That is deep theological water, isn't it? Who knows exactly how God responds to intercessory prayer and how He deals with a wayward heart?
You are certainly right about that, and I don't claim to have answered all of my own questions. How can I explain the prayers of my great-grandfather (on my mother's side), who died the year before I was born? This wonderful man of God, G. W. McCluskey, took it upon himself to spend the hour between 11:00 A.M. and 12:00 noon every day in prayer specifically for the spiritual welfare of his family. He was talking to the Lord not only about those loved ones who were then alive--McCluskey was also praying for generations not yet born. This good man was talking to the Lord about me, even before I was conceived.
Toward the end of his life, my great-grandfather made a startling announcement. He said God had promised him that every member of four generations--both those living and those not yet born--would be believers. Well, I represent the fourth generation down from his own, and it has worked out more interestingly than even he might have assumed.
The McCluskeys had two girls, one of whom was my grandmother and the other, my great-aunt. Both grew up and married ministers in the denomination of their father and mother. Between these women, five girls and one boy were born. One of them was my mother. All five of the girls married ministers in the denomination of their grandfather, and the boy became one. That brought it down to my generation. My cousin H. B. London and I were the first to go through college, and we were roommates. In the beginning of our sophomore year, he announced that God was calling him to preach. And I can assure you, I began to get very nervous about the family tradition!
I never felt God was asking me to be a minister, so I went to graduate school and became a psychologist. And yet, I have spent my professional life speaking, teaching, and writing about the importance of my faith in Jesus Christ. At times as I sit on a platform waiting to address a church filled with Christians, I wonder if my great-grandfather isn't smiling at me from somewhere. His prayers have reached across four generations of time to influence what I am doing with my life day by day.
What does that say about free moral agency and the right to choose? I don't have a clue. I only know that God honors the prayers of His righteous followers, and we should stay on our faces before Him until each child has been granted every opportunity to repent. We must remember, however, that God will not ride roughshod over the will of any individual. He deals respectfully with each person and seeks to attract him or her to Himself. It is wrong, therefore, to blame God if that process takes years to accomplish--or even if it never comes to pass. That is the price of freedom.