I have been struggling with a question about prayer and free will. For background, please watch this 6 minute youtube clip where Ravi Zacharias answers a question about free will. The question asked was "why doesn't God intervene and prevent people from committing bad things?" His answer is basically if God interferes then there is no free will and with no free will there is no love. I fully agree and understand the answer given by Ravi.

My question is "When we pray for others, how does God work in their lives and still respect their free will?" The way I see it, the answer can go two ways:

  1. Maybe God uses his sovereignty and breaks the law of free will and works in their lives. If that is so, then we are not really free.

  2. Or, God works in their lives some how maintaining their free will. If that is the case then why is prayer required as God can still work in everybody's lives and make every person good but still maintain free will.

I'm not fully satisfied by either option. How does Ravi Zacharias answer this conundrum?

  • Why do they not sound right?
    – Steve
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 0:54
  • I believe there is free will otherwise God will not be justified when someone is condemned to hell. So (a) may not be the answer. If God can work in people's lives and still maintain free will then why doesn't he work without prayer? That is my problem with (b).
    – Geos
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 1:01
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    Welcome Geos. Contrary to popular opinion, this isn't a typical forum/discussion board: it's a Q&A site, where we don't attempt to discover the truth, per se. Instead we objectively describe and learn what specific groups of Christians believe. So a question like this needs to be narrowed to the perspective of a particular tradition or denomination. When you get a chance, I hope you'll take a minute to take the tour and learn how this site is different from others. Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 2:02
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    Yes I would like to know how would Ravi Zacharias respond to it. Also, from Arminianism view point.
    – Geos
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 2:43
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    Have you considered attempting tp contact Ravi Zacharias and ask him yourself? I had a question about a Catholic popularist and was actually able to find her contact information, so I sent her an email. After a while, she kindly responded. It's worth a try.
    – Andrew
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 17:59

1 Answer 1


Ravi Zacharias sort of assumes (but I don't think ever tries to prove) that God is sovereign, and in that sovereignty has decided to give us wills of our own.

To begin the chapter "Does Prayer Make Any Difference?" in Zacharias' book Has Christianity Failed You? Zacharias states that

Christianity does not promise that you will have every question fully answered to your satisfaction before you die, but the answers it gives are consistently consistent. There may be paradoxes within Christian teaching and belief, but they are not irreconcilable.

Though he is speaking from the context of sorrow and unanswered prayer he does touch a bit on how our wills related to God's in prayer:

Through Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane we learn the most important thing about prayer -- that it is ultimately a conversational relationship in which God does for you what you cannot do for yourself. It is not trying to persuade God to rethink his will but the means through which God reshapes you into a person who desires his will and is content to receive it, regardless of what it entails.

This is not fatalism. It is not defeat. It is not confusion. It is not a cop-out. It is sometimes easier to resist God's will than to have faith and confidence in God and in his specific purpose for each one of us.

In The Grand Weaver (excerpt here), he retells a story written by Arnold Fine, of high school sweethearts, separated by a parent, that re-meet in their old age. The story ends with "How good the work of the Lord is", but Zacharias notes that there are three wills in play in addition to God's; "the work of a sovereign God leaves all of us overwhelmed at the way God weaves the threads."

Zacharias makes no attempt to fit the free will vs. determinism argument into a logical framework that makes perfect sense and fits in a shiny box1 -- in whatever way God may work in and through people, he does it in a way that does not override their freedom. In his book Walking from East to West, he says that God works "from the shadows", nudging, pushing, and guiding, rather than forcing and dominating.

1 Like many apologists, Zacharias tends to avoid internal theological debates, preferring to focus on presenting or defending the common beliefs of [a subset of] Christianity.

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