1

The "skeptic's prayer" was relatively recently brought to my attention by an answer to one of my questions on Philosophy Stack Exchange:

More in the vein of Schellenberg's argument above, I hope that I am sufficiently nonresistant to allow for more personal, direct conversion by God. I have said the "skeptic's prayer" sincerely at many points in my life but have yet to cross over to true belief (vs just motivated hope).

Different versions of the "skeptic's prayer" are available on several websites. Some examples I quickly found:

'God, I don't know whether you even exist. I'm a skeptic. I doubt. I think you may be only a myth. But I'm not certain (at least when I'm completely honest with myself). So, if you do exist, and if you really did promise to reward all seekers, you must be hearing me now. So I hereby declare myself a seeker, a seeker of truth, what-ever it is. I want to know the truth and live the truth. If you are the truth, please help me.' (source)

Hello God. Honestly, I don’t know if you are real or if I am talking to myself. People say this, others say that. I don’t know what to think about you, if there is a you, and all those big questions regarding life, the universe and everything.

What can I know about you? How can I know you? Who is worthy of trust in this world of confusion and betrayal?

If you are there, If I am not just talking to myself, touch me for a moment, so that I may find you, wherever you are, and whoever you may be.

Maybe if you will trust me a little, Give me a little mercy in my confusion, I could learn to trust you too. It’s not always easy being alive in this world. It would be nice to have some help.

My question is simple. Am I talking to myself here? Or do you somehow, somewhere exist? If in fact you exist, and are there for me, help me find you. I don’t know what else to say about this. I do know that yes or no, I want to know for myself. At least I think I do. In the meantime, I’ll just wait and see what happens. One more thing. What does this Jesus fellow have to do with this?

Ok I’m done praying. What’s the word for the end of a prayer – Amen, that’s what the church people say. Someone told me it means “so be it.” I want this to be in my life, whatever this may turn out to be. So I say Amen.

We say "Amen" with you too. (source)

Is there scriptural support for God being willing to answer the prayers of an open-minded skeptic who sincerely seeks a divine response, hoping that it would confirm to their satisfaction that God is real, if that is indeed the case?

And as a follow-up question, would a prayer like this work even in more extreme cases, such as the examples of non-believers referenced in my previous question Is it possible for an unbeliever who is steadfastly unconvinced or skeptical to genuinely embrace a saving faith in Christ??

1
  • 1
    I haven't thought some of your earlier questions were very well founded, but I think this is a good question. The idea of these skeptic prayers are fairly common, but also not all that clearly supported by the Bible.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 14 at 2:53

7 Answers 7

3

Luke 11

Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? 12 Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? 13 If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?

This teaching of Jesus seems to give an affirmative answer to the OP's question. But it begs another: does the skeptic's prayer constitute a "knocking" and "asking" with a heart humble enough to merit God's response? Or is it a cynical laying of the fleece before the Lord (Judges 6:37) in which the attitude of the asker is actually an offense. In the end, only God is qualified to judge the heart of a skeptic. But since the OP stipulates that we are dealing with an "open-minded skeptic who sincerely seeks a divine response" then the answer is surely "yes."

3
  • 2
    The context of that passage is important. Jesus is speaking to his disciples.
    – bob
    Commented Jan 14 at 21:16
  • 1
    I do agree that someone who truly seeks Jesus will indeed find him, but that’s not what OP is describing. They seem to be describing a combo of Pascal’s wager and putting out a fleece to have God prove his own existence. I’m not convinced this is earnest seeking, but rather covering one’s bases.
    – bob
    Commented Jan 14 at 21:22
  • @bob... as I mentioned, only God can judge this point, and since the OP stipulates that the prayer is sincere, I concluded it must be answered in the affirmative. Regarding the context, Matthew places the same saying near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, which concludes: "When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching," So although it began as a talk to his disciples, it ended as speech for a general audience. I think this does provide scriptural support for the proposition, although I'd agree it's not conclusive. Commented Jan 15 at 1:49
2

This is a difficult question because to my knowledge from reading through the Bible multiple times there’s no examples of this in the Bible (if I’m missing any relevant passages please let me know in the comments). There are passages that I think are relevant:

