In my experience, faith in the unseen has a natural and possibly unavoidable ebb and flow, like the tides of the ocean. My relationship with prayer, and to some extent God Himself, moves likewise. My last post on prayer addressed the idea of God always answering or, alternatively, sometimes ignoring, our prayers. I’ve hear several defenses of the idea that God does always answer, those defense again explaining that to say He ignores makes Him sound cold and insensitive which He is not, and that His act of walking away qualifies as an answer.
On one hand, I maintain that if the act of turning and walking away doesn’t qualify as ignoring someone, I’m not sure what does. Maybe the word shouldn’t exist. . .
On the other hand, I found in a more recent journal than the one that prompted that post, my own revisit to the issue. I admit before I expound on that second entry, that it is frustrating to have learn and relearn these lessons, but then that’s why I read old journals once in a while – to see what I have forgotten that I learned.
In February of 2007 I was struggling with prayer again and looking at Malachi 3:6:
6 “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. 7 From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.”
I have an unchanging God who sees all the millenniums of time as I see a yard stick, while I see time more like a gnat sees a yardstick. God sees Inch 1 simultaneously with Inch 24 or 36. There is no past or present or future from His heightened perspective; it is all right there before Him as the yardstick is to me. I, however, am the gnat who can only see the quarter inch in front of me. If I am on Inch 24, Inch 1 is my distant past and I’m not even sure there is actually an Inch 36. That leads me to this: Why do we petition the Creator for things in our future if He already knows full well what will happen at inch 30, or 34 or 36? If you point out that He was persuaded to alter His sovereign course in the Bible, I will respond with the fact that He knew He would be persuaded so that was more a gracious show of partnership than a real change of course. Matthew 6:9-13:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.[a]
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,[b]
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,[c]
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
I notice here that the model prayer doesn’t seem to seek anything He hasn’t already ordained.
So let’s slow down now though, and recognize that His will seems to fluctuate at times. The scripture that says He does not change does not say His will doesn’t change. It’s His character that doesn’t change. Look at Hosea 11:8:
“My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.”
His compassion, anger and jealousy rise and fall as do ours. This is one of the ways that we are made in their image: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Gen 1:26. So there is a case to be made that prayer can move Him away from jealousy and toward compassion, changing His will. But I revert back to His omniscience to say He must have known that would happen. . . It happened again in Amos 7:6:
“The Lord relented concerning this:
“This also shall not be,” said the Lord God.”
And in Jonah Chapter 3:
“10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.”
So God does, in fact, change His Holy mind. This shows up again in Exodus 32:14 and Psalm 106:45. It looks like I have to admit this in spite of it causing great mental dissonance against the idea of His omniscience. According to First Peter, He listens to the prayer of the righteous, but maybe not the unrighteous:
“12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
But then who is righteous aside from God’s grace and His forgiveness? No one. That’s who. So He listens to those He elects to receive righteousness but not the others. . .
This is just getting deeper in the mud. James tries to shed some light on the problem in his letter, chapter 4: “You do not have, because you do not ask.” So James suggests or implies that God wills us to be blessed – saved even – and the only reason we lack is that we fail to ask, which according to the above verses, would possibly cause Him to relent from our destruction or death as the consequence of sin.
So He is Sovereign. Check.
He is omniscient. Check.
He is waiting on me to ask, in order to act. That sounds like I’m the slow guy in a partnership with the eternal Creator.
Paul wrote to the people in Phillipi: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
I’ll grant that this is confusing. I would be disingenuous if I presented it as though it weren’t. But here is my conclusion:
My prayers are my efforts to line up within His sovereignty. Sometimes He relents from “justice” and sometimes He imposes “justice.” This is on one hand affected by my petitions in the sense that He desires my cooperation and for me to come along side Him, but on the other other hand He will have His way that He knew before my yardstick was a sapling.
As far as Him ignoring my prayers, His ways are not my ways, and I do not understand His ways. I am unwilling to suggest that He is less than a loving God, but I believe He ignored His own mother and brother in Matthew 12 and He ignores the requests of multitudes of people seeking healing. Luke 4:
“But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers[a] in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.”
The Jews in the synagogue of Nazareth were incensed at the suggestion by Christ Himself, that God chose some to heal and left others wondering and waiting in their infirmities. People’s emotions are stirred by this thought even still. A “no” is certainly an answer. Leaving someone wondering is ignoring.
I think this fact that He is not bound by time is a hint at the solution, but I do not understand it. I cannot make God into something I understand for the sake of my comfort. From my perspective, when I try to do that, I am fabricating a God for myself, which I haven’t done yet and don’t wish to start now.