God to Whom We Pray
There is an idea of power that is implied when we envisage God as external to creation, calling the universe into being and then stepping back and letting it run except when he is called upon to intervene in answer to prayer. The argument that this distance allows for human free will – leaving us enough rope with which to hang ourselves – also suggests this view of a God who may be King, but who is also an absentee landlord, except when he can be persuaded by those with enough clout to perform a miracle. And according to this view it is Christians who have the most influence with God, as intercessors who pray through Christ the great High Priest. In the Kingdom of heaven it is we who are the citizens, who have freedoms, privileges, rights.
This type of theology has always been attractive to empires, conquerors and all those who want to control others, and the Church has all too often succumbed to those temptations. In that sense, the trappings and reputation of worldly power still cling to us, and are still embedded in our ways of thinking, being and doing. We have not yet caught up with God, with the new thing that God is doing in the world - with the new thing God has been doing in the world through Christ for the last two millennia.
The power from outside must evoke a response from within.
The power inside evokes a response from outside.
The power of God at work in creation is related to the power of God as it is expressed in humanity. This power is conveyed by the natural forces of the world which are sublimely indifferent to the fate of human beings - to some extent they are impersonal.
Yet there is an energy that operates from within us, changing us from the inside out. And influencing the world from the inside out, too.
Human beings are part of the created order and have a profound influence upon it, just as it has a profound influence upon us. Indigenous peoples still remind us that we live in ways that respect the forces of nature, or they kill us. In a crisis situation, when huge forces are in motion and the situation is fluid, fast-moving and volatile, tiny details, random factors and trivial decisions have far-reaching effects but the effects of these are impersonal.
But this is not the same as the subjective effect of the power of God that is so often claimed to work. It is our human ego-centricity that claims our personal survival to be a miracle of God's special grace. No it isn't, any more than the person next to us, who was carried away and drowned, was being punished. The question is not: why was he taken? Or, why was I spared? God does not get involved in making decisions of that kind. Prayer does not deflect the wave. It might, in certain circumstances, help you to out-run it. But that is not guaranteed.
But, what will I do with the life that remains to me? How do I now live, knowing that death has come so close? Knowing that death took the person standing next to me? Knowing that it could have been me?
But the models of chaos theory suggest that we should not push this too far in supposing a distinction between God the Creator of the natural world, and God the Father/Parent of humanity. We are profoundly linked, intimately linked with the world around us. And chaos theory proposes that a minute change in a volatile environment can have far-reaching effects. The beating of a butterfly's wings affects the environment in tiny, subtle ways. But those changes set off other changes, which in turn set off others, and the changes multiply, not in a linear way, but exponentially. So that by the time the chain has passed around the world, it has the effect of a hurricane.
By being alive, sitting still and breathing, I change the world to that extent. How much more can I influence it by taking positive, creative, faith-filled action in a Godward direction?
An intriguing possibility - that global change could be related to our activities in ways so subtle and complex and huge that we struggle to envisage them. That the upheaval in human society could be related at some level to upheaval in the earth. But this is only likely to be possible in a very remote and impersonal way. If I pray for Japan, it does not mean that my prayer will influence the life of one specific Japanese person one way or another in the event of an earthquake in Japan.
My prayers may not directly benefit the people for whom I pray unless they are aware that I am praying. If they are not aware of them, then it is more likely that my prayer enters a huge well of praying that may serve to stabilise the collective psyche of the human race. My actions for justice or to save the environment will have a larger effect in the short term but still there needs to be a connection.
How does prayer work, is related to the question: how is change brought about in the world?
"The Holy Spirit," we say, "the mystery of God's presence with us and work amongst us." Yes, but how do we receive that power? "By asking for it." Yes, but why are we so reluctant to ask? And how do I know that what I am receiving is the Spirit? How can we collaborate with the Spirit, day by day, so as to live with a creativity, compassion and courage sufficient for the challenges we face? These are not easy questions to examine in the light of Scripture, tradition and reason as well as our own experience, but we are far too quick to protest that the Spirit is a mystery, best left to charismatic writers or the theologians.
Purpose of God
- Both outside in and inside out dynamics are underwritten by the God of abundance
- They are connected
- They are capable of working together in harmony for the good of all
- To generate abundance for all
- Even if the result is not fully ordered, as we might expect
- Nevertheless in a way that is beautiful, pleasing, beneficial and benevolent
- How do they interact?
- Is it possible for one to influence the other?
- If so, how?
- Prayer draws power from within
- From without?
- But prayer also enables us to focus on the right place and the right time
- The place where a small, purposeful action can effect a major change
- Because of the dynamics already inherent in the system
- Jesus knew what he was doing
- Knew how power worked
- How he & his actions were related to it
- How to use it and deploy it
- How to allow it to use him
- His basic attitude, one that enabled him to surf the wave
- Ride the chaos, make a creative response to it, bring something creative out of it
- Receptivity, gratitude, focused action, trust