God has not hidden himself; we’ve closed our eyes to him

Romans 1:18-23 (ESV; emphasis mine)

18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,g in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

The Biblical basis for salvation is faith in Jesus that comes from hearing the gospel (the message of how to be saved; it’s in many many places in the Bible)

Romans 10:11-17 (ESV)

11For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?c And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

There’s a passage that addresses a form of asking God for something while doubting, and it’s not positive; faith is key

James 1:5-8 (ESV)

5If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Faith is required to please God

Hebrews 11:5-6

5By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 6And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell, but all to be saved

2 Peter 3:7-9

7But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

8But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,a not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Bottom Line

While God often has mercy on us in our weakness and sinfulness, based on the lack of positive examples in the he Bible of such a prayer and based on the above passages, I do not see a reasonable expectation that God would answer such a prayer because 1) he has already given us all the evidence in Creation we need of his existence, 2) he has established things so that we believe by hearing the gospel—he wants us to found our faith in his word, and 3) he desires us to put our faith in him (that he exists), but more than that in his Son Jesus and be saved. Faith is the key of Christianity and of the gospel—it is how you are saved and it is what separates those going to hell from those going to heaven. Praying and asking God if he exists runs counter to all this. If God answers such a prayer then it is in his mercy, and he is a merciful God! But I see no reason to pray such a prayer when God has established a biblical way to learn about himself.

If you want to know if Christianity is true, read the Bible. Talk to pastors and other mature Christians. Find out about the gospel. And of course if you want to know if God exists open the eyes of your heart as you look around you at nature. There’s no need nor any biblical basis of which I’m aware for putting God to the test for a personal sign to see if he exists and Jesus is the Messiah.

In other discussions about this topic on this site I’ve seen passages used in support of seeking a sign that mention signs in the context of faith but those signs are freely given by God through the apostles; when demanded, e.g. by those of Jesus’ fellow Israelites who rejected him, it was rebuffed by Jesus himself (look up “the sign of Jonah” in the Bible). And other passages about God asking the Jews to test him in his promises by tithing as they were required by the Law are out of context of this discussion, and arguably different—there God is basically begging them to believe him and his promise, that they should willingly give up some of their livelihood, a crazy thing in human wisdom, because God has promised to bless them over and above what they gave up (the tenth or tithe). Anyone arguing that we are to put God to the test in the context of this question needs to make sure to use such passages in context, and from what I see in the Bible, they do not support the idea of such a seeker’s prayer being Biblical. Seeking is good (there is no better thing than to find Jesus) but it must be on God’s terms, not ours. Faith is key.

8
  • Do you believe that Romans 1 is at odds with mainstream scientific views, such as abiogenesis and evolution? Usually these competing naturalistic scientific views are the reason why many skeptics are not persuaded by intelligent design arguments nowadays. There are also philosophical reasons, such as the problem of evil or the problem of divine hiddenness, that dissuade many from belief in God.
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 14 at 4:11
  • 2
    I do and I don’t. I do think it is at odds with philosophy being put forth as scientific theory that posits unfalsifiable scientific ideas about origins as all such things are really and truly outside of the realm of science; they’re matters of philosophy and religion, but we’re not being honest with ourselves about that today. That’s not to say that all of modern cosmology or paleontology is wrong, just that we’ve arrogantly gone too far and presumed to know what humankind cannot know without faith of some kind in something.
    – bob
    Commented Jan 14 at 4:17
  • 1
    That and Romans 1 addresses the deliberate refusal by humankind to acknowledge God, suppressing the truth. So collectively we’ve shut our eyes to the truth about him made evident in nature.
    – bob
    Commented Jan 14 at 4:25
  • You will probably find this discussion thread of interest: Is Romans 1:19-20 philosophically sound?
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 14 at 4:29
  • @Mark Thanks, just checked it out.
    – bob
    Commented Jan 14 at 5:20
2

I will attempt to answer my own question by arguing for the following points:

  1. God wants to be sought and found.
  2. God loves humanity and wishes the repentance, conversion and salvation of every sinner, including skeptics.
  3. God has the capacity to draw skeptics to Himself, even if by only granting a particle of faith, as the gift of saving faith originates from God, who takes the initiative.
  4. Everyone, including skeptics, can synergistically cooperate with God's grace by taking practical steps to increase their faith.
  5. Natural theology and Apologetics can be helpful to dispel fallacious objections and at least create some epistemic space for the possibility of God's existence, even if some margin of doubt and uncertainty still remains.

