“The power of prayer depends almost entirely upon our apprehension of who it is with whom we speak.” (Andrew Murray)
June has been a month of much driving: I’ve been to Haifa 6 times, teaching at the Haifa Theological Institute. Four hours of driving (at best) for the sake of three and a half hours of teaching, for 6 days, has surely required some energy. But the sheer joy of teaching about 30 students, many of which are former drug addicts fresh out of a rehabilitation center, was rich compensation. And all the more so because the subject was my favorite one: the attributes of God.
A good friend of mine confessed to me some weeks ago that his prayer life is lacking the fervor he wants it to have, and that he became aware of at least one reason for this. He said that the idea of God being a caring Father sounds to him like a contradiction in terms because of the kind of man his human father was. He was a good person, but calling him caring would be an exaggeration: he never bothered to sit and really find out what was going on in his son’s life. And that image of a father is now being projected in my friend’s mind onto God—the very God he firmly believes in, and yet he struggles to turn to him in order to pour out his heart, ask for things that he needs but deems too petty to disturb God Almighty with, or just talk.
My friend’s struggle points to a work that the Holy Spirit wants to do in probably everyone’s life, which is replacing a wrong and false image of God with a true one. Surely, he himself is larger than any true image that anyone can ever have, and one of the enemy’s tactics, as Screwtape taught Wormwood, is to make sure that his “patient” prays to his image of God, and not “to the completely real, external, invisible Presence, there with him in the room and never knowable by him as he is known by it” (C. S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters, ch. 4). And yet if we don’t have a deep conviction about God’s wrath against sin, and his goodness and commitment to us, his children—all at the same time—we shall probably find ourselves way too often in the midst of unnecessary struggles to live the life we are called to.
The Holy One of Israel – who is he, really? Or should we ask about “them” instead? What are we to make of the mystery of the universe’s Creator becoming a Jewish kid, with all this entails, and yet remaining God—even on the very cross of his death? How can we make sense of him being great and gentle, awesome and tender, consuming fire and love? And most importantly, how can we cleave to him for the rest of our life despite all our sinfulness and weakness?
In our age of quick answers to profound questions, here is a good one: “By my Spirit, says the Lord” (Zech. 4:6).