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Prayer Is a Last Resort
Prayer: the last refuge of a scoundrel.
Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons, "Bart Gets An F"

Nothing seems to be going right. The character is continuously failing to make any progress, despite constantly trying. But eventually, they reach a point where they've exhausted all avenues for success and there are no other options.

Now is a good time to pray.

This trope is an observation about the use of prayer in fiction. Praying is seen as a sign that the character is giving up and acknowledging that they have no control, and so for a character to pray as a first response is almost always a sign of weakness. As such, works will typically portray prayer as a last resort or an act of desperation after the character has tried and failed to resolve the conflict on their own.

Sub-Trope of Godzilla Threshold because it is a sign of a desperation and a willingness to try anything.

Truth in Television, if the person doesn't regularly pray, and feels they have exhausted all other options. There are other cases such as people who pray regularly usually do so as a first response, and then try to resolve the issue if that doesn't work or just praying for their attempts to succeed- and this is seen as normal among such people. Then there are the people whose first response is to pray for the strength to solve their problem themselves. Such people would include the Good Shepherd, the Religious Bruiser, The Paladin, other manly and religious men etc.

If the character issues the prayer as an ultimatum that will determine their belief in God, they're playing Religious Russian Roulette. See also Crisis of Faith, In Mysterious Ways, and God Is Good. Compare and contrast with Have You Seen My God? and Evil Stole My Faith.

Examples:

Comic Books
  • One of the Kaamelott comics has this. Father Blaise is brought along with the expedition, but since he's no good at fighting, they tell him to pray. Despite telling them it doesn't work that way, he keeps at it, and at the climax his holy symbol unloads a Turn Undead against the monsters. When asked how the hell he pulled that off, he reminds them that he's been praying for the past twenty hours.
  • In The (in)famous DC comics miniseries "JLA: Act of God", when all the magic/mythical power based heroes lost their powers, we see Diana(Wonder Woman) praying in a Catholic Church... did we mention Diana is more related to the Greek pantheon (and was in fact literally made by them) than to the Judeo Christian one, or that she lives on a World where supernatural creatures and Gods are known to be real and commonly seen around with other heroes in a regular basis?
  • In the Jack Chick tract "War Zone", Principal Ward, confronted with parents of Westmont students who are angry about the state of the failing school, says he's tried everything, only for things to keep getting worse, and that, "The only thing I can think of is to... uh, pray for a miracle" He gets booed off the stands, but this being a Chick tract, prayer and converting students to Christianity is what miraculously gets Westmont back on track.

Fan Fic
  • In Dirty Sympathy when Klavier and Apollo flee the country after Phoenix questions Apollo with the Magatama, Klavier prays to God to keep Apollo safe.

Film
  • Patch Adams.. Sort of.
  • George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life. Slightly subverted in that his Guardian Angel Clarence has been looking out for him all along.
  • Conan the Barbarian (1982) (the Scharzanegger film).
    Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That's what's important! Valor pleases you, Crom... so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!
    • Justified, in that in the original stories Crom will kill people who pray to him for direct aid.
  • Arnie also prayed toward the end of End of Days and since he's fighting off Demonic Possession from Satan himself, it's appropriate.
  • Patton. During the Battle of the Bulge the situation is desperate. The Germans are winning and Allied air support is grounded because of the bad weather. Patton calls in an Army chaplain and orders him to write a prayer to ask for good weather so Allied planes can smash the German forces.
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? Everett near the end, about to be killed by the Warden, asks God to save him. After being saved, he goes right back to being an atheist, denying that God had any hand in it.
  • Played ham-fistedly straight in Starship Troopers: Marauder, where Holly convinces Lola Beck to pray with her because they have nothing left to lose. Holly then proceeds to pray for God to send them an army of Angels to save them... as behind Holly Rico's Marauders can be seen dropping from orbit, and forming a Background Halo on her.
  • Played with in the opening Kobayashi Maru simulation in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. After Kirk enters the simulation room, Saavik asks for his suggestions, and he drily replies, "Prayer."
  • Subverted in Major League. Cerrano spends much of the film praying to Jobu to take the fear from his bat when he is pitched a curveball. In the deciding game against the New York Yankees, Cerrano steps away from the plate after going to 0-2 on two curveballs.
    I pissed off now, Jobu. I good to you, I stand up for you. If you no help me now, I say fuck you, Jobu. I do it myself.

