WHO has not experienced anxiety and felt the need to turn to someone for help? Depending on the cause of our anxiety, we would probably choose a friend who is sympathetic and has experience with the difficulty we face. The combination of compassion and experience makes a truly desirable friend.
Some might feel the same when it comes to prayer. Instead of approaching God—who might seem too lofty and awe-inspiring to them—they feel more comfortable appealing to one of the saints. They reason that saints, having experienced the trials and hardships that are common to humans, would be more empathetic. For example, people who have lost something very important to them might prefer to approach “Saint” Anthony of Padua—the traditional patron of lost or stolen articles. If praying for a sick animal, they may choose “Saint” Francis of Assisi or to “Saint” Jude Thaddeus if they are at the point of despair over a lost cause.
How, though, can we be sure whether it is appropriate to pray to saints, according to the Scriptures? Since our prayers are expressions to God, surely we would want to know: Are our prayers being heard by him? And should we not also ask: How does God feel about prayer to saints?
PRAYER TO SAINTS—THE SCRIPTURAL VIEW
The practice of praying to saints is based on the doctrine of intercession by saints, taught by the Catholic Church. The basic idea is “pleading by one who in God’s sight has a right to do so in order to obtain mercy for one in need,” according to the New Catholic Encyclopedia. Thus, one praying to saints does so with the hope that special favor may be obtained through them because of their blessed position before God.
Does the Bible teach such a doctrine? Some say that the apostle Paul provided a foundation for prayer to saints in his writings. For example, to the Christians in Rome, he wrote: “Now I exhort you, brothers, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the spirit, that you exert yourselves with me in prayers to God for me.” (Romans 15:30) Was Paul asking his fellow Christians to intercede for him before God? Hardly. If anything, they would ask Paul, an apostle of Christ, to intercede for them. Paul was showing that it is appropriate to ask a fellow Christian to pray to God in our behalf. But it is a completely different matter to pray to someone who is believed to be in heaven to make our request known to God for us. Why so?
In the apostle John’s Gospel, Jesus states: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) He also says: “The Father will give you anything you ask him in my name.” (John 15:16, The New Jerusalem Bible) Jesus did not say that we should direct our prayers to him and that he would then speak to God on our behalf. Rather, for our prayers to be heard, we must address our prayers to God through Jesus and through no one else.
When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, Jesus replied: “Whenever you pray, say, ‘Father, let your name be sanctified.’” (Luke 11:2) Yes, “whenever,” or each time we pray, we should address, not Jesus or anyone else, but God himself. In view of these unambiguous teachings of Jesus, is it not logical to conclude that our prayers should be directed to God through Jesus Christ and not to any intercessors or “saints”?
Prayer is a very important part of our worship, and to worship anyone other than God is clearly not in harmony with Bible teaching. (John 4:23, 24; Revelation 19:9, 10) That is why we should address our prayers only to God.
SHOULD YOU BE AFRAID TO APPROACH GOD?
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave the example of a child who asks his father for something to eat. Would a father give his child a stone instead of bread? Or a poisonous snake instead of a fish? (Matthew 7:9, 10) It would be unthinkable for a loving parent to do such a thing!
Think of a similar illustration from a parent’s viewpoint. Imagine your child has some earnest request to make of you. You have carefully nurtured your relationship with him, and you have always been approachable. Nevertheless, because of his unfounded fear of your reaction, he asks someone else to pass on the request to you. How would you feel? What if he makes a practice of communicating with you only through this other person and there is every indication that he intends to continue doing so? Would you be happy with that arrangement? Of course not! Loving parents want their children to approach them directly and to feel comfortable asking for what they need.
In applying his illustration of the child asking for food, Jesus said to the crowd: “Therefore, if you, although being wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more so will your Father who is in the heavens give good things to those asking him?” (Matthew 7:11) Undoubtedly, the desire of a parent to give good things to his child is strong. Our heavenly Father’s desire to hear and answer our prayers is even stronger.
God wants us to approach him directly in prayer even if we are burdened down by personal shortcomings. He does not assign others to hear our prayers. The Bible urges us: “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you.” (Psalm 55:22) Rather than depending on the intercession of saints or anyone else, we would do well to develop a positive view of Jehovah God.
Our heavenly Father cares about us as individuals. He wants to help us with our problems and invites us to draw close to him. (James 4:8) How happy we are that we have the opportunity to approach our God and Father, the “Hearer of prayer”!—Psalm 65:2.