1. God wants to be sought and found.

Passage (ESV) Content
Acts 17:26-27 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us
Proverbs 8:17 I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.
Jeremiah 29:13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
Isaiah 55:6 Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;
Deuteronomy 4:29 But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.
2 Chronicles 15:2 and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.
Matthew 7:7-11 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him

2. God loves humanity and wishes the repentance, conversion and salvation of every sinner, including skeptics.

Passage (ESV) Content
1 Timothy 2:3-4 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Ezekiel 18:23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?

3. God has the capacity to draw skeptics to Himself, even if by only granting a particle of faith, as the gift of saving faith originates from God, who takes the initiative.

Passage (ESV) Content
Ephesians 2:8-10 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Romans 12:3-6 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;
1 Corinthians 12:4-11 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

4. Everyone, including skeptics, can synergistically cooperate with God's grace by taking practical steps to increase their faith.

Passage (ESV) Content
Matthew 17:20-21 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” 21 But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting
Romans 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
James 1:2-4 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Jude 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,
Mark 9:23-24 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

5. Natural theology and Apologetics can be helpful to dispel fallacious objections and create some epistemic space for the possibility of God's existence, even if some margin of doubt and uncertainty still remains.

Some passages that may lend credence to this view:

Passage (ESV) Content
Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Romans 1:18-24 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Acts 17:22-29 22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ 29 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.
1 Peter 3:15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,

On this matter, it is essential to recognize that a skeptic might contend for the legitimacy of their skepticism by citing scientific and philosophical reasons, which include:

That said, responses, along with counter-responses, exist for each of these points, fostering highly intricate debates on the subject. In these debates, there are smart people on all sides, arguing convincingly for and against different views. For example, philosophers like Graham Oppy make strong points for atheism, while thinkers like Willian Lange Craig and Alvin Plantinga bring up complex ideas supporting theism.

In this mix, a sincere and intellectually honest skeptic should be open not just to doubting others but also to doubting their own doubts. Recognizing the complexity of these discussions and the limits of our knowledge, such a skeptic should be epistemically open to the possibility that God might exist, even if clear-cut proofs do not exist. Being intellectually humble and willing to question one's own assumptions is key. This openness provides an opportunity for the skeptic to genuinely explore and make an honest attempt at seeking a personal encounter with God, and it makes sense that God, in His benevolence, would respond to such sincere efforts by unveiling glimpses of His presence or guiding the seeker toward the path of salvation and the gift of saving faith in Christ.


Addressing possible objections

"But a skeptic shouldn't be expecting a sign from God to make him believe. That's putting God to the test. Instead, the skeptic already has everything he needs to believe, so he should simply choose to believe".

The idea that one can simply "choose to believe" something arbitrarily and immediately is known in philosophy as direct doxastic voluntarism, and is a very, very controversial position to hold (source). It's even controversial among Christians (source). Personally, I'm strongly persuaded that it is plainly false. A simple confirmatory experiment: try to choose to believe right now that there is a teapot orbiting the Sun between the Earth and Mars. Believe this sincerely, at this very moment, without any doubts. I just can't. Instead, the perspective that generally garners more consensus is indirect doxastic voluntarism, suggesting that our control over our beliefs is only indirect. We can do so by choosing to take actions that may have an impact on what we believe in the long run, such as conducting investigation, weighing arguments and counter-arguments, and evaluating evidence. If indirect doxastic voluntarism is true (which is the view I hold), then a skeptic would only be able to attain the belief that God exists rationally through indirect means, over a period of time, for example, by engaging with arguments and evidence for/against God's existence and concluding rationally that the case for God's existence is stronger. However, this circles back to my earlier point about the complex and longstanding debates between theists and non-theists, in which it's highly improbable that a consensus will be reached in the near future.

