Turretin Fan is an erudite, logical, and thorough apologist. In many respects a model apologist, both in style and substance.
I agree with everything he says about prayers to and through the dead. I agree with almost everything he says about prayers for the dead.
However, the final paragraph of §1 raises an interesting question:
Thus, there is no third category - no third option that exists, where prayers for the deceased would have any value. Accordingly, we reject prayers for the dead as vain and superstitious, and we do not engage in such prayers.
This goes to the larger question of whether it’s ever appropriate to pray for a past outcome.
Keep in mind that God is timeless. At an ontological level, nothing is past, present, for future to God. At an epistemic level, God is, of course, aware of past, present, and future since he himself decreed the entire history of the world.
One unspoken assumption of TF’s denial is that God cannot change the past. What’s past is immutable. Over and done with.
I agree with that assumption. As such, it would be improper to pray for a past outcome if you know the outcome. That would be asking god to do something that even omnipotence cannot do. Asking him to perform a pseudotask.
But that leaves another scenario to deal with. What if the outcome is past, but we don’t know the outcome? Is it permissible to pray for a past outcome under those circumstances?
Offhand, I don’t see why not. That reflects a limitation, not on what is possible, but on what is known. We’re not asking God to change the past.
Rather, we’re asking a timeless God, who knows what we ask before we ask it, to have brought about a particular outcome.
Although it’s not possible to change the past, it’s possible to affect the past. Not to change what was, but to change what would have been–absent prayer.
I don’t think this scenario is that unusual. We hear about a loved one who was involved in a life-threatening accident or natural disaster. A plane crashing. A coalmine caving in. A tornado striking a small town.
By the time we hear about it, the life-threatening event is past. Our loved one is either dead or alive.
We learn about the event after the fact. We see it on the news. Or receive a frantic phone call.
What do we do? We pray for him. We pray that God spared him. We do so even though, at the time we pray, the outcome is a fait accompli. And we do so knowing that, at the time we pray, the outcome is a fait accompli.
But we also know that God’s answer to prayer isn’t always constrained by our timing. For God doesn’t have to wait until we pray for something to know what we’re going to pray for. And although the result of answered prayer is ordinarily subsequent to the prayer, the answer isn’t subsequent to the prayer. Rather, God answered our prayer from all eternity.
Offhand, I don’t think it’s wrong to pray for the fate of a loved-one in case his fate is unknown to us–even if his fate is sealed. Of course, that would need to be a qualified prayer. We’re not asking God to change the postmortem status of our loved one. That’s irrevocable.
But we’re timebound creatures praying to a timeless God. And there are some situations where time is not a barrier to prayer. Our ignorance of the outcome is not, of itself, a reason to refrain from praying for a particular outcome, even though the outcome is a done deal by the time we pray.