Jokes
  • There is a joke about an atheist praying to God when about to be devoured by a bear, asking to make the bear a Christian. The bear says "thank you for this meal I am about to receive."
  • There's one about a man praying to be be rescued, and another boat comes along, a helicopter comes along, and so on, and he turns all these down waiting for God to come save him. The man dies and meets God in the afterlife, so he asks "Why didn't you save me?" "What do you mean?" God replies. "I sent a boat, a helicopter..."
  • An atheist is about to be eaten by the Loch Ness Monster (or similar cryptozoological beast), and in his last desperate moment calls out to God for help. Time suddenly stops and he hears a voice from Heaven:
    God: Why should I help you when you never believed in Me before?
    Atheist: To be fair, five minutes ago I didn't believe in the Loch Ness Monster either!
  • There is an old saying: "There is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole." The traditional response is "That's not an argument against atheism, it's an argument against foxholes."
  • A Good Ol' Boy is fixing his barn roof when he begins to slip. He calls out "God, save me!" as he falls. His overalls get caught on a nail, saving his life. Comically Missing the Point, he then tells God to never mind, as the nail saved him.

Literature
  • In Deception Point when the cast are about to freeze to death (having been trapped on an ice sheet by a group of Delta force soldiers) the female lead comments it probably looks like she's doing this in her internal monologue, but she's actually attempting to tap out an SOS message in the hope a secret array of microphones might pick it up. It doesn't, but luckly a submarine was passing nearby).
  • Lampshaded by H. Beam Piper in A Slave Is A Slave. After a Straw Man Liberal has misquoted the Foundation line about "the last refuge of the incompetent", the viewpoint character muses that it is true in that "only an incompetent waited until the last resort to use force, and by then it was usually too late to use anything, even prayer."
  • Played with in the Discworld novel Going Postal. Once when Moist von Lipwig, con artist turned postmaster, is in dire need of money to repair his post office which has just been burned down, he pretends to a) pray for divine guidance and b) get it before "discovering" his stash of loot from his conman days. Later, when he is in dire straits again, another character semi-sarcastically suggests he should go up to the roof of the Post Office and pray, which he eventually does — which is the cue some potential allies take that he's serious about wanting to help.
  • Shows up a few times in the Heralds of Valdemar books. Justified at least once with the comment that a Herald's first instinct is to try and fix a problem, so they won't pray for help unless nothing is working.
  • Subverted in A Song of Ice and Fire. Arya Stark is captured by the Mountain That Rides, who selects a random prisoner each day for torture, interrogation and death. Nothing saves the victims; not resistance, co-operation, bribery or professions of loyalty. As a wannabe Badass Princess, this passive role infuriates Arya and so originates the Prayer of Malice that she keeps up throughout the series; a recitation of the names of those she plans to kill.
  • The Priest The Scientist And The Meteor has the priest praying to God to save Earth from the dinosaur-ghost ridden meteor. It works.
  • A Wolf In The Soul has a mixed example. Greg begins to question his disbelief in God surprisingly quickly, but his prayers are at first half-hearted because of his uncertainty. Even when he starts to believe and pray out of desperation, he does so merely because Holmes said it would help, and his prayers are still fairly rote and dispassionate. It is only when he sincerely thanks God for the existence of his best friend that he takes a major step towards being cured.

Live-Action TV
  • The Dukes of Hazzard: In the Season 5 episode "Witness: Jesse Duke," Uncle Jesse, a witness to a bank robbery, has suffered a concussion and lost his eyesight (temporarily, as it turns out). When all available treatments are showing no signs of restoring his eyesight, Daisy breaks down in tears and starts a tear-wrought prayer to God to restore her beloved uncle's eyesight. Unlike many TV episodes, where this trope is used by a scoundrel to worm his way out of a situation he caused, prayer as a last resort is portrayed positively here: A family that, when the chips are down and all else has failed, turns to God and trusts in Him for things to be made right.
  • In Father Ted the title character is only ever seen praying when he wants something, usually to avoid getting into trouble. It rarely works.
  • In The X-Files season 7 pilot, all Scully can do for a dying Mulder is to pray. It helps. (This particular season-finale/season-opener trilogy was huge on hinting that Mulder is Jesus in purgatory, suffering for humanity whose sacriffice might save us.)
  • Referenced by Dean Winchester in season 5 of Supernatural. As the Apocalypse begins, the heroes conclude that the only party powerful enough to stop both the forces of Hell and Heaven from destroying Earth is the long-absent God, so they go looking for him.
    Sam: Go looking for God? Last I heard you wanted to kick God's ass [for allowing the Apocalypse to happen].
    Dean: Prayer: call it the last call of a desperate man.
    • Mocked by the Yellow-Eyed Demon as he's about to slaughter a room full of nuns in 4.22 Lucifer Rising.
  • Discussed in one of Roseanne's final episodes. The family is gathered together with pizza after going through several recent cataclysms, most notably the premature birth and miraculous survival of Darlene's baby. Roseanne notes that while they should say prayers before eating, rather than always waiting until something bad happens before turning to God.
  • In the Attack of the Show! skit "Bustice and Power Girl Save The Nuclear Power Planet", said plant is about to go into meltdown, despite everything a pair of badly-acting whitecoated technicians can do to stop it.
    "What can we do?!"
    "You're not a religious man, are you?"
    "No."
    "Then I don't know what to tell you."

