Sunday, January 6, 2008

Relational Theology Makes Prayer Meaningful

Prayer has meaning ONLY with the underlying assumption that it CAN change the mind and actions of God Himself. Otherwise, it becomes a dull, senseless ritual that is devoid of any value whatsoever; as worthless as a "sounding brass or a a clanging cymbal". It has as much substance as the all-day chantings of the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel. It is all bark and no bite. It is play-acting with the only goal of trying to impress God (as if we even can!).

[Karl Barth, the 20th-century theologian who pounded home the theme of God's sovereignty, saw no contradiction at all in a God who chooses to let prayers affect him.]

"He is not deaf, he listens; more than that, he acts. He does not act in the same way whether we pray or not. Prayer exerts an influence upon God's action, even upon his existence. That is what the word 'answer' means. ... The fact that God yields to man's petitions, changing his intentions in response to man's prayer, is not a sign of weakness. He himself, in the glory of his majesty and power, has so willed it.”

Relational Theology makes prayer exciting and meaningful. While Classical Theology looks at God as an impersonal unmoved mover who has pre-ordained everything to the minutest detail, is impassable, all of which are thoroughly QUITE UNBIBLICAL, Relational Theology sees The God of Love, a God who loves, a Jealous God, a God who risks, all VERY BIBLICAL concepts either by Biblical declaration or example.

Because God is Love, He has subjected His Sovereignty to His Love. He therefore, has the future open EXCEPT OF COURSE, for those things He has specifically predestined in Scripture like the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Messiah, His Second Coming and various other objects of specific prophecy as narrated in Scripture.

Since the Bible portrays an angry God many times, it is quite obvious that God is NOT impassable. Not only that, His anger means that God is surprised at negative outcomes like the unfaithfulness of His chosen people. Imagine, these are people He CHOSE, and if God Himself becomes disappointed with His OWN choice, this is undisputable proof that God has made much of the future open. He has in fact, by His own choice, locked the future even from Himself. Oh such Love, oh such exercise of Sovereignty, that God is Almighty enough to at least temporarily suspend His Own Sovereignty, or disable absolute sovereignty. On the other hand, oh such absolute Love that He can never suspend nor disable His LOVE!!!

So how does this theological truth affect our prayer life? In Relational Theology, prayer is defined as a request for a Sovereign Divine Intervention from the God of Love. It is asking God to interrupt and change the course of events according to our petitions. Implicitly, it assumes that God has NOT pre-ordained everything and therefore, our prayers and petitions can influence outcomes of events or states of being.

Life has "natural laws" obviously designed (or pre-ordained if you may) by God Himself. For example, take GRAVITY. We know that if you drop a relatively heavy object from the top of a high structure, its natural law is for it to drop vertically (plus or minus wind resistance and direction) to the ground. Prayer is a petition for God to intervene in that "natural law" or natural consequence.

A person may be sick or dying as a natural course of either aging, an accident, or careless stewardship of the body (too much toxic intake coupled with inadequate nutrition, for example). A prayer or petition for healing is a request for God to intervene in the natural course which may include intense suffering and/or death. In fact, it is a request by faith for a loving God to hear and even instantly implement the cure. There are countless biblical examples as well as real life examples of miracle healings, but these are the dynamics of the process or the big picture on what prayer is all about.

Divine forgiveness for our trespasses have the natural consequence of judgment or God's curse. Prayer would be a petition for forgiveness and perhaps a request to suspend the consequences although, biblically, the suspension of the consequences of sin is rare. Many times, the loving God forgives immediately in response to prayer, but the consequences remain and rightly so that His own will be afraid to repeat the offense. Relationally, this is the same as a parent disciplining his children. They are forgiven but a good parent will rarely suspend or cancel the consequences of spanking or grounding.

Relational Theology not only assumes, but KNOWS for sure, that God can change His mind in the same way He changed His mind about the destruction of Nineveh when they hearkened to the warnings of Jonah. (Jonah 3:10) God changed His mind when He declared to Hezekiah that he would die that very day, but after the pleadings and prayers of Hezekiah himself, God changed his mind and gave him fifteen more years! (Isaiah 38:1-8).

This theology is no different from the operative theology of David when it comes to prayer as clearly recorded in 2 Samuel 12:16-17. David prayed and fasted (pleading God to intervene again into the Divinely declared course of events in verse 14, which is the death of the child being borne by Bathsheba). This particular story and situation highlights two important acronyms when it comes to true and correct theology in prayer.

ASK which stands of Ask, Seek, and Knock according to Matthew 7:7, and
PUSH which stands for Pray Until Something Happens! What could happen, of course, could be as obvious as what happened to David, or it could just be an calm assurance that God has heard according to 1 John 5:15, which declares that God hearing EQUALS God answering. However, this latter experience is difficult to sense by someone who is not in relationship or fellowship with God with the same fervency and intensity as David had with the Lord.

Classicists may call this arrogant presumption. Relational Theology calls it simple faith in the Loving God. And God does respond to the prayer of faith. He said so in James 5:15 and 1 John 5:15. We therefore agree with Karl Barth that prayer affects God. However, even Barth's articulation is weak compared to what we just discussed. Many times when we pray, God weeps in the same way that Jesus wept (John 11:35, Isaiah 63:9) and is many times even more eager to grant us our petitions than we are to just kneel down and pray. God wants us to be in relationship - - - intimate, personal, and constant. Classicists fail at intimate and personal. Relationalists fail at constancy. And these are the barriers not only to answered prayer but to the fullness of joy in the Lord's fellowship.

The common classical response to all this discussion on prayer is how about the passage which tells us to "pray according to God's will". I do not wish to blur the message I would like us to derive from this discussion so I prefer to relegate the answer to that point to another blog where we can exegete this properly and thoroughly.

....under development. Come back soon....

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