Miracles, prayers, and the laws of the universe

A mystery too perplexing for many

Atheists frequently raise this objection, but many theists too have a hard time reconciling miracles and prayers with God’s prescience and wisdom. How do miracles and prayers make sense in a world where everything happens according to God’s Will? If it is accepted that God created the universe and the laws governing it (so goes the argument) and if it is also accepted that miracles do happen from time to time, does that not mean that the laws were not perfect in the first place? Furthermore, why should anybody pray to God when a) God’s plan is perfect, and b) His Will is going to prevail anyway?

Science enthusiasts seem to have the greatest difficulty with miracles. They tend to reject anything extraordinary or unfamiliar by declaring it ‘unscientific’ and therefore outside the realms of possibility. While it is true that science has had spectacular success in explaining many phenomena of the universe; it is rather easy to be so intoxicated by that success as to start believing that every phenomenon lies inside the domain of science and therefore anything that science cannot account for must ipso facto be a fantasy. Here, a rule of thumb that has served this writer well is this: the more somebody flaunts science the less he knows what he is talking about.

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Reaction against centuries of poor conduct by people of faith has also produced, in large numbers, well-meaning rationalists who – very much like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other – have come to put their whole emphasis on works. According to them, you reap strictly what you sow and therefore prayers are meaningless. In this purely mechanical world view the only effective thing is action. This philosophy has the merit of seeing an important part of the picture; but by being blind to the complete picture it tends to overestimate man’s power, which is to his detriment in more ways than one.

The same mindset is at work behind either of the difficulties. It is the insistence on reducing God to the status of a silent spectator, who in the initial creation of the universe has set everything in motion according to His perfect plan so that now the laws take care of themselves without His involvement. The problem with this picture is that it recognises God as the Creator but fails to see Him as the Living Sustainer. Far from being a detached reality, He is very much involved in the working of the universe. His permission is required at every moment of every event (not just the beginning), whether it is everyday occurrences like lifting cups of tea or beautiful sunsets, or the more ‘miraculous’ ones.

God is by no means constrained by His own laws. He is not subject to anything – He is the Absolute (Independent of everything). It is nothing other than His Will that manifests itself as the laws of the universe. That His Sunnat (characteristic way of doing things) never changes is His own choosing, not something forced on Him. Miracles, from our point of view then, are not suspensions of the laws of the universe but unusual applications of them. That we tend to think that God occasionally acts in an uncharacteristic manner may simply be owing to our lack of knowledge of broader, more encompassing laws. Is it that difficult to grasp? After all, it is not as if humans have solved every other problem to their satisfaction.

That we tend to think that God occasionally acts in an uncharacteristic manner may simply be owing to our lack of knowledge of broader, more encompassing laws. Is it that difficult to grasp? After all, it is not as if humans have solved every other problem to their satisfaction.

A Muslim therefore has no difficulty in believing any number of extraordinary things – from people waking up after sleeping for three hundred years to dead men raised back to life to a sea parting in two. In fact, the greatest ‘unscientific’ event of all: every man rising from his grave on the Day of Judgment (when the heavens and the earth will be turned into very different heavens and earth) forms an integral belief of Islam. If the same Muslim does not accept some other events narrated in traditions by one or two individuals, it is not because he doubts God’s power to make them happen or because they are ‘unscientific’ but because he believes that such happenings ought to have been more widely reported than they were, given their unusual nature.

What about prayers? When a man asks something from his Lord, the very act of asking reminds him that it is God who is in charge, and that his own efforts (necessary though they are) are not sufficient to produce his desired results. Not only does this make for a seriousness of purpose on his part (in terms of his own efforts) and help him keep his feet firmly on the ground if his prayer is granted; but it also helps him come to terms with the outcome in case his prayer is not answered. Moreover, knowing that he is only responsible for his efforts (not outcomes) he does not feel compelled to resort to desperate, underhand tactics to achieve the results of his liking. As for how prayers can possibly be answered in a world run on God’s perfect laws, pray what is so inconceivable about a law that takes into consideration man’s prayers in addition to the other factors at play?

There is more controversy here than there needs to be. First raised hundreds of years ago, these queries have been answered in every century. Unfortunately, these things have a way of operating in cycles where each new generation, blissfully oblivious to anything that happened before it, thinks that it is the first time anybody has ever thought of such questions.

Hasan Aftab Saeed
Hasan Aftab Saeed
The author is a connoisseur of music, literature, and food (but not drinks). He can be reached at www.facebook.com/hasanaftabsaeed

1 COMMENT

  1. It appears that here has been chronic duel between the clerics and the scientists. The clerics rejected what the scientists presented as facts and figures about our earth and the planetary system, what they discovered as a fact. The clerics rejected those facts for the fear of losing the power of the hierarchy of their domination over lay people.
    So what is SCIENCE? Factually Science can be described as unravelling of mysteries placed in every matter either solid, liquid or in gaseous state by Lord Almighty.
    The scientists, who do not acknowledge the existence of the Almighty are still liked by the Almighty. We all can see Almighty’s appreciation of scientists’ hard work for the success they achieve. They achieve, eventually in unravelling the mystery that the Almighty has placed in ever matter.
    We believe in everything we see, either it is the work of the Almighty or the success the scientists achieve because their hard work.
    We believe that those millions of balls of rock and dust or gases or whatever known to us as little stars are the creation and in control of Almighty. We believe in magic when we see it being performed right in front of our eyes for which the hard working scientists have no explanation.
    The scientists have brought upon themselves what can be described short sightedness just because of limiting their sphere of belief. The belief that they will reject magic even when performed in front of their eyes.
    We believe in the power of prayers as we see it many a times being answered by the Almighty at his discretion.

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