How does the Church of England reconcile these three things, which seem at odds with each other:

  1. The bible tells us to ask for things in prayer (ask for what we want / ask for bad things not to happen).
  2. Humans have free will.
  3. The universe operates according to physical laws (ignoring miracles reported in the Bible).

I don't know why it took me 30 years to realise that these three don't make sense when you consider them together. If I pray that my children won't get kidnapped or crushed in a landslide, how could God possibly grant that request without denying the kidnapper's free will, or altering the natural state of a cliff face? These might not be great examples; what about asking for someone to be healed, asking for people to survive an earthquake you've just heard about, asking for world leaders to make the right decisions? How can God grant those wishes?

Is there a single thing you can ask for, without violating the 'rules' of free will and nature? Ask for courage/patience for yourself perhaps, that might work.

To my (limited) brain it seems like this one aspect of prayer is pointless. I feel a bit stupid about all those fervent prayers I made for world peace. Why do we ever ask for anything, if it is pointless?

I understand that there are other aspects to prayer (asking forgiveness, expressing love/worship, thanking) so it is just the one aspect (making requests) that seriously troubles me. I must have got it wrong somewhere...

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    There doesn't seem to be a necessary contradiction, so long as one is praying correctly. Prayer only asks that God incite in a soul or some event the good that He has incited in us to pray. We must recall that no good thing, including prayer itself, is done that is not firstly compelled to be done by God who is good itself, lest we believe we are accountable for the good that comes through us. God compelling good in a soul in no way destroys our will; it sets it free. The same can be said of the good that comes of actualized prayer requests.
    – Jecko
    Sep 2, 2015 at 23:22
  • It's less about MY will, and more about the will of kidnappers, or the natural laws governing an eroding cliff face. Sep 16, 2015 at 10:07
  • As stated, in any case of God's will being done, there is no contradiction of free will, for such is a misunderstanding of free will. Free will in many theologies does not contradict predestination. Free will is simply that agent which chooses one's end, according to one's existing ability. It is not an agent that chooses to do a thing outside of one's ability, so as to somehow act in a way outside of God's will. As such, in no case can we reasonably believe that God's will being done means that we have no free will. The two are not equal powers, and so do not 'cancel each other out'.
    – Jecko
    Sep 16, 2015 at 21:43

3 Answers 3


I don't think there's any official C of E doctrine about this.

I think it's worth remembering that prayer is not any kind of magic spell, and that the Almighty is not bound by space and time. Conversing with the Lord about what you'd like to happen is one thing; being disgruntled when you don't get what you asked for, as if the Lord were a genie from a lamp, is another. And your question makes a distinction between the natural laws of the universe and the action of God, as if they were separate things. They aren't, any more than God's work of sanctification in you is a separate thing from you trying to do good works.

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    Welcome! Thanks for contributing. If you haven't already done so, I hope you'll take a minute to take the tour and learn how this site is different from others. Regarding this particular answer, if there's no official doctrine on a particular topic, a good way to focus your answer is to quote theologians affiliated with the Church of England who have dealt with this or similar issues. I hope to see you post again soon! Jan 23, 2016 at 3:06
  • My question was deemed unanswerable unless I added a particular flavour of Christianity. So I put CoE. The question wasn't so much about MY prayer being unanswered, but ANY prayer ever made. I'm a bit lost as to the apparent clash of logic. Jan 24, 2016 at 8:15

The world operates by secondary physical laws that are still directed by God as the primary actor. Now if I say, I will get my daughter for her birthday whatever she asks for but if she doesn't ask I will get her that dolly. Prayer is analogous. Obviously, if you don't pray you are the one accepting the default, whatever that is that God does when you refuse to take part in your own welfare. And I marvel that someone who often talks to their spouse just to talk, will not talk with God about anything.


The problem is the whole world is in the hands of people, and people aren't by their very nature followers of whats right. The Bible clearly tells us this.

Some people have a very difficult job doing right and seem to revel in rebellion. And God put the dominion of the planet into the hands of people at a time when they weren't that bad. In other words the Garden of Eden.

I do admire you for having a heart for World Peace, it is a very noble thing to do. And I love your heart attitude for it.

Jesus taught us to pray like this ... "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". He didn't teach us to pray for world peace. We are living in some pretty difficult times, the best thing we can do is to follow Christ and enjoy the life he has promised for those that follow Him.

I have discovered that more of my prayers are answered when I am walking closely with the Lord.

We also have to have faith for what we ask for. There are stories of Jesus not being able to heal some people because of their unbelief. And in another story the disciples asked why they could not deliver someone of an evil spirit. Jesus told them it was because of their lack of faith.

We also have the fact that angels are sent to change the natural order of things.
The prophet Daniel said that an angel was sent to shut the mouths of lions. And there are many stories of people in our present times seeing angels appear to deliver them. A friend of mine had an angel appear in his room when he was being harmed by an evil spirit after he was praying against spiritual darkness. The angel struck the spirit and it ran through the wall to get away. A friend in the same church had fallen out of his wheelchair when Jesus appeared to him and he found the strength to get up.

Try to make sure the things we pray for are Gods will for us. God can change the natural order of physical laws, we just have to have faith for it.

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    David, while I don't disagree with anything you wrote, it has nothing to do with the beliefs or teachings of the Church of England, and therefore fails to address the question.
    – brasshat
    Sep 3, 2015 at 2:52
  • I had to add the CoE aspect, because my question was considered to be unanswerable without it (I think Catholics have a specific teaching in this area, but it's not for everyone). Sep 3, 2015 at 9:22
  • Hi Brasshat, my reponse was based upon the fact there are Bible believing Christians and non Bible believing people in all denominations. I honestly doubt if The church of England holds any specific teaching on this subject, though an individual from the denomination who may have written a book about it. That isn't the same as a church of England doctrine that all people hold to. So I doubted he would get the response he wanted. I am more than willing to remove the post as it was only intended to help him.
    – David Keel
    Sep 3, 2015 at 9:27
  • Hi Magnus if it's not what you wanted I will take it down.
    – David Keel
    Sep 3, 2015 at 9:29
  • It is not a 'wrong' answer, so no need to remove. I'm afraid it doesn't fully answer my problem though. Sep 4, 2015 at 11:50

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