God's Favor & Our Prayers: Towards A Theology Of Prayer, Pt. 19

One of the most troubling things about the Christianity that resides in America today is the distorted view of God’s favor that is constantly being shoved down people’s throats! The Word Of Faith Movement with Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, etc., etc., are always trying to fly a banner that says “I have God’s favor”. When they do this, not surprisingly, they do it out of ill-informed Scripture readings and interpretations.

For people like Joel Osteen, who boils God’s favor down to awarding him open parking spots closest to the mall doors (because that’s where all preacher’s go, right?), is just absurd. It is not uncommon to hear him rip Scriptures out of their socio-literary contexts and abuse them, twist them and fashion them out to make himself a “successful businessman approved by God”. Sadly, this mindset has made it’s way into the mainstream church and has raped it of any theological dignity it may have once had.

To be sure, the ancient Hebrews or Greeks did not understand the “Favor of God” in the same way that it is often spun at people today. In fact, the 3-Volume set edited by scholars such as Mark Boda, Daniel Falk, Rodney Werline and others, which is titled “Seeking the Favor of God”, explores said topic throughout 2nd Temple Judaism and proves this! To put it in a nutshell: The “Favor of God” came into play during penitential prayer (repentance for doing wrong) and was viewed as God forgiving the sinner. God’s “favor” was not about getting a “thing” or some “things” but rather about receiving the spiritual gift of forgiveness.

So, when I talk about God’s “favor”, that is what I am referring to: God offering repentant sinners forgiveness! Now, this really brings us to another issue: What did it say about the relationship between the repentant being and God, when someone repented? Well, we need to know a little bit about ancient cultural norms to get a better understanding of this. For example, we need to acknowledge the relational dynamic at work: When someone repented, they were (even with body language) suggesting that God was greater than they were (especially in terms of “Holiness”; repentance is, from one perspective, the unholy seeking both forgiveness and healing from the Most-Holy!.

In ancient practices, this would have fallen under the rubric of “patronage”. Now, there were various forms of patronage in antiquity (e.g. client-patron, public beneficence, friendship, etc.) and in this particular case, we are dealing with the notion of patronage and reciprocity. We might imagine this as an ongoing relational contest of sorts (it’s akin to what the Scriptures say when they challenge believers to “outdo one another in works of grace to each other”). The idea is: I get a gift, in return I respond with a gift, in return the original giver responds with a gift (maybe even just gratitude or a good word, etc.) and so, I respond again…and it keeps going on and on; when one person breaks the cycle, they lose (though, this was not always a bad thing).

Really, this was how “grace”--a term derived from the ancient economy (don’t tell that to the Word of Faithers!!!)--was understood then. Just as well, it can still be found in our economic language today (e.g. “grace period”). Yet, “grace” was viewed as this back-and-forth sort of dance that could go on and on forever. In short: Grace was NEVER free but ALWAYS expected something in return (again, even if just a word of thanks or gratitude)! So, when Christ graciously dies for sinners, that grace is not free! There is an expectation: That people will respond to it by giving their lives to Him! And then, the relationship starts and this “giving dance” goes on and on. Sadly, too many theologians have no idea of how grace was understood in antiquity and so, fail to teach about grace in its purest sense today.

This kind of brings us full-circle then, as we think about God’s favor in relation to prayer. If seeking God’s favor means to repent before Him and to seek after receiving forgiveness from Him, which, when He gives it, we must consider that an act of grace, then, in response, we must give something back to God (e.g. our lives, our attention, our talents, etc.) and then, the dance continues on and on. It is not a process of seeking God for things and then He awards them but rather, seeking God’s presence, even His forgiving presence and then reacting and responding accordingly.

So, what does a healthy view or theology of God’s favor, especially as it concerns prayer, look like? It looks like going to God first and foremost, as I have been saying all along, to attend to His presence and to perhaps, experience His grace. Yet, that grace is NEVER free but rather ALWAYS expects something in return, namely, a genuine and authentic response, a relationship of reciprocity. Not only does this view coarse through the veins of Scripture but also myriad ancient extra-biblical texts (Cf. On Sacrifices 2; Ben. 3.15.4; De Offic. 2.62; etc.). This is what Sophocles is getting at when he writes: “Grace (charis) is always giving birth to grace (charis).”

Thus, I am calling here for a more informed view on behalf of Christians today regarding things like “favor”, “grace” and “repentance” especially as they relate to prayer. The longer we let a group of ill-formed and ill-informed motivational television speakers (I do not call them evangelists or preachers) inject this disease into the lifeblood of the Church, we will only continue to perish. In fact, I would say that it is high time not only for these people to repent but also, those who have bought into it. Why would we want to experience anything but real grace (not "cheap" grace) and favor? Well, we shouldn't! Now, let's respond accordingly!

No comments:

Post a Comment