The Rubber Sheet Theory of Prayer, by Ben Jeapes

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I was running low on petrol so I decided to divert from my ordinary route home from work, and go via Tesco to fill up. This means coming off the A34, driving up to the Tesco roundabout and turning right. With no traffic around, you can do this in 30 seconds. Unless Abingdon is having a Bad Traffic Day, like this one …

Forty minutes later, having finally crawled up to the Tesco roundabout, my schedule for the evening was already way off. So, I bypassed Tesco and took an alternative route home, lasting a further 10 minutes. Then I had my dinner, went out to a meeting scheduled for later that evening, and filled up en route to that instead. At the petrol station, I met a lady from out of town who was badly lost and wanted directions to a particular road, which I was able to give her.

I don’t know if this lady was religious; I don’t know if she had prayed for help in finding her way about town. It’s still entirely possible that as she drove away she sent up a quick thanks for meeting someone who could help her. I certainly sent up a quick thanks that I was able to help. However, neither of us would imagine for a second that God had inflicted a Bad Traffic Day on Abingdon, inconveniencing hundreds of drivers with a knock on to thousands if you include family members, just so I could help the lady find Appleford Drive. (It's hard to imagine a loving God inflicting one of Abingdon’s Bad Traffic Days on anyone. Sodom and Gomorrah got off more lightly.)

This incident helped me with what I call the Rubber Sheet Theory of Prayer. (Deriving from Einstein’s notion of spacetime curvature, a.k.a. the Rubber Sheet Theory, but that’s just me.) One reason people struggle with the idea of prayer is that it sounds suspiciously like a fairy granting gifts. Impossible things happen, but only to the right people. That’s a highly inaccurate and unfair way of describing it, of course, but that is the perception we must start with.

In the Rubber Sheet Theory, things don’t happen or not happen by divine mandate. They just happen, because, and we gravitate towards or around or away from them. What prayer changes is us: our proximity to them, our response to them, the effect they have on us and we on them. The Bad Traffic Day would have happened with or without the presence of one particular Christian caught up in it - but as a result of it, I could be of Christian service.

This can also help with describing prayer in fiction. I’m never sure why we’re meant to be convinced by prayers being granted in fiction, because of course they are: whatever the author wants, happens, so it’s hardly a surprise. But describing the reactions of Christian characters - there’s your witness.

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 7 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer.


  1. What an interesting post. Love your rubber sheet theory of prayer. Will remember that!

  2. I think there's scope here for a much more in-depth discussion


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