Thursday, October 14, 2010
Toni Times 10-14-10, and St Augustine on Unanswered Prayer
Toni had a pretty good day, especially considering that we made the drive to Dallas for the much anticipated appointment at Southwestern on Friday morning. She was very weary on arrival at 3:30 and slept until 7:30. She was up until 9:30 and we're hoping she'll be ready for the demanding day ahead.
During the drive up we talked about Paul's words in Romans 8 concerning our ignorance in prayer: "We do not know how to pray as we ought." This led on to a discussion of unanswered prayer, and to the comfort of knowing God uses our weaknesses to make his power known (this is a fairly regular topic of conversation with us because we both think we are utterly feeble in prayer and grow despondent of learning to pray well). These passages in Romans 8 and 2 Corinthians 12 end up being two places we always talk about, especially in relationship to the prayer of surrender as exemplified in Mary's words to Gabriel and supremely in Jesus' words to the Father during his agony in Gethsemane.
All well and good, but then I turned tonight to some reading in St Augustine, which happened to be a letter he wrote to one "Proba" about Paul's words in Romans 8 and the mystery of unanswered prayer. Well now, that's no coincidence! Augustine notes 2 Corinthians 12 and Paul's unanswered prayer for deliverance from that nasty thorn as an example of the circumstances in which we don't know how to pray as we should.
"In the kind of affliction that can bring either good or ill, we do not know what is right to pray for; yet, because it is difficult, troublesome, and against the grain for us, weak as we are, we do what every human would do and pray that it may be taken away from us."
That's how Paul prayed. God's answer was the great revelation flowing from the Crucified God that God's power is made known and perfected in weakness: "My grace is sufficient for you, for power shines forth more perfectly in weakness."
Augustine picks up on this answer and notes how it must be the foundation for our trust in God when the answers we think should be forthcoming are delayed or denied. He lists four great reasons God does not answer in the way we think he should, and instead allows his power to be seen in and through us by way of our suffering rather than our deliverance from the same.He also notes God's mercy in his denial of what we might regard as something which could only be a blessing as most people count such things.
1. God gives us power in weakness when a deliverance from weakness would cause us to have too high an opinion of ourselves, imagining that we 'deserved' the answer to the prayer or had 'earned' it.
2. God gives us power in weakness so that we will not grow dejected and discouraged in the patient wait for God's great acts of mercy to deliver us. His 'delays' - as in the case of Lazarus - work for his glory.
3. God gives us power in weakness when the thing for which we ask, if received, would bring us into an even great affliction which we cannot foresee.
4. God gives us power in weakness when the thing we ask for, if received, would bring about our ruin, drawing us away from the One who is Life indeed.
In these cases, says Augustine, we truly do not know how to pray, weak and frail as we are. We must come to Gethsemane and pray there with Jesus, "Father, not my will but Thy will be done. Amen."