Prayer and the Sovereignty of God -- By: John D. Hannah

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 136:544 (Oct 1979)
Article: Prayer and the Sovereignty of God
Author: John D. Hannah

Prayer and the Sovereignty of God

John D. Hannah

[John D. Hannah, Associate Professor of Historical Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.]

If God is sovereign, why should Christians pray? This is one of the perennial questions that inquiring Christian minds often reflect on or are naggingly troubled with. If God is sovereign, is not prayer a superfluous activity, or at best an exercise in meditation or some form of inspiring soliloquy? The question of the tension between solicitations to prayer and the presupposition of absolute sovereignty is but a harbinger of numerous other difficulties with the doctrine of prayer. Does prayer limit sovereignty? Does God change His mind? Is it possible that one’s will can prevail over God’s will? Is God obligated to answer prayer?

Prayer is so repeatedly commanded in the Scriptures that its necessity is unquestioned (e.g., 1 Tim 2:8); it is as manifestly evident as that of divine sovereignty. The initial step in resolving the apparent conflict is to define prayer. In the Reformed tradition prayer is viewed as an act of spiritual intercourse of the creature with the creator. According to Dabney, the brilliant Southern Presbyterian theologian, prayer is “the natural homage due from the creature to his heavenly Father.”1 Charles Hodge states that prayer is “the converse of the soul with God.”2 He further argues: “It is not therefore prayer as the mere uttering of words, nor prayer as the uttering of natural desires of affection, as when one prays for his own life or the life of those dear to him; but it is prayer as the real intercourse of the soul with God, by the Holy Ghost, that is, the Holy Ghost revealing truth, exciting feeling, and giving appropriate utterance.”3 Calvin’s discussion of prayer is located in an unusual place in his systematic theology; he prefaces the treatment of election and predestination with a lengthy treatment of the nature and significance of prayer. To Calvin prayer is the vehicle of spiritual exercise whereby the promises of blessing and comfort seen faintingly by the eye of faith are actualized in sight.

To prayer, then, are we indebted for penetrating to those riches which are treasured up for us with our heavenly Father. For there is a kind of intercourse between God and men, by which, having entered the upper sanctuary, they appear before Him and appeal to his promises, that when necessity requires, they may learn by experience, that what they believed merely of the authority of His word was not in va...

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