Jun 9, 1999

Does Praying God for Something Contradict With Our Trust that He Gives Us the Best?

  • Translated by: Aisha Rafea
  • Prepared for publishing by: Aliaa Rafea
Q: When I pray God, sometimes, to make things go the way I want. I cannot avoid feeling some contradiction; how come that I believe that God knows beforehand what I want, and does the best for me, and then I feel the need to pray Him to give me what I want?
A: The whole thing depends on how a person feels sincerely. It is very natural that when a person estimates something as “good”, he goes ahead in the way of fulfilling it. In that case when he prays God, the prayer is part of the practical action. When a person is faced by the fact that all what he has in hand is not enough to fulfill what he considers “good”, he directs his face to God seeking his support. On the level of the unseen, or the unknown, it is quite possible that what a person prays for is not really for his good. It might be better for him that things stay the way they are. From his part and from the standpoint of what is apparent, he cannot put the unseen dimension in his consideration. He should not start action from an unknown point. He has to start from what he sees as “good” according to evident criteria of judgement, and pray God for support. Then he has to be sure that what comes next is an affair of God.

To elaborate, we do confirm that a person is supposed to be very responsive to actual or definite surroundings. With given means he has to work hard to realize his goals. His work is the means for achieving the assigned goal. The result of what he does is part of an overall effective will of God. To be sure of that is a matter of “faith”; but should not put primary limitations to a person’s action whether the exertion of physical effort or praying God. It is true that God does what He wills, but the means for fulfilling the divine will is man’s action. God fulfills his will through motivating humans to be enthusiastic about things, giving them the strong will to achieve them. Nevertheless, on the apparent level a person is responsible for all what he does. What matter is that a person is honest and sincere in his vision and intentions. Hence we cannot say that praying God for something contradicts with a person’s belief. On the contrary man should seek God’s support even when he is sure that things are within his reach. God tells us in Koran “ I respond to him who calls upon Me”(HQ:2: 186). So when a person does not pray God for support it implies that he thinks that he can do without Him.
Prophet Muhammad gives us a perfect example of righteousness when God tells him about a group of very corrupted persons,” I won’t forgive them even if you prayed seventy times for their sake”. He said, “ I shall pray for their sake more”. Of course Prophet Muhammad did not mean to challenge the divine judgement. He was only consistent with the overwhelming, unconditioned feelings of mercy he has within. The divine judgement, we have to be sure, does not work in vacuum, nor without means. The divine judgement is working through us. We are tools for the working divine will. To give an example, when a clever physician treats a patient properly, it is the divine will that is in effect, and the tool is the cleverness of the physician. If the patient was left without treatment assuming that it is God who is going to treat him, this would be a perfect example of ignorance about the divine law of life, for the law works through means and tools. On another level we can discern the action of the divine will when, for instance, a patient is complaining from a very simple and straightforward disease, then physicians give wrong diagnosis and the patient’s case deteriorates. We do feel then that not everything is in man’s hands, there is an overall transcendent will at work. Man is guided to the righteous direction within the action of that overall will. When a physician is aware of that, he does not stop, from his side, from doing his best to diagnose properly and prescribing what he knows as the best medication. Awareness of the existence of the overall divine will should not make him refrain from blaming himself for the mistake he made, escape from the responsibility or work hard in order to avoid such a mistake later.
Q: So, if we did our best to achieve what we want, we won’t achieve it if it were against God’s will?
A: The way the question is put is not proper. As it happened in Islamic history when philosopher went into long conversations about predestination and free will and put them as two extreme opposites. Some claimed that man is a mere subject of predestination. Others defended absolute free will. When the question is not proper the answer is not proper either. The issue is much more complicated than just reducing life into two words: “either” “or”. Several variables interact. Reduction causes very big confusions.
Let’s start from our own actual life. Don’t we have free will? Don’t we make decisions and go on putting them into practice? Didn’t every one of us come to that gathering according to his own free will? Didn’t he choose how to come? Isn’t it true that every one of us has a plan for tomorrow or even just after the gathering is over? Is it reasonable to deny completely that man has an effective free will? When we say “ God’s will” applies to everything we do, it is a talk on the abstract level, the “faith” level which is a belief that man’s will is not superior to the will of God. That is why a believer says when he achieves success in any matter, “I was guided by the divine grace”, a verse in Koran says, “you will only when Allah wills”(HQ:81: 29). So on the “faith” level, we do admit that whatever happens in the whole universe God knows it, and wills it. I should not put myself between two presumably opposite options: either predestination or free will. Simply because I am subject to both of them concurrently. On the practical, limited, definite level I should assume full responsibility of all what I do because I do it with free will as long as I have reason, and I have the choice. At the same time I do have a “faith” that the Supreme Power exists, controls everything and creates means and tools that carry on His will. That faith makes man thank God when he does well because he is guided by Him. He also asks for forgiveness when he does wrong.
The question you are asking is so frequently repeated in some other form: Does man have an existence separate from the Existence of God? The answer is yes and also no. Man exists independently because he has an earthly entity with a working will. He is responsible. He does good and he does bad. He is sometimes right and other times wrong. Man does not
have a separate existence from the Existence of God because actually he is part of the whole universe that is moving in accordance with an overall, perfect, and accurate divine plan. Within that plan man is carrying on a mission he is charged with.
Realizing that should not push man away from considering very well how to deal properly with surrounding circumstances. For example, if a person witnesses a crime taking place; someone is about to kill another. Would that person hesitate a moment in trying to stop that action assuming that he is considering whether or not God wants that one be killed or saved, then reacts accordingly? Any sensible person would move spontaneously with no hesitation and try to stop the crime. He might succeed or fail. He might be harmed himself unexpectedly. Nevertheless he would feel responsible for sending evil back. Otherwise he would be a partner in the crime himself. Any sensible man accepts this logic and it does not contradict whatsoever with the logic of “faith”: God is behind everything in the universe.
To conclude, man should say to himself: it is my duty and responsibility to try to send evil back, to fight falseness, and to widespread the word of truth. I might succeed or fail to reach my goals. What matters is that I tried sincerely to have a good vision, I moved with no hesitation in the direction that I thought good. To make goodness prevail I used all my tools to the maximum: reasoning, physical work, and prayer of the heart