Monday, 19 July 2010

A Different Petition

A Single person who has been praying for a spouse for years and years, sent me an email about it. I was not sure what to say, for once, because I am not really in the spouse-finding business. I found a spouse not because I am wise, witty, wonderful, well-dressed, well-proportioned, addicted to the internet or any of those things. I found a spouse because God willed it to be so. My task, I feel, is to help Singles accept Singlehood as God's gift to them, even if it turns out to be a temporary gift.

In theology school, I discovered there were two camps on the subject of impassibility of God. There was the orthodox camp, strictly followed by my professors, that God was impassible and omnipotent, and He didn't change His mind. Then there was the squishy camp, which came dangerously close to saying that God was helpless before evil, just weeps along with us when we suffer, and makes things up as He goes along. (There is a proper name for the squish, but as I disagree with it, I have forgotten what it is called. It has something to do with a man named Whitehead. Process theology?)

As a result of wanting to distance myself from the squishy camp, I decided that the best petitionary prayer is "Not my will, but Yours be done." Sometimes I waffle, because I don't know if I should pray for a baby or not. There is certainly a lot of petitionary prayer in Scripture, including for babies. Perhaps the best plan is to say "Please, may I have a baby? But not my will, but Yours be done."

Anyway, here is the prayer I suggested to my reader in place of his/her prayer for a spouse. I first said it when I was writing my Seraphic Single blog in Boston, so you can call this the Seraphic Single's prayer, if you like. But I think this covers all kinds of life plans, especially life plans that involve other people.

Dear Heavenly Father, You know me and love me better than I know and love myself. I trust that you know better than I do what is best for me. Please help me to accept Your will and to find the happiness that You wish for me, whatever it is, in Jesus' Name. Amen.


Anonymous said...

Dear Seraphic, so many terrible things happen to people - compared to which not finding a mate can seem so insignificant - that the way you lay out the problem of accepting God's will here makes me flinch, which was of course not your intention.

Surely when one prays for a particular outcome to a human problem, one is not necessarily attempting to dictate God's will for us, still less to change His mind, but to converse with Him about the things which are most important to us? I do not think He changes His mind, but I do think that prayer is one of the ways in which he gives us some "autonomy" in His creation. But it's also the way in which He guides *us*, if we are able to listen, and so is able to teach us to do the right things even in the midst of great wrong around us.

I may be theologically unsound here. I don't know. It's just that the notion that our destinies are so predetermined (as opposed to predestined, if that makes any sense) that we cannot even pray to avert evil, which is what your hard-core theologians seem to imply, is terrible to me. Have I misunderstood you, or am I merely verging on the "squishy" ?

It's not that not finding a mate is an "evil"; it's that if we can't pray for a mate because it involves interfering in God's plan for us, how can we pray to avert evil? Of course, it is possible that God may not give us what we want in either case, but I assume this is because of the complexity of His creation and the problem of our free wills, and not because He will not act to help us.

Sorry to hijack the discussion. I just read an appalling article (linked by ArtsLettersDaily) about the massacres in Rwanda, and the problem of forgiveness in such a context, so I am befuddled by fear and doubt.


some guy on the street said...

It does go beyond scripture being replete with petition: we are commanded to pray often. The parable of the (tired-out) unjust judge comes to mind rather easily, as does the exhortation "knock and the door shall be opened". Nowadays, I then also immediately hear Paul's remonstration "you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly," whatever that means.

It also goes beyond whether God changes his mind, because he fits our free choices into their proper place within his Plan for History and Salvation. Among the stranger counterpoints to our freedoms of will and act is God's perfect prescience; that, in some way, from the first act of Creation God foresees both Eve and Adam's fall and also Mary's "fiat mihi". And I've a sneaking suspicion (much as I detest retrodictive counterfactual prophecy) that, except for the latter, God might never have gone along with the whole exercise.

I suspect a bigger problem with praying for a spouse is that the spouse has to go along with it, otherwise they aren't. But beyond God showing "her" to "him" (as in the Garden before the fall), it's out of the ordinary for God to change anyone's heart in any profound way --- far and away among the strangest motifs in the bible for me is how God repeatedly did harden the heart of Pharaoh. I still believe that also needed Pharaoh's cooperation, which would tell us much about the sort of person he was.