Additionally, there is no reason to interpret the skeptic's request as the expectation of a physical sign, such as expecting that God will make a chair levitate to demonstrate the supernatural is real. Rather, God could very well answer the prayer in other ways, such as by granting the skeptic a stronger experience of the light of faith (if I may borrow terminology from Aquinas (source)).

3
  • 1
    A very thoughtful answer. +1. "Particle of faith" & "doubting their doubts" - nicely worded =) Commented Jan 15 at 2:18
  • 1
    @HoldToTheRod Thank you. I expanded my answer in response to some objections that Bob raised.
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 15 at 5:10
  • 1
    Looks like we were working on responses at the same time =) Commented Jan 15 at 5:14
1

This post is outlined as follows:

  1. Latter-day Saint perspective (the original extent of this post)
  2. Extreme cases
  3. A Biblical example
  4. A response to competing arguments

1. Latter-day Saint perspective

Yes!

There are multiple examples in the scriptures of people doing this -- the most well-known example from the Book of Mormon is in Alma 22:17-18

17 And it came to pass that when Aaron had said these words, the king did bow down before the Lord, upon his knees; yea, even he did prostrate himself upon the earth, and cried mightily, saying:

18 O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day.

A more full account, what led up to this, and the results thereof, can be found in Alma chapter 22.

There are several very important variables to highlight from this experience:

  • The king's prayer was preceded by instruction, which gave the king a correct understanding regarding the basics of the plan of salvation and the Gospel of Jesus Christ (see verses 13-14). If the king had received a "yes" in answer to his prayer, it wouldn't have helped him without first grasping what "yes" meant.
  • The king had been greatly humbled (see Alma chapter 20) and recognized that he was grievously trapped in sin with no ability to rescue himself through his own power (see Alma 22:13-15). This was quite an admission to make for a man who wielded tremendous earthly power (see verse 1)
  • The king sincerely wanted to fundamentally change his life (see verse 15)
  • The king had real intent. In a prior chapter he had been willing to give up half his kingdom to save his mortal life (see Alma 20:21-23). Now, he is willing to give up his entire kingdom, and all his sins, anything God asks of him, in order to have the truth (see Alma 22:15,16,18). He is all-in and 100% committed to act upon the answer he receives (as also evidenced by his actions in later chapters, after his conversion)

2. Extreme Cases

Can this work in extreme cases? Yes!

The king in question was an extreme case: he was the leader of what in today's terms we would probably call a terrorist state. He was also politically & socially prominent (so very real image impact to change his life). He even referred to what he and his people had done previously as "murders" (Alma 24:10). Even he could change.

28 Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden. (2 Nephi 26:28)


3. A Biblical example

I believe the example I cited above is the clearest scriptural parallel (in the canon I recognize) to the examples in the OP. Several have expressed interest in an example specifically from the Old or New Testament -- I will offer such an example in the person of Saul of Tarsus.

Saul was not skeptical of God in general, but he was highly skeptical of the Christian understanding of Deity.

So skeptical, in fact, that he didn't just remain ambivalent or agnostic on the question, like his teacher Gamaliel advised (see Acts 5:34-39), but he actively fought against Christians. He pursued imprisonment and harm against them, and at the very least was what we would today call "a person of interest" in the murder of Stephen.

At the end of the day, I see relatively little practical difference between one who resists obedience to God because they:

  • worship a god of their own making, which god is not believed to have supernatural powers (e.g. scientism) vs.
  • worship a god of their own making, which god is believed to have supernatural powers (e.g. the idols Paul rejects in Acts 17:19)

Paul's criticism of the Greeks on Mars hill is that they are worshipping things made by the hands of men (what powers those idols were thought to have is actually pretty irrelevant). An atheist can just as easily do this today.

Thus, I see Saul, when confronted with the God taught by Christianity, as being every bit a skeptic--if not more so--than those quoted in the OP. So how does Saul respond when something happens in his life to prompt him to doubt his doubts?

