Divine Persona

January 3rd, 2012
Image © by Loving Earth | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

Luke 11:1-4

Psychiatrist Gerald May begins his book Addiction and Grace with a bold statement: “I am convinced that all human beings have an inborn desire for God” (Addiction and Grace [San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988], 1). Although we in the church live with such hope, the universality of May’s statement often is counter to our experience.

The intensity of our desire for a relationship with God is manifested in our prayer life. Prayer is our human response to the awareness of God. The disciples’ request that Jesus teach them to pray resonates with our own passion for prayer. We thirst for the same relationship with God. Jesus’ prayer encourages his disciples to think of God metaphorically. When you pray, said Jesus, address God as you would your parent.

Developing a meaningful image of God is crucial. Jesus’ investment in prayer was both personal and private. Luke offers frequent references to Jesus praying, and almost always in isolated places. Matthew introduces the Lord’s Prayer with instructions from Jesus to “go into your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place” (Matthew 6:6). As Jesus does, we also can have an intimate relationship with God in prayer.

Our image of prayer from scripture and church history is that it is personal and private. In the postmodern church, the model for prayer remains the contemplative life, sheltered from cultural influences. Spirituality, especially prayer, we see juxtaposed to culture.

Our church culture brings together several generations, each with different perspectives and different expectations. The collision of these generations creates at least four postmodern cultural challenges to a healthy prayer life.

The tragedy of 9/11 drew America into a world of chaos. Safety and security are tenuous. Our sense of identity has also changed. We no longer see ourselves as primarily from white European ancestry, nor are we isolated. The world has come to live as our neighbor.

Technological advances contribute to our global community. We live in an instant culture. We follow current events on our phones. Fast food and credit are ways of our fast-paced life. We are an impatient people.

Technology is at the core of our culture and our expectations for the future. There seem to be no limits to what technology can provide. Americans believe medical research will ultimately find a cure for all disease. Our culture believes there is no problem too large for human resourcefulness. We believe human resources through technology will be able to solve all future problems.

Socially, however, relationships are changing. Families are scattered and shattered. We build relationships on how they personally benefit us.

Our prayer life is affected by the cultural impact of perceived universal chaos, instant gratification, unequivocal trust in human ingenuity through technology, and relationships grounded in personal gratification. In an instant society, we expect prayer to produce instant results. Prayer, however, runs counter to our egocentric society. Prayer is about our relationship to God and other people. "Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom... Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us." (Luke 11:2,4). Prayer is about a covenant relationship with God and with all of God’s creation.

Our high-tech culture approaches prayer with skepticism. In this chaotic and confusing world, human resourcefulness offers more hope than “a god” who has created this mess. Yet Gerald May is right, there is still part of our soul that believes God is the ultimate answer.

The biblical story is about translating the mysterious creator God into an intimate friend. Our creation stories in Genesis personalize God, making the creator walk the garden with Adam and Eve. Moses tried to personalize the God of the burning bush.

Jesus is God’s response, the incarnation of God and the reflection of the divine persona. Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). In Christ, the image of and relationship with God became concrete.

If we relate to God through human characteristics, it becomes possible for us to imagine God as a friend. But if our experience lacks positive relationships, it may be difficult to develop a trusting relationship with God through prayer. How can one imagine a loving God when life has offered mainly abuse, trauma, and isolation in relationships?

The most common prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, is an intimate communication with a friend, which can be difficult for postmodern people. How can we use intimate language as toward a parent when we have no model of parental love? How can we pray that we will forgive others when our personal needs have not been met? God’s created world seems chaotic rather than peaceful. How can such a God be trusted more than human ingenuity?

A major postmodern obstacle to our response to the awareness of God is our image of God. To imagine God as a divine person—as a friend— narrows the gap between the divine and the human. Only with a divine friend will a trusting relationship in prayer be possible and our soul’s sincere desire satisfied.

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