gays and other sinners like in the good old days either! What’s up with that?
And how about cancer? People have been praying their asses off for centuries with only mixed results. Sometimes it goes away, and sometimes it kills you, and sometimes it goes away and then comes back and kills you. Only medical science has been able to steadily chip away at that one. That’s not right!
What about missing kids that are never found? What about terrorism and school shootings and CHURCH SHOOTINGS??? If there’s one place prayer should be working like a champ it’s stopping a deranged asshole from shooting up a goddamned church!
WHAT. IS. UP. WITH. THAT.
Fortunately, these understandable questions have been cleared up by various prayer experts down through history.
Evidently there was some doubt even way back in the olden days, because “James” tells us in his self-titled Bible book, “James” that it won’t work if you don’t do it right. You can’t pray with wrong motives, i.e. selfishness!
I got one word for you, “James”: NU-UH. Maybe that’s how it should work, but that’s not how Jesus said it worked. Over and over. ASK ⇒ RECEIVE. No “but only ifs” attached. And anyway, “James”, are you really gonna tell little stage-four Tommy to stop being so selfish and pray for somebody else for a change? I don’t think so. Nice try though, “James”.
Noted prayer experts like Tertullian, Augustine and Swaggart have concocted many other reasons your prayers aren’t being answered, and they all boil down to the same thing: IT’S NOT IN GOD’S PLAN. And before you start in with your “Yeah but Jesus saids”, let’s remember: Jesus was a big talking man-god who had some cool powers and knew how to rally a crowd. But when it came to prayer, he was mainly a DELIVERY GUY. His old man, Jehovah did the actual answering. Jesus may have jumped the gun a bit with his, Anything you want, you got it shtick. It would have been more forthright of him to add, Ya know…if my dad says it’s okay.
We know that Jesus knew this, too. Remember that “Thy will be done” part of his trademark prayer? And telling folks to be sure to name-drop him when they ask for stuff, try to juggle cobras, whatever? Don’t pray to me, IOW. I’m just the middle man. The guy that can fast track your request to my OLD MAN.
But don’t worry. God will get your prayer, and he will answer it. Sometime. And the answer might be NO. Like that time all those amputees prayed for their limbs to grow back and NONE OF THEM EVER DID. Or that other time all those people prayed instead of vaccinating their kids and their kids died. Just wasn’t in The Plan. Or…that was the plan? Anyway, that’s the awesome power of prayer, friends!
But what is this Big Plan of God’s anyway? Prayer experts like Aquinas, Luther and Pat Robertson happily assure us that NO ONE FUCKING KNOWS! Nor can they. Nor should they even try. Attempting to understand the mind of God is PURE HUBRIS. In fact, Luther brags that the less you know the better. You’ve got to kick inquisitiveness and reason in the nuts, and double down on that FAITH!
Speaking of nuts, some ballsy prayer experts suggest that our Big Elusive Friend is trying to teach us VALUABLE LESSONS when He appears to ignore our pleas for intervention. I hope those guys that got captured by ISIS didn’t forget to bring a pen and paper to their beheadings. Lots to learn there! Not much time to apply it, but I’m sure they appreciated God’s last-minute pointers, nonetheless.
Yep, looking back at your life, or the history of the world, or observable reality, and trying to map a divine plan onto it might be a real brain teaser. It might even seem like it’s all just a blend of randomness, coincidence, cause and effect, and varying degrees of human agency, without even a speck of a hint of supernatural influence. It might seem like that.
But remember when God spoke through the mouth of Isaiah, who definitely was not just a crazy homeless guy (consult your Google), and said that thing? I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, Jehovah, do all these things. Mwaaa-ha-ha-haaa!!!
First you might say to yourself, Whaaat?! I musta missed church the day the topic was God Can Be An Unpredictable Dick.
But then you might say to yourself, Aha! Whatever happens, that’s God’s plan. God’s plan is just WHATEVER HAPPENS! The good, the bad, the mundane, and the unspeakably atrocious.
But wait. That can’t be right. Not only does it make the whole For God so loved the world thing HIGHLY DEBATABLE, God would have nothing to do! He’d just be floating around the supernatural realm, watching his weirdass plan unfold down here in the regular natural realm, being SUPER BORED because He already knows how the whole thing turns out, and probably SUPER ANNOYED at the constant barrage of prayer requests. I bet that Please don’t let me die one really gets under His skin. Just to break up the monotony I’m sure that from time to time He reaches His divine thumb into our reality and just flicks things out of whack. Tweaks the plan on the fly cuz He can. You always hurt the ones you love, as they say.
So, my cliff diving friend, there’s a strong updraft shooshing up the canyon you’re falling into. It may be strong enough to lift you up and set you gently on the ground. Will you take a chance with nature, or risk getting God’s mischievous attention with a prayer? That’s a tough one, and I’m sorry I don’t have a better answer for you but, you may have a better chance with chance.