And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? (Acts 22:8a)

And I said, What shall I do, Lord? (Acts 22:10a)

I see a clear parallel between these questions and those listed in the OP. Saul didn't ask these questions because he had already believed in Jesus. He asks the first question because he genuinely doesn't know (aka I hereby declare myself a seeker, a seeker of truth, what-ever it is) He asks the second question because the first question was sincere and he wants to know how to proceed (aka I want to know the truth and live the truth. If you are the truth, please help me).

Saul utters a skeptic's prayer -- at the time the first words leave his mouth he does not believe in Jesus. BUT! Saul offers a sincere skeptic's prayer. His later actions demonstrate he had real intent to follow through on whatever answer he was given, even if it required a dramatic rearrangement of his priorities (spoiler alert: it did).


4. A response to competing arguments

User bob has provided a competing view - I appreciate bob's argument and would like to respond to 4 points made therein.

Sign seeking

Is the skeptic's prayer a quest for truth or a case of sign-seeking? The words of the skeptic's prayer could be exactly the same in either case, but the intent matters.

The quintessential example of faithless sign-seeking is found in Matthew 27:

41 Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said,

42 He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.

This was not a sincere desire to know the truth.

I am not qualified to adjudicate in general which person's prayer is sincere and which is not, but with the benefit of hindsight it is clear that Saul's prayer in Acts 22 was sincere--he didn't want a sign to satisfy a challenge, he wanted truth.

"Ask and it shall be given you" and "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God" are not invitations to flatter one's intellectual vanity - they are directions to those who sincerely seek to find truth.

--

Has God already given us all the evidence through the creation?

I do believe the creation provides grounds to believe in God. However, it does not tell us everything we need to know about God. If the creation triggers within a person a genuine desire to know if God exists and what that means, and said person acts upon that prompting to seek greater light & knowledge, I would consider that a success.

The same man who wrote the teleological argument in Romans 1 also asked on the road to Damascus "What shall I do, Lord?"

He knew that God existed, but he needed further information to know what to do about it. He asked for that information, and he received.

--

I see no reason to pray such a prayer when God has established a biblical way to learn about himself.

The people in the Bible didn't have a Bible, so there must be an additional way to learn about God.

True, Saul had the Hebrew Bible, but he knew it back to front before the road to Damascus and he still managed to misunderstand it until he asked God some specific questions (noted above). Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and many others didn't even have the Hebrew Bible, but they too were able to learn about God.

Perhaps the most effective course is to learn about God the way the people in the Bible learned about God. My read of the Bible leads me to the conclusion that this includes both studying existing holy records and sincere prayer (and much more).

--

he desires us to put our faith in him (that he exists), but more than that in his Son Jesus and be saved.

I couldn't agree more!

There is a common misconception, particularly among atheists (though it's found elsewhere too), that God's leading priority is convincing us that He exists. No, it isn't! If that were priority #1 of course He could give a show of power that nobody could deny.

He wants us to exercise faith in Jesus Christ and to experience the transformation derivative from it. If an overwhelming show of power would provide conviction without conversion, belief without faith, change without commitment, or obedience without transformation, then for God's purposes this would be counterproductive. He will not convince us that He exists if in so doing He would actually make it harder for us to progress.

Providing us with knowledge that we are not ready for would only serve to condemn us further (see Luke 12:47-48), so to those who would not use revealed knowledge productively He withholds knowledge as an act of mercy.

But surely if a person knows that a loving, Omnipotent God exists then failing to follow His plan is irrational? (Yes, but for a person who knows about lung cancer smoking is irrational too....often there is tension between what we want right now and what we want long-term)

A good teacher knows that students will struggle to appreciate an answer if they did not appreciate the question -- so God encourages us to ponder & ask questions, not to seek a sign, but to receive the answers we're prepared for.

If forcing belief erects barriers to conversion, a loving God isn't going to force belief.


Conclusion

Is there scriptural support for such a prayer? Yes.

But just saying it isn't nearly enough.

1
1

Is there scriptural support for the "skeptic's prayer" as a legitimate plea that God might be open to answering?

The short answer is yes.

”Help me overcome my unbelief!”

