~ Following Up on Pondering and Praise of Prayer ~
The thoughts in this Reflection are inspired by the previous two: Pondering Prayer and In Praise of Prayer.
"From the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly observed in what he has made. As a result, people have no excuse. They knew God but did not praise and thank him for being God. Instead, their thoughts were total nonsense, and their misguided minds were plunged into darkness. While claiming to be wise, they became fools. Th ey exchanged the glory of the immortal God for statues that looked like mortal humans, birds, animals, and snakes" (Romans 1:20-23, GW).
Paul is pointing out that even before the revelation of the Creator through the Scriptures and Christ, God was clearly evident through the observation of His creation. Thanks to the gifts of science and technology, our ability to observe creation has taken a quantum leap since Paul's day. One of those magnificent tools has been quantum physics.
Until Isaac Newton, the world view was rich in the sense and reverence of mystery. In mystery there is wisdom, spirals and layers of it. "Mystery" was not regarded as a problem to be solved or a challenge to be controlled. Instead, it was celebrated in art, music, dance and ritual. Remnants of our attraction to mystery remain in our modern cultural consciousness, for there still is a universal love for being in the presence of misty mountain tops, the cadence of surf rolling on the beaches, the telling of ancient stories around a dancing campfire. At those precious moments, we certainly do not want a technocrat interrupting the magic with explanations of how the fire is "really" released energy from the breaking of molecular bonds through rapid oxidation producing carbon dioxide that contributes to planetary warming. Even so, try as he might, he would fail at explaining away the mystery: "While claiming to be wise, they became fools. They exchanged the immortal God for statues" or, today, for thought models and their very limited theories which are useful in technological applications.
Newtonian physics was and still is useful. The western world embraced as reality that time was linear, that every effect had a cause that preceded it, that elements of nature and energy could be measured and quantified, and thus predicted. The universe was construed to be a machine operating by strict "laws." God may have made it, but He turned it on and just let it run. Prayer may supernaturally override these "natural laws," so an "explanation" of the miraculous was adopted. This is known as "deism." Much has been said of the US founders being men of God, but they were deists in their spiritual practice. They incorporated the new paradigm of the science of their time.
The quantum physics of the mid-20th century turned Newtonian models upside down and inside out. Subatomic particles are now "energy bundles" or quanta which don't move linearly but in a time relative field, "disappearing" from one "place" and reappearing in another without going through distance, which could be in the next galaxy. So we speak of possibilities governed by the "uncertainty principle." Time itself no longer looks like a line with a past, present and future. Neutrinos from the sun come in ahead of themselves and effects can take place before their causes exist. As many ministers increasingly talk in the secular language of psychology and black-and-white, either/or principles, physicists are talking the language of mystics and mystery.
Research centers such as PEAR (Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research, Princeton University, NJ) are bringing human consciousness into the quantum physics realm, accumulating a wealth of data supporting the power of mental intention in influencing physical and mechanical events. Paul's previously quoted assertion, "God's invisible qualities, his eternal power, and divine nature, have been clearly observed in what he has made," becomes a greater gift today than for those of our ancestors as our ability to observe what God has made has increased thousands-fold. Our understanding of the nature and power of prayer is consequently enhanced.
"Before they call, I will answer" (Isaiah 66:24b, GW). "Even before there is a single word on my tongue, you know all about it, Lord"(Psalm 139:4, GW). These verses and others like them seem to imply God is looking into the future, that is if you believe time is linear. But consider that the book of Revelation says that "the Lamb [Christ] was slain before the foundation of the world." Then what about His crucifixion around 30 AD? Quantum physicists know that some events that appear to us in the future have determined the outcome of other events that already happened. In other terms, there is no future or past for God. Things that are happening to us now are influenced by what we will pray in our future. Personally, I can cite instances of what one would call divine providence or intervention that I found myself addressing in prayer after it happened. An example of this is getting an unexpected check in the mail the day after you pray that need. Obviously, the check was already on its way before you prayed.
