I think prayer is, in part, a way of attempting to control complex systems that we do not understand. To illustrate, here are some examples of prayers people might say:
- “God, please let my candidate win the election.”
- “God, please don’t let the hurricane tearing through town hit my house.”
- “God, please don’t let Bob die of cancer.”
Each of these prayers have surely been said many times, in various forms, and each of them attempts to exert control over a complex system that we do not understand – the election, hurricane, or cancer. The prayer is a way of allaying our fear about an uncertain outcome.
We are much less likely to pray about things that we know will happen, because in those cases we understand all of the variables, so we don’t feel any need to appeal to a mysterious force to influence the outcome.