How Can a Saint Hear the Prayers of Millions at Once?
The God who created space and time can also let the saints hear the prayers of millions of timebound humans.
Not everything in the Bible or every Christian doctrine held has to be made explicit there; the Bible never teaches that. What is required is that a doctrine must be in harmony with the Bible, and not contradict it. Thus, we might observe that the Bible never states that the Blessed Virgin Mary can’t do these things. Nothing in the Bible denies that God can grant extraordinary qualities such as this one to his creatures when they are in heaven with him.
We know that God can hear simultaneous prayers because he is outside of time (a Catholic dogma). C. S. Lewis compared this to God being an author of a book and our being the characters in the book. The author can go away for two years and then come back to his book and its fictional “timeline” as if no time has passed by. That’s how God is with our prayers. He’s not constrained by time because he’s not in it in the first place, as its creator.
The question then becomes: Are we creatures also outside of time (or do we at least transcend earthly time in some fashion?) when we get to heaven and enter eternity? Many philosophers of religion have thought so, on the grounds that heavenly eternity (for creatures) is not endless succession of time, but rather, the cessation of time as we know it from a particular point forward (rather like a ray in geometry).
There are many mysteries about heaven, but who can say what it will be like — including our experience of time or lack thereof? It’s certainly possible that we could be outside of time: not eternally like God, but from the moment we get to heaven.
If human beings can invent computers that are able to produce extraordinary amounts of information and answers and solutions in a split second, is not an omniscient God great enough to enable his creatures to hear prayers in a way that transcends our earthly existence? It seems likely that heaven is a different dimension, or has more dimensions, and time is part of that framework.
The Bible does indicate that saints in heaven are aware of our prayers:
Revelation 5:8 (RSV) And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints;
Granted, it doesn’t specifically state that they “hear” them, but that notion is consistent with their having “the prayers of the saints.” What are they doing with them in the first place, if indeed (as Protestants tell us) only God can ever be prayed to and receive prayer?
The well-known Protestant commentary, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, admits that the passage is a mystery — that these saints are “employed by God in some way unknown to us to present our prayers” yet that “nothing is said of their interceding for us.” The commentary concedes that they possess “our prayers” and present them to God.
This makes them intermediaries, and is completely consistent with the notion that they are indeed interceding for us, which means in turn that they heard our prayers before God did, and presented them to him.
Otherwise, why are they involved at all? If only God can be prayed to, and only directly, why in the world would Scripture present such a scenario? It seems like this would be the last way to portray it if Protestant assumptions are correct.
It’s perfectly plausible and consistent to assert that they heard prayers, if they possess them. And it is because of things we do know, having been informed by Scripture. We know that saints are intensely aware of earthly events, like spectators in an arena, which is what Bible commentators across the board believe is taught in the following passage:
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.
If they have such an awareness, it simply cannot be ruled out that they could hear our prayers, as part of that, and can function as intercessors for us. The Bible also implies that Moses and Samuel could intercede after their death:
Jeremiah 15:1 Then the LORD said to me, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go!
Abraham — after his death — is prayed to (asked for intercession) in a story (not a parable) told by Jesus himself (Luke 16). So is the prophet Samuel (by Saul: see 1 Samuel 28:12-20).
Thus we know, with direct, explicit Scripture, that dead saints 1) observe us, and 2) can be prayed to. What more does one need? This being the case, it’s altogether fitting and plausible that Mary the Mother of God the Son Jesus, would be particularly involved in such loving intercession, by God’s will.
Departed saints are involved in the process, regardless of the “how” and the “mechanics” of it. We know it is through God’s power. All of the above speculation is deduced from what we know: from philosophy of religion, based on the revelation of Scripture regarding the nature of eternity and what it will be like for creatures in heaven.
We know heaven will be extraordinary and that we will have glorified bodies, and that now we only “see through a glass, darkly” as Paul stated (1 Corinthians 13:12), and that “eye has not seen” (1 Corinthians 2:9) etc. what God has prepared for us. Paul wrote how he was “caught up into Paradise” and “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Corinthians 12:3-4).
Thus, saints hearing millions of prayers is no “problem” for God at all.