Music
  • The second verse of "Hold On" by Sarah McLachlan:
    Oh God, if you're out there won't you hear me?
    I know we've never talked before—
    Oh God, the man I love is leaving,
    Won't you take him when he comes to your door?
  • Subverted in Steve Earle's "Tom Ames' Prayer", about a bankrobber who finds himself "trapped in an alley in Abilene with all but four shells spent" and turns to God for the first time in his life... only to wind up bragging at length about that time he saved himself from hanging and concluding:
    "Yeah, but who the hell am I talkin' to, there ain't no one here but me."
  • This is the theme behind El-P's song "Flyentology", and not, in fact, a rap about flies or... other stuff. Specifically, it's about a guy in a soon-to-crash plane talking to God as it's in free-fall.
    I adore you,
    The same way that others always adored you,
    Emergency humility, just break glass.

Role-Playing Games

Tabletop Games
  • In The Dresden Files RPG, one of the faith-based supernatural powers allows you to do this. When your party's in dire straits, if you have the power, you can pray to basically have the god of your choice smite your enemies and save your ass.
  • A genuine option in the Pathfinder pen & paper RPG, high level clerics have tiny chance (a matter of 3% or so) to turn the tide massively in their favour when all seems lost by praying to their god(s).
  • In the board game Tales of the Arabian Nights some seemingly unwinnable situations can be salvaged or even turned to your advantage by selecting the reaction "Pray." It rarely hurts you and sometimes can pull out near-miraculous results like the evil Bedouin horde being chased off by a swarm of angry bees before they can attack you. Or the Evil Vizier who threw you in the dungeon mysteriously dying before he can order your execution.
  • In Exalted, its noted that for the general populace praying to the Unconquered Sun is done only once the situation is past the Godzilla Threshold, because asking for his help would imply that giving Creation the light and warmth necessary for humanity's survival isn't enough. To quote Glories: "It is said that the Unconquered Sunís blessings come with a hard touch of disaster that leaves his subjects amidst the curse and ruin of his apocalyptic miracles. Because of this, prayers to the Most High often come in the form of thanks for rented light and another dayís lease on lifeófor any day when the Unconquered Sun didnít act directly on their behalf is another day where his wrath was stayed."

Theatre
  • In Pippin, when Theo's duck Otto gets very sick, Pippin can do no more for it than kneel down together with Theo and pray all day. Then the duck dies.

Video Games
  • EarthBound has this in its final battle. The final boss is defeated by praying to everyone the protagonists have met on their journey, and the player.
  • NetHack has this for all characters. If you haven't bothered your god too much lately, and you're in big trouble of some sort, there's a pretty good chance they will help you out.
  • In Legend of Legaia, after defeating Songi at Noaru Valley, the Great Genesis Tree appears to be on the verge of death, and is too weak to be revived. With the life of the Seru-kai and their own lives about to perish along with it, Gala suggests they turn to their faith as their last bastion of hope and pray for a miracle.

Web Comics

Western Animation
  • This also happened at least once on The Simpsons, in "Bart Gets an F" and "Bart Sells His Soul".
    • Also parodied in Homer's famous quote: "I'm normally not a praying man, but if you're up there, please save me, Superman!"
    • In another episode Homer ends up signing on to do missionary work in the South Pacific to get out of paying a huge sum to PBS, and objects that "I don't even believe in Jebus!" As the plane flies off he runs to the window and calls "Save me, Jebus!"
  • In one episode of The Boondocks animated series, Huey exhibits this trope. After all his plans to save an innocent black man from execution have apparently failed, at the last minute, he breaks down and prays; saying that he's never prayed before, and isn't sure who he's praying to, but that he knows the world isn't supposed to be like this. Moments later, as they're about to flip the switch for the electric chair, lightning strikes Reverend Ruckus (just as he dares God to strike him with lightning if any of his racist preaching doesn't come from God himself), then the governor calls off the execution as one of Huey's plans (Threatening to expose the governor's gay affair, not knowing about one but figuring there was about a 5% chance that one existed) comes to fruition.
  • In an episode of Family Guy, Brian, a notoriously outspoken atheist prays to god when he thinks the world is ending.
  • Quite a few Looney Tunes characters pray in hopeless situations, such as falling from great heights or restrained and awaiting execution.

Real Life
  • In Discordianism, prayer is generally inadvisable.
    Erisians seldom pray. The Goddess might be listening.
  • The Famous Last Words of Voltaire were a play on this trope. He was asked to turn to God on his deathbed, and he replied "Now is not the time to make new enemies.". Voltaire was not an atheist, but he was very unconventional in his beliefs in God.
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