Sunday, 27 February 2011

God's omnipresence

I have begun reading through your books as they become available in our public library and would like to thank you for the many profound sighs of relief I have felt for your invaluable insights and answers to questions and doubts concerning traditional Christian beliefs, which have plagued me for many years. As a committed, life-long member of a small Christian church, it has been a prolonged source of distress to me that I could not accept many of the beliefs that I grew up with and continue to be surrounded by within my church today. As a result of my rejection of simplistic anthropomorphic representations of God with nothing substantial to replace it, I had been struggling to maintain my faith that God exists at all, and if he does, that he intervenes in the lives of men; all this while continuing to act and raise my family as if this were true until such time as I once again can truly believe it to be so.

My first question concerns the nature of prayer, though I suppose it is ultimately concerned with the nature of God. I have enjoyed what I have read so far about the nature and existence of God, and have greater hope than ever before that I am on a path that will lead me back to faith through a clearer vision of God. However, I think I could benefit from your insights on prayer, since it seems that prayer itself could be a means to understand, through experience, the presence, if not the nature, of God. I reach a stumbling block here, though, since I do not have enough faith in the process of prayer itself: I have failed to benefit from it in the past, despite years of daily attempts to pray. Perhaps the idea of prayer which I learnt is insufficient and I need to understand what prayer actually is. If you have written on the nature of prayer, please direct me to your book. If not, I hope you will be able to shed light on this for me today.

I have read, in Prayer as Healing, Questions of Truth, and (I believe) Science and the Trinity, what you have said about the importance of prayer and its benefits. What I would like to know more about is the nature of prayer, how you believe it works. In other words, is this something that needs to travel through time and space to “reach” God? I noted that you mentioned that you have looked back over your life and have seen the hand of God leading in hindsight, but you have not heard a “voice” speaking to you in prayer, leading you through these experiences. I, similarly, have never heard a voice In prayer, but beyond this, I have not experienced a sense of communion (at least not to my knowledge). Nevertheless, I was – and hope to become again – convinced that God’s hand was leading in my life and would ensure what was best for me in his terms.

My greatest doubt is that prayer could be just wishful thinking, self-reflection or meditation, and, as such, may be useful, even good, without God necessarily existing. Or, if he does exist in a non-communicative form, that the answers we feel we get from him could simply be a result of our own conclusions determined by consistent reflection on the subject. In other words, if we consistently think about what we really want and need, about what is good, about what we should do in concordance with God’s word, about being grateful and content, we will be acting in accordance with this, and it is very likely that our lives will lineup with what is “best”, whatever we consider that to be given our understanding of God’s word. We will also accept our tribulations with greater patience, and find and pursue the good in every experience if we believe God is giving us answers or guidance in prayer. We can then take every experience, good or bad, as confirmation of God answering our prayers, because we believe that it is from God or will be resolved by God. It seems to me that all this good can happen whether God exists on the other end of prayer or not, as long as we believe God is speaking in prayer and controlling our lives. I once asked my father, who has prayed all his long life, how God speaks to him in prayer. He said that God puts thoughts in his mind that were not there before. How could we prove this? Aren’t there many people who live good, thoughtful lives without believing in the Christian—or any -- God? Who meditate or reflect on what should be without praying to any particular entity, reach entirely satisfactory conclusions (to themselves at least), and think new thoughts and come up with new innovations on their own?

Perhaps I still believe communication and/or communion must include a physical means of transmission, as it does between organisms (via sound/sight) , so that prayer, as a means of communication to something/someone that “really” exists over and above myself, but which occurs within my head, without sound, without the movement of energy/particles etc. through space, remains baffling.

There is a whole chapter on prayer (ch 6) in Science and Providence.

Since God is omnipresent communications to Him do not have to travel through time and space. And it is perfectly clear, scientifically, that thoughts are “real” – consider fMRI and brain-computer interaction.

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