The reason the Scriptures so often stress prayers of thanks for blessings already received and needs already met may not be in order to avoid offending God with ingratitude, but rather because our prayers of thanks which, to us, come after the fulfillment, are heard by God before we think to say them. "Before they call, I will answer," or "I will do now what they are thanking me for later ." We are taught to "give thanks in all things." Prayers of thanks aren't for the past, but, like all prayers, are outside of time, affecting past, present and future, and are thus very powerful.
When Jesus instructed, "I tell you to have faith that you have already received whatever you pray for, and it will be yours" (Mark 11:24, GW), He wasn't telling us to "psych" ourselves into believing the prayer answer is "in the mail," to help our faith. Jesus is affirming Isaiah 66:24 and Psalm 139:4 and the need to forego our notion of linear time. If we don't, then Jesus doesn't make sense. How can we have already received what we are praying for now, and not see that we have received it until a future time? Indeed, we must "live by faith, not by sight."
Quantum physics also demonstrates time compression, "warping" and even suspension. So does Scripture. "Isn't this recorded in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the middle of the sky, and for nearly a day the sun was in no hurry to set" (Joshua 10:13b, GW). "Indeed, in your [God's] sight a thousand years are like a single day, like yesterday - already past - like an hour in the night" (Psalm 90:4, GW). Generally people have been too locked into notion of time to understand these verses other then thinking, "Well, if I lived for a zillion years, I also would see a thousand years like one day." Or, "If the sun stopped, then God must have stopped the earth from rotating and miraculously kept the 'law' of gravitation intact." This is very human thinking, for time is a "dimension" that can be compressed, stretched or escaped. Again, our prayers are timeless and have the power of infinity, for the Holy Spirit who receives them is infinite.
The old question, "If a tree falls in a forest but no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise?" can lead to the question, "When God first said, 'Let there be light,' who was He talking to?" If God "talked" to nothingness, who was listening and responded by coming into existence? Being stuck in linguistics can also lead to absurd notions about praying things into being or happening. "Everything came into existence through him [the Word or Logos]" (John 1:3a, GW). The Word or Logos isn't a language, but a Being. Our prayers are brought into existence through the Logos as well, which is the meaning of praying in "Christ's name."
There is often a linguistic anxiety attached to prayer: "Am I doing it right? Am I using the right words? Is it better if I kneel or bow my head and close my eyes than walk and look around?" Thank goodness prayer isn't word-dependent! "From the mouths of little children and infants, you [God] have built a fortress against your opponents to silence the enemy and the avenger" (Psalm 8:2, GW). The babbles of babies are powerful prayers, exceeding the eloquence of the scholar who lacks poverty of spirit!
"At the same time the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we don't know how to pray for what we need. But the Spirit intercedes along with our groans that cannot be expressed in words" (Romans 8:26, GW). We can take great comfort in that we don't need to sound like a defense lawyer pleading our case before God. We are mere children before Him and our Advocate and Mediator is no less than our High Priest, the Christ, and His Holy Spirit. Our words of prayer are a poor translation of the needs and desires burning deep in our hearts. However, we need not fret over that.
There are times when our souls want to sing many words of love and praise to our God. This brings us into His Heart if we abandon ourselves, not worry how we sound or if we're "doing it right," and lose ourselves in holy communion in Him. There are other times when such eloquence and many words get in the way. If a family is asleep in a burning house, eloquence will not spur action and movement like one single word would: "Fire!" After yelling that one word, nothing more needs to be said. Jesus related a story about this, glorifying the example of a contrite man who only kept saying, "Be merciful to me, a sinner." Often times a long, beautiful love poem to a loved one lifts the soul. More often though, a gaze of smiling eyes and a simple "I truly love you" pierces deeply into the heart. Sometimes a silent presence to another is the most eloquent and heart-felt. Words carry a meaning. When the meaning is incarnated and expressed in one's life, we don't need the words. That incarnated meaning is the Logos.
Our loved ones and our God delight in all these expressions of prayer. Their power isn't in our feeble words, however. Prayer transcends time, distance, language and our understanding. It is a mystery in which to live reverently and unceasingly; a mystery that is the door keeper to the Holy of Holies, the very Presence of God. Therein rests its wondrous and resplendent power.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
Weekly Reflections © April 20, 2002
"God's Word" is a copyrighted work of God's Word to the Nations Bible Society. Quotations are used by permission.
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