Saturday, 29 March 2014


A friend who is travelling on a similar road to me, away from Evangelicalism towards something that gives the character of God as shown in the words and actions of Jesus more centrality, posed the question of how we now pray. My friend suggested that it is no surprise that the first disciples asked Jesus how they should pray. No doubt they had been taught how to pray before, but Jesus presented them with a new way of viewing God, no longer as just the provider of rain and sun and as creator and judge, but as an intimate father expressed in the story of the two lost sons.

As we move away from treating God as an idol who we expect to fulfil our needs for certainty and satisfaction, how does that change the nature of our conversation with God? As I reflected on my recent prayer practices, there have certainly been changes over the past few years, but none of them fundamentally different.

I have always been fairly Trinitarian in the way I visualise God and consequently how I talk with God. Sometimes I want to complain to the father-image. When I am driving, I often imagine Jesus ("elder brother of my second birth" as George Macdonald calls him) in the passenger seat and we hold a conversation. When I have no idea what to say or how to express my struggle, I open myself to the Holy Spirit, who is the master translator of groans.

As a youngster I was taught a simple pattern of prayer in four stages spelling ACTS: adoration, confession, thanks and supplication. I still find that a useful framework, though I understand it differently.

Instead of adoration I tend to think of acknowledgement: a time when I remind myself of who I take God to be. I affirm that all I see around me finds it's source in God. I remind myself that there is nothing outside God's understanding or interest. God is wild and cannot be contained in any conceptual box, however theologically astute the box-builder might have been!

That leads naturally to some thoughts about who I am in relation to that God, a part of which is a type of confession, though not the sort of confession that's associated with guilt. I have trouble asserting that God is good, or that God will always do what is good for me. At times when it is true, I will admit to God that I feel betrayed. I know there is no point hiding from God and freely admit to feeling lost or confused or lonely.  I re-assert that I nevertheless want to do things that are noble and holy and right and honouring to God. I think about the unhelpful expectations I have held of how life would unfold for me, and how I have misused God to uphold those beliefs.

I thank God for my present reality: for this day, for this view of the sun coming through the clouds, for this body, this mind, this job, this relationship with my family, these friends, this breath.

I do still ask God to do things, and still have an expectation that God is concerned for my concerns and able to act in response to what I ask. I've never been one to claim Biblical promises as though we can force God's hand. But I have an honest conversation with God about my own needs and wishes. I often pray that God would fill the hole left by divorce; that I would not fill that hole with some other substitute. (God hasn't seemed to answer that prayer except to ironically send me Peter Rollins who says that the hole will always be there and that we cannot expect even God to fill it!) But on the other hand I often ask God to help me find a new partner.

A new prayer for me that is now very regular is for God's insight to do away with any self-deception in me.

For many years I followed a weekly cycle of prayers for my wife. I have now turned that into prayers for the family and friends closest to me. On Mondays I pray for their emotions, Tuesday for their use of time and energy, Wed for physical well-being, Thurs for their talents/abilities/studies/career, Fri for their friendships and family relationships, Sat for sexuality and Sunday for spirituality.

Least you start thinking that I must be extremely self-disciplined, I have to add that all the above is a pattern rather than a rule. I do not do all of that each day. It works nicely on the days I drive to Newcastle for work. Often happens incompletely in the five minutes between going to bed and falling asleep.

All of that is to point out that for me, I approach prayer with something of a different attitude, but largely the same practice.  God is not an idol who we can manipulate by our prayers to give us certainty and satisfaction. And yet "you can throw the whole weight of your anxiety on God for you are God's personal concern." Prayer can be more honest than just repeating doctrinal "truths" in an attempt to cover up our doubts and fears and inadequacies.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The image of God in the re-unification of gender

In The Journey of Desire, John Eldredge paints a very noble picture of gender differences and sexuality (Chapter 8, The Grand Affair).

From Gen 1:27 he infers that gender is the means by which God's image is born by us.
God wanted to show the world something of his [sic] strength. Is he not a great warrior? Has he not perfromed the daring rescue of his beloved? And this is why he gave us the sculpture that is man. Men bear the image of God in the dangerous yet inviting strength. Women, too, bear the image of God, but in a much different way. Is not God a being of great mystery and beauty? Is there not something tender and alluring about the essence of the Divine? And this is why he gave us the sculpture that is woman. [p. 136]
I totally agree that these aspects of masculinity and femininity find their source in God and are intertwinned in the character of God. It may be that God needed to create two genders because the richness of all those characteristics could never be expressed by a single creature.

Eldredge quotes Peter Kreeft as saying "This spiritual intercourse with God is the ecstasy hinted at in all earthly intercourse, physical or spiritual." [p. 135] Seeing sexual intercourse as a metaphor for our union with God is key to what makes sex sacred. This has made me think about a further implication: if God had to separate aspects of God's nature to express them in two genders because they could not be contained within a single gender, then the re-unification of those genders through phsyical and psychological intimacy is an even deeper indication of what God is like. The mutual knowing of each other in sex (in ideal holistic sex anyway) – the intertwining of daring and strength and beauty and allure and mystery – is even closer to the image of God than what any of us contain within our single-gendered self.

My problem with the Eldredege quote above, however, is that any attempt to classify the difference between male and female inevitably over-generalises to the detriment of both portraits. Although there are significant differences in the psychology of being male and female and consequently in the ontological categories of masculinity and femininity, defining those differences always seems to me to be unhelpfully stereotypical. Why should daring rescues not be feminine? Why can't being alluring be masculine?

And why does Eldredge continue to use pronouns that imply that the source of these rich gender differences is male? That undermines the key point he seems to be making.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

God didn't tell Eve not to eat the fruit!

Greg Carey writes on the Sojourner's website:
God does not prohibit Eve from eating the fruit. God fills the garden of Eden with trees that bear fruit. Yet God sets apart one tree as forbidden. “You may freely eat of every tree in the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (2:16-17, NRSV). God provides this instruction to Adam but not to Eve. She hadn’t yet been created. Eve apparently hears this news from Adam (3:2-3).
How could I have missed that???????

Eve does *not* disobey anything God told her by eating that fruit, though it is clear from her response to the serpant (3:2-3) that Adam had passed on God's words to her.

Carey also observes that at least part of Eve's reason for eating the fruit was that she sought wisdom. And if the personalification of wisdom as feminine in other parts of the Bible (e.g. Proverbs 8) is any indication, that was an admirable outcome!