Prayer Is a Last Resort
"Prayer: the last refuge of a scoundrel."
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.
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. These people 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
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
- 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 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.
- 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.
- Patch Adams.. Sort of.
- George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life. It's downplayed in that his Guardian Angel Clarence has been looking out for him all along.
- Conan the Barbarian (1982) (the Arnold Schwarzenegger 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 (as Jericho Cane) also prayed toward the end of End of Days and since he's fighting off Demonic Possession from Satan himself, it's appropriate.
- In United 93, a Tear Jerking and Real Life example is given when Todd Beamer recites the Lord's Prayer and the 23rd Psalm with GTE airphone supervisor Lisa Jefferson before they storm the cockpit. A few other passengers join in, too.
- 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 3: 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."
- The Mummy (1999): Benny resorts to desperately running through prayers and religious icons when faced with the resurrected Imhotep. He gets nothing out of the cross, the representation of the Buddha or the Muslim crescent. But he's saved when he breaks out the Star of David and mumbles in Hebrew — Imhotep recognizes "the language of the slaves."
- From Mad Max: Fury Road.
Toast: What are you doing?
The Dag: Praying.
Toast: To who?
The Dag: Anyone who's listening.
- There is a joke about someone 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." Of course, it's not true literally. There's even an organization for atheists serving in the US military called "Foxhole Atheists".
- 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.
- As the semester starts, an angel is sent to a technical school, a medical school and an artsy school to see how the students are conducting themselves. He comes back to God, reporting the medical students are studying, the artists are partying, and the tech students are partying even more. In the middle of the semester, he is sent again and reports both medical students and the artists to be studying, while the tech students are still partying. Then he is sent again, just before the exams, and comes back with the report that medical students are studying like crazy, with the artists close at their heels, while the tech students are praying. God decrees "They shall pass."
- 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 luckily a submarine was passing nearby).
- Lampshaded by H. Beam Piper in the story "A Slave Is a Slave". After a strawman liberal character 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 herself.
- 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.
- 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.
- Little House on the Prairie: A common trope seen in many episodes, underscoring the deep Christian faith of the main characters. Mind you, the outcomes were not always positive — for instance, in "I'll Be Waving As You Drive Away," Charles and Caroline desperately pray for a miracle to save Mary's sight, but Mary goes blind anyway. Hence, the message was that even though things don't always turn out positively, God has a plan, often different than what the protagonists were hoping, and it is them that must decide how to deal with the conflict.
- This is the Life and other Christian anthology series from the 1950s through early 1990s. Once again, prayer is often a sign of strength, an admission that secular ways of resolving conflict isn't always the right way (in fact, it is often the wrong way), and that by trusting God and His guidance, and walking in His ways, it may not make things "all better" but it will make us better people.
- 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 The X-Files season 7 first episode, 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 sacrifice 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.
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 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 white-coated technicians can do to stop it.
"What can we do?!"
"You're not a religious man, are you?"
"Then I don't know what to tell you."
- In the premiere miniseries for Battlestar Galactica (2003), Doc Cottle, a man of no particular or obvious faith, further hammers home Laura Roslin's prognosis to the audience.
"I would seriously consider prayer."
- In Downton Abbey, Lady Mary prays for Matthew's safety in the war. She opens with "I know I don't have much credit with You. I'm not even sure if You're there", and her sister Edith is incredulous when she catches her at it, which shows just how out of character it is for her.
- 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 bank robber 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.
- This idea was alluded to in several background characters in Dino Attack RPG. In the alternate ending December 21, 2010 there are several people mentioned in passing to be praying to various beings - even those who had never even believed in a deity - and background characters were spotted doing this in the Final Battle. It was finally brought into the forefront with the introduction of Dr. Shaw, who, while a capable surgeon, is mentally unstable and greatly broken by the war to the point where she desperately clings to some form of faith in an attempt at comfort. Of course just which deity is another matter entirely- Greek Mythology, Egyptian Mythology, Norse Mythology, PeabodySam, Ole Kirk Christiansen, Kjield Kirk Christiansen, the First Builders, Creator, Builder, and even Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all brought into the mix as possible sources of faith and prayer.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, the Golden Paladin Roland de Ronceval pulls out a crucifix and starts praying to the archangels as a last resort when he is defeated by Dracula. This fails because Dracula aka Gabriel Belmont is still God's chosen champion.
- At the very end of Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Elder One Corypheus desperately prays to the Old Gods for help when he realizes he is about to die. It doesn't help.
- In Dragon's Crown, if the players take a long time trying to defeat the Arch Demon boss, Rannie, who is described as not being very religious, starts praying for aid. After a minute or two, beams of light will rain from heaven, damaging the Arch Demon heavily.
- In El Goonish Shive, Nanase pleads God to help her when she experiences death repeatedly through her fairy doll avatars while battling Abraham.
- In Exterminatus Now, Flat-Earth Atheist Eastwood begs the god of law Tyrus for help when he is cornered by a gigantic spider demoness who has insinuated that she is going to rape and eat him (Eastwood is especially terrified due to his severe arachnophobia). Prayer really is the last resort here since he tried shooting himself first — it failed since he was already out of bullets. He is immediately struck with inspiration (which he initially mistakes for a fatal stroke — which he still thinks is better than being on a horny giant spider demoness' menu) and saves the day.
- 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. When it turns out that the whole thing was a hoax he stalks off to the soup kitchen, mumbling that he made a promise to Someone.
- Quite a few Looney Tunes characters pray in hopeless situations, such as falling from great heights or restrained and awaiting execution.