Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Praying about the past...

Yesterday morning, on Twitter, Stuart James (@eChurchBlog) asked for prayers.  I didn't see the request until later in the day, when he was thanking people for their prayers and reporting a positive outcome.

So I tweeted: I didn't see this earlier, but will offer today's rosary for you. In my theology, that still works, even if the moment is past.

One of the great things about Stuart (and one of the reasons his blog is such compulsive reading) is his insatiable curiosity.

So he wouldn’t let that go by without asking what on earth I meant.

So I dashed off a series of tweets:

I don't know where I picked it up, but my understanding is that whilst we operate in time, because God is outside time - which is of course part of Creation - our actions are not necessarily bound by temporal constraints. One sees this for example in the understanding that Christ suffered for my sins. Every additional sin I commit now adds to His suffering then - in the past! So why should not our prayers also be efficacious in the past? For God, outside of time, can see them coming, as it were (in present, to Him) so why would He not choose to answer them for temporal reasons? #makesense?

That appealed to Stuart, and made intuitive sense to him. It does to me, too.  But is it right?  

Does anyone out there know if I’m barking up the wrong tree?  Or simply barking?...

But my other thought on this is that authentic prayer isn’t necessarily an attempt to change God’s mind.  Indeed at the heart of Christian prayer is ‘fiat voluntas tua,’ ‘Thy will be done.’

Likewise, we do not pray for God’s benefit, but for ours: it is good for us to pray, not good for God.

Therefore, I conclude, a large part of the benefit of prayer is conforming ourselves to God’s will; and if that is the case, then praying about the past makes perfect sense. For when I pray, I am changed; and praying about both good and bad things in the past may not change them, but can and does change me.

Nonetheless, I wonder if that is ducking the issue. When we pray for a specific intention, whether it is the end of violence in the Middle East, or the health of a sick friend, it is at least in part because we believe that God can intervene and may choose to do so as a result of our prayer.  Can that also apply to the past?  My instinct is still to say that it can: that if we choose to pray about the past, that will be as efficacious as if we had prayed for the same intention at a prior point in time.  We will not change the past; but rather what happened in the past will already have been affected by our prayer: for God, who is outside time, will have heard that prayer and answered it as He sees best.

But I would be very interested in others’ views (and particularly any authoritative or patristic writings) on this.

1 comment:

Mark said...

The thought's occurred to me as well, but I have nothing authoritative to say!