Our dialogue started off casual and non-invasive. We were discussing what we had done for New Years. I recalled to her that I had attended a Catholic conference for young adults. But as soon as she learned I was Catholic she began to incessantly hurl a firestorm of anti-Catholic objections towards me without any kind of pause that would allow me to respond appropriately. As I recall, one particular theme seemed to dominate her laundry list of objections against Catholicism more than any other — prayer to and intercession of the saints.
One of the Scripture verses that the woman cited was 2 Chronicles 6:30, which tells us that God alone knows the hearts of men. She challenged me by inquiring, “if God alone ‘knowest the hearts of the children of men’ how is it that the saints in heaven could know the prayers of those on earth and, moreover, intercede for them?” To her, there appeared to be a problem; and I have to admit — she made me think.
There really is no problem, however. First it must be understood that although God alone knows the hearts of men as the Scriptures tell us, it is completely within His power to reveal the true contents of a man’s heart to whoever He pleases. In fact, it might be said that He even chooses to reveal the contents of His own heart to us through Divine Revelation.
But let’s look at the Book of Revelation for some biblical context. First in the 5th chapter and again in the 8th chapter we see evidence that the prayer requests on the hearts of earthly men can be revealed to those in heaven for the sake of intercession.
Revelation 5:8 tells us that in heaven:
“twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”
Then Revelation 8:3-4 illustrates:
“Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.
In these passages, the saints and angels offer the prayers of Christians which presupposes they have them in the first place; and that they have them presupposes that they’ve received them — by God’s grace of course.
Furthermore, we must understand that when Scripture attributes a particular function to God, it does not necessarily follow that God does not give His faithful a sharing in those divine functions. Here are some examples:
We have one Creator. Yet God allows us to participate as co-creators in the natural order.
We have one Mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5). Yet God allows us to function as co-mediators (1 Tim 1-3).
We have one Shepherd (Jn 10:12). Yet Jesus invites Peter to shepherd His people (Jn 21:15-17).
We have one High Priest (Heb 7:22-25). Yet we share in a universal priesthood by virtue of our baptism (1 Pet 2:5-9).
We have one Saviour (Heb 7:27). Yet Christ invites us to participate in His ongoing work of salvation (1 Tim 4:16; 1 Cor 9:22).
God alone suffered for our redemption. Yet our personal suffering can be united salvifically to His once-for-all-suffering for the sake of the Church (Col 1:24).
We can agree, then, that God has many attributes that belong to Him alone — such as “knowing the hearts of men”. Yet out of His divine omnibenevolence, He invites us into a life of participation and action with and through Him — even to the inconceivable extent of becoming participants in His divine nature:
“Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4)
We should not, therefore, hesitate to lift up our hearts to the members of the one Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12) living in heaven (Lk 20:38). Without pause and in imitation of even the earliest Christians, we should seek the intercession of our brothers and sisters in heaven, who have been perfected in righteousness (Heb 12:23), saying: “All you holy men and women. Pray for us!”
For another blog post I’ve written on a similar topic – A Critique Of The “One Mediator” Argument
If you want to go deeper on the topic of “praying to the saints” and related subjects, I recommend reading Any Friend of God’s Is a Friend Of Mine by Patrick Madrid.