Still, in practical terms, I also think the prayer quoted at the end is the soundest for this sort of distress.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Some Guy. I needed to have someone repeat that to me. That article hung around my head like a cloud for some hours after I read it. You're right that at such moments, elementary prayers, like the one Seraphic cites, are the best. What else is there, aside from total unbelief, which is, for me, impossible?

Is it really so rare for God to change hearts (I agree that the biblical passages about hardening Pharoah's heart are strange)? I would like to think that grace makes this possible, at least among believers. God's grace achieved something with that lazy amoral sensualist, Oskar Schindler. But then I recall that most of the people of Rwanda were Catholic.

One reason why that story I read resonated with me was that I used to work with a Rwandan, a Tutsi. When I told him that I was a believer, he said that he could not be; that too many Church people (nuns and priests) had aided and abetted the massacre and that his faith had not survived that confrontation.


some guy on the street said...

Oh! You have hit soundly on the meaning of scandal; because people have done evil, some pretending to keep close to God, your co-worker has lost his trust in God. This probably isn't the best place for theodicy, but it would be difficult for us human folk to share in responsibility for our acts, good or bad, if it were ultimately impossible to do some evil only because of its magnitude; if God refused to uphold the natural consequences of our free acts (never mind the supernatural).

For sure they may have mostly been Catholic, they were probably for the most part rather normal ordinary Catholics. But as we all know, it's quite doable to be Catholic and bad, and it doesn't take a great number to do grave evil. And for what it's worth, I've also heard that many nuns and priests got their martyrdom in Rwanda, too.

Yes, God will, if we allow Him, mend and reform our hearts, strengthen us in goodness, and fill us with His love; He will console us in sorrows, bind our wounds, and feed us with good things; of course, I'm also being slightly flippant when I talk of God showing "her" to "him". In confession and homilies, one priest I know is apt to remark how thickly our lives are planted with "actual graces" as he terms them, specific events that both fit the ordinary way of things but guide and help us do what we're supposed to --- and that's part of what I mean by God's fitting our free choices into His plan. (E.g., who said you should be at *that* bus stop two minutes early?). This priest's counsel is to take note of these moments of grace, and hold tightly to them!

Is it *rare*? I don't know! It might take only 0.0000000001% of the time and yet happen every second. Every human being alive on Earth is also a soul, and half of them weren't part of this Creation more than 25 years ago: a new creature of God's own direct making --- I tend to think of them all as particular miracles, even though they are quite in the ordinary way of things, from one point of view. It needs grace, to be sure; it needs our free will's acceptance and cooperation.

(oh, btw, is it Clio "Alias Clio"? or another one?)

Anonymous said...

Clio is indeed Alias Clio.

MargoB said...

Oh! some guy on the street! That was *well*-said: "...he fits our free choices into their proper place within his Plan for History and Salvation."

Great image; I can see that topic in a way I have never seen it before...thanks!

theobromophile said...

Er... I know that I should be the last person to even put a baby toe into the theology discussion, but...

isn't some of it that the prayer itself, and the need to do it, changes you a bit? I know that the readers of this blog are mature, loving, grounded people, but you've surely come across people who are much more shallow and selfish. I can't be the only person who has met people who have a stated desire to marry someone rich or sexy - no one else need apply. Obviously, it's an extreme example, but all humans - being flawed humans - do things to undermine their ability to form a lifelong, healthy marriage. Prayer and petition is one of the starting points to fixing that.

By (poor) analogy: if you are failing a class, your first step would be to go to the teacher and see what you could do to fix it. Throwing yourself at your teacher's mercy, you may beg for extra help, pre-test confidence, extra credit work, make-up work, or whatever it may take. Maybe the teacher will fail you anyway. Maybe the teacher would have passed you anyway. Maybe you'll have to re-take the class and do a ridiculous amount of extra work. Either way, though, you would have to be mental to not ask for help and for direction on how to improve the situation.