David Bentley Hart on Knowing God

‘As the source, ground and end of being and consciousness, God can be known as God only insofar as the mind rises from beings to being, and withdraws from the objects of consciousness toward the wellspring of consciousness itself, and learns to see nature not as a closed system of material forces but in light of those ultimate ends that open the mind and being each to the other. All the great faiths recognize numerous vehicles of grace, various proper dispositions of the soul before God, differing degrees of spiritual advancement, and so forth; but clearly teach that there is no approach to the knowledge of God that does not involve turning the mind and will toward the perception of God in all things and all things in God. This is the path of prayer –  contemplative prayer, that is, as distinct from somple prayers of supplication and thanksgiving – which is a specific discipline of though, desire and action, one that frees the mind from habitual prejudices and appetites, and allows it to dwell in the gratuity and glory of all things. As an old monk on Mount Athos told me, contemplative prayer is the art of seeing reality as it truly is; and, if one has not yet acquired the ability to see God in all things, one should not imagine that one will be able to see God in himself.’ (David Bently Hart, ‘The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss’, p. 321)

A Prayer for Enemies

‘This is the punishment
that in the secret of my heart
I want to exact
for those who serve with me and those who sin with me –
this is the punishment that I ask
for those who serve with me and hate me –
let us love you and each other
as you will and as is expedient for us,
so that we may make good amends to the good Lord
for our own and for each other’s offences;
so that we may obey with one heart in love
one Lord and Master.
This is the revenge your sinner asks
on all who wish him evil and act against him.
Most merciful Lord,
prepare the same punishment for your sinner.’

(Saint Anslem, ‘The Prayers and Meditations of Saint Anslem,’ p. 218)

Unanswered Prayer

Unanswered Prayer ( for additional information relating to this topic see “The Hiddeness of God” below.)

 

Of all the ideas in Christianity, this is perhaps the most troubling. Why does God not answer prayers?

There is no easy to this question. We are given many reasons in the Scriptures why prayers may be hindered, which generally relate to the quality of ones personal life (ie, someone with an active and unrepentant sinful life can expect to have his prayers ignored). Sometimes we pray selfishly, sometimes we pray irreverently; these and any number of other factors can affect our prayers.

Sometimes though, we don’t. Sometimes we pray for the healing of a loved one, or we pray for a friend in a tough spot in life, or we pray for any number of legitimate, honorable things.

Our greatest example in all things is Christ, who prayed this way:

Matthew 26:39

 “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

 

The key, I think, is in His last sentence. Christ prayed to not suffer, but He ended with the giving up of His own wants, legitimate as they were. This is the truth of the matter: prayer ultimately needs to be about what God wants, not what we want.

Perhaps our perception of prayer is slightly skewed, though. Perhaps we forget that prayer isn’t necessarily a genie in a bottle guaranteed to work, even if there are legitimate things we are praying for. As painful as it may be, maybe there are even overriding reasons for a certain prayer to not be granted.

I think it’s important to remember the difference between granting, hearing and answering prayers. ALL prayers are heard. That is a fact. ALL (this is my opinion) prayers are answered. However, all prayers are not granted, in that the petition we make is given to us in the exact way we word it.

This doesn’t make the reality of having a loved one in a painful condition suffer in spite of prayer any easier to bear, but it does give an answer to the question, even if it is a tough answer.