I’m going to discuss two related issues which were cropping up in my impromptu debate with JD Walters.
1. One traditional argument in Christian apologetics is the argument from miracles. In this argument, miracles are viewed as having special evidentiary value.
As a preliminary step, it is often thought necessary to provide a precise definition of a miracle, a definition which includes all and only miraculous events.
It is necessary to clearly demarcate miracles from ordinary providence because, so the argument goes, ordinary providence lacks the same evidentiary value as miracles. Ordinary providence is more susceptible to a naturalistic interpretation.
2. Now, I have no problem with the argument from miracles, per se. However, I don’t distinguish miracles from providence on evidentiary terms. God reveals himself in ordinary providence no less than he does in signs and wonders.
3. Answered prayer can also be cited for its evidentiary value. But when prayer is viewed apologetically, the same traditional distinction comes into play. It’s important, from an apologetic standpoint, to be fairly certain that an apparent answered prayer is an actual answered prayer. For if you mistake a mere coincidence for an answered prayer, then there’s nothing “special” about what happened. The outcome no longer implicates a supernatural agent.
4. Once again, I don’t have any problem with the role of answered prayer in Christian apologetics. However, the apologetic dimension is not the only or primary way to view prayer.
For if a Christian already knows that God is real, then he can never go wrong by attributing an event to God. For one way or another, God lies behind every event.
Maybe he’s mistaken in thinking that the outcome represents an answer to prayer. But be that as it may, God is still responsible for the outcome.
Is a Christian wrong to thank God for answering his prayer if, in fact, God did not answer his prayer? Well, he’s wrong in the sense that he misinterpreted the outcome. But it’s never wrong to thank God for the outcome, even if you misinterpret the outcome in some respect.
5. Of course, one can also have false expectations about prayer, as well as overconfidence in discerning God’s providence. But we should never be hesitant to express our gratitude to God. We can go wrong in other respects, but not in that respect.