Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

28 May, 2000

Why are Some Prayers Granted, and Others Not?

Originally Published: May 28, 2000

Have you ever noticed how often, when all the chips are down and none of the conventional solutions work, people turn to prayer? Even more often, if the prayer produces the desired result, it is dismissed as a “miracle”?

This predilection not to give credit where it’s due has long amused me. But I must confess astonishment at finding tangible proof in no less an eminent place than the Asian Wall Street Journal, whose high-powered investor readers usually have no time for religion and believe “market forces” can be greater than God.

On Tuesday May 16, one of the AWSJ’s staff writers chronicled in the “Asian Technology” column a piece headlined, “To Solve Problems On Your Computer, First Get Organised.” The first three paragraphs read thus:

“My computer crashed the other day. It was on the fritz – blinking the c:/ prompt at me for nearly 24 hours – which led me to do what anyone would do under such circumstances: I typed in “cd c:/windows/options/cabs,” then “setup,” reinstalled Microsoft Windows and everything worked fine.

“Of course, I’m kidding. I tried doing that and everything got steadily worse. The lads at International Business Machines Corp. offered to restore everything by erasing my data, so I politely declined, reinstalled Windows a couple more times myself, uttered a little prayer, and held my breath as I rebooted the computer for the umpteenth time. Miraculously, it worked!

“Now, as long as I don’t hit the keys too hard, and try not to be rude to it, the computer’s fine.”

I personally have long believed that technology does not solve problems; it only speeds up old ways of doing the same things, and in the process creates new problems. Yet, people are enthralled by these gadgets and gizmos, the inventors of which get showered with great gobs of fawning publicity, not to mention pots of money.

Hence, it was interesting to see that Microsoft, whose owner is the world’s richest man, produces products that often do nothing except blink back at you, and IBM, another great technological monolith that spends mega-bucks bragging about how solutions-oriented it is, offering the AWSJ writer nothing by way of solutions than to erase his data.

Finally, when these great techno-giants failed miserably, the writer “uttered a little prayer” which, lo and behold, “miraculously” worked.

Many of us land up in the same situation day in and day out. We pray to solve problems, overcome difficulties, win contracts. We pray for the health of loved ones, for kids to pass their examinations and for stock-markets to go up. Sometimes the prayers are granted, sometimes not.

The outcome is usually attributed to luck, either good or bad, depending on the outcome. Those for whom prayer is not a part of daily life, just a convenience resorted to when there is no choice, simply curse when the prayer does not work. If it does, Wow! What luck!

Why some prayers are granted and others not is one of the great mysteries of life. Many pray regularly and still land up being afflicted with all kinds of calamities that do not respond to the most fervent of prayer. Others have nothing but disdain and contempt for spirituality in any shape or form and yet are pleasantly surprised to find their prayers being granted.

Religions have different approaches to this profound question, but the answer is the same, especially among the monotheistic faiths.

Islam says, “He knows that which ye know not,” the implication being that the decision on whether or not to grant prayers is in the hands of God. It may overtly appear that a prayer has not been granted but may in fact that may have been in your own long-term interests about which “ye know not” but He does.

My Christian friends tell me that their faith, from which Islam descended, follows the same philosophy. One friend, a New Zealand journalist who is also passionate about his religion, says two other important factors influence the outcome of prayer, i.e, what is being asked, and the good-standing of the one who is praying.

The good-standing issue is interesting; note the parallels with a club where a member has to be in good-standing, i.e, paid his dues, in order to enjoy the rights and privileges of membership of the club. If that simple rule is accepted down here, why should it not be part of the law up there?

So how do we pay dues to the one who, in the monotheistic faiths, is seen as the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth?

The Sikh holy book, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib indicates that prayer is a means towards dispelling fear, regardless of the outcome which is beyond the individual’s control anyway. Says the SSGS, “The True Guru has listened to my prayer. All my affairs have been resolved. Deep within my mind and body, I meditate on God. The Perfect Guru has dispelled all my fears. The All-powerful Divine Guru is the Greatest of all. Serving Him, I obtain all comforts.”

In other words, don’t worry about it – just do the right thing, and trust the All-powerful Divine Guru.

Sometimes, it can also be a test, like in the case of the AWSJ’s technology writer. Insanity is described as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The AWSJ’s technology writer tried over and over again to get his computer to work. It didn’t. Finally, he uttered a little prayer and held his breath. “Miraculously, it worked.”

Will he have the common sense to think a little bit more deeply about this “miracle” and delve into why this last effort succeeded when all else failed?

It may be just pure “fate” and written in his stars. Perhaps. The point is, he did pray to someone, somewhere. Somehow, that prayer was fulfilled by someone at the controls. Nothing can create itself; no aircraft can fly itself; no car can drive itself. There always has to be some captain of the ship, some company chief executive, some prime minister or president, pushing the buttons, even someone just holding a remote control.

Come petition time, and it is this person at the controls whose door gets knocked. Sooner or later, everyone comes knocking, in this life or the next. And if the dues have not been paid…..