Is God Moved By Our Prayers? : Towards A Theology Of Prayer, Pt. 16

One of the longstanding and thus, traditional views of God is that God is "impassible". To put it more succinctly: God cannot be affected by humans, their situations or their prayers. Proponents of this view usually hold to a hard view of predestination which asserts that before God ever formed the earth of the first humans, He planned out every last detail of its future. Not only do I heartily reject this view, I find it theologically troubling for myriad reasons.

In fact, such a view (which I used to hold) troubles me in many different ways and on many different levels, especially when it comes to the topic of prayer. I have already given a number of reasons for why I hold a different view and I have shared a few thoughts as to why I believe words like "impassible" are not words that should be used to describe God. Indeed, God is "all-passionate" and "all-genuine" which means that more than anyone or anything else in this world, God can relate to our sufferings and prayers the most. Certainly, as persons like Colin Gunton & Clark Pinnock have shown in some of their works, the notion that God is impassible comes more from Greco-Roman philosophy than Scriptural theology. To be sure, it was Aristotle who said that the divine must be the "Unmoved Mover". The ancient Greek ideal of Divine apatheia (closed to emotion & empathy, etc.), which is also advanced in Stoic metaphysics, however, is quite flawed.

For, we see in the Scriptures that even when Jesus is on the cross, God is moved! Could we dare say that The Father felt none of Jesus' passion or just couldn't relate? Does a God who is sovereign yet CANNOT do something (e.g. relate to those whom He created in His image!!!) sound sovereign at all? No! To the contrary, the Scriptures speak, time and time again of God's raw emotions and His empathy and sympathy for humanity. If God is impassible how can He then relate to the plight of the world? And if He cannot, is He really able to love? And then I must ask: If he cannot love, would this even be a God worth placing one's trust in? No! Besides, does not God react when we make a decision to enter into the Divine Community (e.g. Trinity)? Unequivocally, we must answer in the affirmative here: Yes, He does react and in fact, He rejoices!

Ancient Greek logic, which many so-called Christians do not realize is embedded in their thought & theology today, starts with the notion that God is perfect and because He is perfect, any change in Him would render Him less perfect. So, God's emotions cannot change because if they did, their entire doctrine would crumble. Yet, not only is this a flawed definition of God (e.g. to say that God is perfect in holiness is different for example, than saying He has a perfect record in bowling) it totally forgets to acknowledge that God is the "Most-genuine" and "Most-loving" and "Most-relational" being in existence! In short, it denies both the very nature of God and the reasons that humans were created in the first place.

To be sure, God cannot just be changed on a whim or tricked or cajoled or manipulated or whatever. However, God, who is sovereign, has opened Himself up to experiencing the human situation in such a way that the emotional and mental changes He makes, for instance, are sovereignly volunteered. Surely Dietrich Bonhoeffer was correct when, in his Letters From Prison he urged that "only a suffering God can help". I would even go so far as to say the exact opposite of what those who hold to an impassible view say, that is, I would argue that "Not only is God passible but true, Divine Love, necessitates that control, knowledge, emotion and power must be vulnerable." The great exegete and theologian Richard Bauckham has even said: "God's suffering does not deflect Him from His purpose but accomplishses it."

Not only do we have a great picture of the Most-relational and Most-genuine God here, but we also take note of the fact that if we trust in a God who suffers, we can be quite confident that He isn't the one culpable of the suffering or in other words, He isn't the one responsible for it. And if God isn't responsible for the evil and suffering then we humans shouldn't feel entitled to a response from Him, though, when we pray, we can certainly voice our concerns and ask He who empathizes with us to act (or react). In fact, Paul Fiddes has done an excellent job pointing out that believing in a God chooses to suffer with us is not the same as believing in a God who "desires" suffering (e.g. masochistic) but rather, in His desire to have genuine relations with us humans who do suffer, He opens Himself up to experience life fully with us...even our suffering.

So, to return to the question in the title of this post: Is God Moved By Our Prayers? I must say "Yes"! God is a passionately and empathetically capable God, He is a God who is willing to enter into our lives and situations and He is a God who desires for us to pray. In fact, I would argue that if my definition of prayer is right (e.g. "Attending to the presence of God both around us and in us) and if my contention that prayer is the way for us to seek out God's wants and desires, then, when we do pray to this "MOVED" God, we can also say with confidence that we may be enlisted by God to please and glorify Him as well as cooperate with Him in what He wants accomplished! So, go ahead and enter the prayer event with confidence because God cares, God is moved and God longs to be in a geunine and cooperative relationship with you.

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