It is almost normal in everyone’s life that we can become somewhat sceptical about our faith, to the point that at times some Christians even lose their faith. The sense of a skeptic’s prayer is not limited to unbelievers or atheists, Christians can be skeptical of their own faith. Thus we should recall the prayer of the man in the Gospel who declared: , “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

The skeptic by the very fact that he prays, is interiorly allowing the door of faith to remain open and as such God’s grace may enter in.

19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. - Mark 9:19-27

Whether in moments of doubt or skepticism which affects individuals, prayer is often the only remedy available to these souls!

Lord, help me in my unbelief!

4
  • 1
    But the first half of that cry was “I do believe”. It wasn’t “if you exist help me believe”.
    – bob
    Commented Jan 14 at 16:01
  • @bob Yeah, but he acknowledged his unbelief. Thus he had a doubt or was skeptical of getting help.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jan 14 at 16:07
  • 1
    Right, just saying on the spectrum from 0-100% faith he wasn’t at zero. I’d argue the person genuinely praying OP’s prayer is arguably at zero. They won’t even say they believe as this man did.
    – bob
    Commented Jan 14 at 16:08
  • If a skeptic prays he opens the door to grace. That very fact is showing his skeptical reasons are weak. Likewise the skeptical one is not arguably 0%, but rather well above that, as is has value in prayer!
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jan 14 at 16:15
1

Any Prayer is Acceptable to God

The topic of systematization or codification of prayers is a matter of personal preference. The Nave Bible dictionary has a long list of verse about seeking God, and even for believers to continually seek the presence/face of God. There is no need to focus on a strict specific prayer as if it may work like a charm to unlock the mysterious world, or they may impress God with words of eloquence. If you are concerned about seeking God or praying, your heart matters, not the words.

[Matt 6:5-8 NHEB] "And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I tell you, they have received their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your inner chamber, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And in praying, do not use vain repetitions, as the unbelievers do; for they think that they will be heard for their much speaking. Therefore do not be like them, for your Father knows what things you need, before you ask him.

When you want to pray, you can simply talk to God anywhere in any form. The important thing is that you should know that God, being omniscient, already knows your needs and questions (Isa 65:24). If you're seeking God and wanting to submit to him, he already knows this. I assume some questions on faith tag on reasonablefaith maybe helpful to you. I have often noticed from some questions on that site that people are more focused on faith than on righteousness, as if they want the consolation of being secured and saved through faith and that conviction of God's spirit in their heart. This is a misguided approach for agnostic seekers, as they see faith being the determining factor of one's eternal fate. The meaning of salvation is to save people from sins into righteousness. Your efforts or behaviour matters more than just faith (see, James 2, Romans 2, Ezekiel 18, 33). If you are in such a thought process, I encourage you to take your relationship with God as a gradual process rather than waiting for a special encounter of faith or miraculous communication or signs; start attending a church service and reading the Bible with prayers, which means personal communication with God.

If you are really desperate, then there are stories where servants of God prayed persistently for many days, and forced God to show them visions, hence, anything is possible if you have faith. From the testimonies of miraculous encounters from seekers, I have noticed that they were in a dire situation of their lives, depressed and suicidal and God revealed himself or showed visions. Some of them even gave an ultimatum to God to kill themselves unless he shows himself, and they were given a message or a Christian tract right before their deed which lead to the encounter. This kind of radical approach is not recommended.

Jeremiah 29:13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart Psa 10:17 LORD, you have heard the desire of the humble. You will prepare their heart. You will cause your ear to hear,
1Pet 3:11-12 Let him turn away from evil, and do good. Let him seek peace, and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears open to their prayer; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."
John 9:31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshipper of God, and does his will, he listens to him.

1

Judges 6:36-40

And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.

This is not precisely the same circumstance, but the concept is the same in principle. It was a prayer made in doubt, but sincere nonetheless. It shows that God is willing to answer and to even give signs, if the prayer is sincere and in his will. A skeptic’s prayer, prayed in sincerity, is an attempt to seek God. God wants all to seek him. The precedent is there that he would answer, and possibly even give a sign as requested.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .