Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Random God

The Collect for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity reads, "Let thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy humble servants; and, that they may obtain their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

Having completed the Master of Theology degree at Dallas Theological Seminary, I can confidently say that the dynamic interplay between God and believers in everyday life is more a mystery now than when I started formal training. No definitive pattern can be discerned from either Holy Scripture, or from observing life in general. One appears to receive God's favor, another does not. The wicked prosper while the righteous suffer, but then the trend is sometimes reversed. One man seeks to honor the Lord with his labor, yet is not rewarded with abundance. Another could not care less for the Lord's agenda, yet seems to prosper at every turn. There is no discernible pattern to it.

To add complexity to the enigma, just when the lack of any pattern causes one to throw up their hands in stymied resignation, and declare that there is no pattern because God does not bother himself with the menial concerns of the individual, something occurs that seems to lend evidence that God does indeed "answer" prayer.

The apparent "silence of Heaven" may be a problem for the superstitious Christian that asserts a view of God as the "divine puppeteer," pulling the strings of every daily event (Oral Roberts). However, the seeming "answer from Heaven" remains a problem for the deist that asserts God as a "divine watchmaker" that created the world with various principles to operate it, got it started and then has pretty much left it alone since (Thomas Jefferson). There is such a thing as a Christian-deist hybrid, a sort of "Christian naturalist" that asserts belief in the great Christian creeds, but will assert that one should not expect God's intervention between the first and second advents of Christ. I have tried to avoid this tendency, but life experience has made it tempting.

Nevertheless, just about that time that the "silence of Heaven" has made Christian naturalism intellectually attractive, out of desperation concerning a family need I punt to prayer (for which I'm expecting no answer). When the need is met in an unexpected manner, it seems to jostle the categories all over again. Is the need met randomly by the blind ebbs and flows of human society and interactions? Was the entropic benevolence of someone toward us, who became aware of our need, wholly unrelated to the petition I had offered to God in secret? Is it right to interpret the meeting of the need as related to the prayer for the need? Did God send the money, or did some kind person give it, who arbitrarily decided to show kindness to us?

Clearly the best answer to last question is "Yes."

However, the temptation always remains to attempt learning something about God through such events, to discern his "pattern," discover his "m.o.," figure him out. The temptation to pursue such insight is great, but the folly of such a pursuit is great as well. The best that can be determined from such encounters is that God enjoys his randomness. For reasons that seem good to him, he appears averse to fitting neatly into popular categories concerning his interaction with us in this present world. To figure him out would be to master him in some capacity, and he will apparently have none of it.

The one who has a need met following prayer cannot say, "God always meets my needs when I pray." Likewise, the one who has a need go unmet despite much prayer cannot say, "God never meets my needs regardless of how much I pray." He is mastered by none, and is predictable by none. He holds his own council, and is advised only by himself on matters into which he will intervene. The "puppeteer" and the "watchmaker" are labels that cannot fit his character.

For reasons that seemed good to him, we had a pressing need that was met today. I mentioned this need to him in morning prayer, half expecting that this would be to no effect. Other disappointing life events this year had me persuaded that "Christian naturalism" was a more accurate view of God. Nevertheless, being a Christian, I have not abandoned the practice of prayer, though I did not expect anything to result. When I was approached hours later by an unexpected source with the resources needed, I gladly thanked them. Inside though, I rolled my eyes and prayed secretly, "You're having fun with this, aren't You."

I reckon the lesson was to cease attempting to discern the pattern. The sovereign Lord appears to enjoy his randomness, and he retains the right to involve himself in my life, and my needs, to whatever extent he pleases. I cannot presume upon his intervention (or absence) in any of my life events.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

I do appreciate reading your insights, Monk! Just when I think you're getting thiiiisclose to being "too" somber and serious, you throw in an expression or colloquialism that reminds me who you are: a man, a teacher, a fellow student of Life in God's classroom.

Your style makes the lessons 'stick' somehow.

Thank you.