Monday, December 27, 2010

Holy Cheating?

I’m intrigued by the number of recommendations to pray for students around examination time – particularly the ones that ask God to help them do well in their exams. I can’t help wondering whether this is a form of holy cheating. Surely if God helps a person do better on an exam as a result of prayer but doesn’t help another student who hasn’t prayed, wouldn’t that be in the same category as a performance enhancing drug?
I’ve been trying to think of what one could pray for without cheating – better memory? answers to questions that haven’t been learned? increased energy after a hard night? Surely all of these are enhancing aspects that would provide an unfair advantage over others – cheating!
Maybe what students can pray for is the wisdom to know the relationship between hard work, lots of study, learning how memory works, critical thinking skills and good grades. Now that is something that could be prayed for! Let’s stop asking God to help our students cheat. Instead, let’s ask God to assist in making then better students before they enter the examination room.
POSTSCRIPT: I'm specifically referring to any prayer in relation to an exam that would involve God somehow giving a student an advantage over another student. As Christians, we are constantly exhorted to pray for things that are not appropriate. For example, a woman once told me that someone she knew would become a Christian because she had asked God to convert the person. But what about free will? God doesn't force people to accept God against their will - people have a choice and so for the woman to assume that someone she was praying for would definitely become a Christian, just because she was praying for them, attributes something to God that God would not do - as far as I can see from Scripture.
Asking God to help a person pass an examination by any supernatural means would be asking God to do something unethical. I work in a tertiary institution where, for example, it is forbidden to take notes into an examination. Students are severely punished if they are found doing so. So asking God to bring something to a student's memory in an exam by some sort of supernatural intervention, would be no different to taking notes in to the exam room.
Examinations are not the only place we hear Christians ascribing things to God that may be unethical. I have heard footballers claim God helped them win goals/games. Really? Is God intervening so that certain players/teams win a football game?
So: the point is - as Christians we need to think about some of the things we ask of God and expect God to do. What does the Bible say we should pray for? That is a question we need to all ask and spend our time praying for those things rather than asking God to engage in our sometimes self-interested desires. Check the New Testament some time to see the sorts of things we can legitimately pray for:
  • pray for our enemies
  • pray for the Holy Spirit
  • pray for wisdom
  • pray for peace
  • pray for joy
  • pray for healing
  • pray for one another
and so on...
I hope that clarifies things...


  1. I can't say I would call it cheating by any means. If it is cheating, then God would be directly involved in something sinful, which is most certainly not the case. Consider prayer to be the "ultimate textbook." If the other students fail because they neglected to rely on God, then it is their own fault for not taking advantage of this great resource God has made available to humanity. All we have to do is repent and be saved.

    I do agree with your point, however, that a Christian student must diligently study. God is not going to help you pass a test you were too lazy to study for. But when a Christian earnestly prays for the memory to recall those things he or she has diligently applied themself to, God is faithful and just to answer those prayers. As Christ said in John 15:5, without Him we can do nothing. Praying before a test is simply acknowledging that fact.

  2. Anonymous: I think you have it around the wrong way... if it is cheating, then God wouldn't have anything to do with it. Saying that the other students fail if they neglect to rely on God is like saying that a person is at fault if they neglect using steroids to win a race when it is available. Examinations are to test a student's knowledge - not Gods.

  3. What about praying for the person that has test anxiety, and who is unable to recall answers during tests like they are able to during any other time, would that be unfair? I think there are plenty of issues that one can pray for when it comes to test, that being one. Another might be that they are able to put the outside world out of their mind to fully study.

    But I do agree with your in this sense, to pray that God will "give" a student the correct answers if they did not study adequately would be cheating. Just as brining a friend in who knew the answers to give me the answers would be cheating.

    Bruce Nelson

  4. I really enjoyed this post, because this is one of the problems I have had with the way Christians see prayer. As a Christian, I have always had a problem with someone praying for outcomes, that are not in sync with the events that are taking place.

    I believe if one prays for knowledge, wisdom, for help with difficult things, no matter what they may be, prays for strength where there may be weakness, prays for others health problems, that the person being prayed for can handle it the best way they can.

    When you pray for outcomes and they don't happen, you believe that either God didn't listen or that you didn't have enough faith, if the prayed for outcome didn't happen, and then you beat yourself up. I don't call that comforting.

  5. Praying isn't about changing events - it is about changing who we are in relation to God. The Lord's Prayer makes that clear.