Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Agency and Prayer

 

We know that we can act and that our actions produce results. Everyone who believes in God must therefore admit (quite apart from the question of prayer) that God has not chosen to write the whole of history with His own hand. Most of the events that go on in the universe are indeed out of our control, but not all. It is like a play in which the scene and the general outline of the story is fixed by the author, but certain minor details are left for the actors to improvise. It may be a mystery why He should have allowed us to cause real events at all, but it is no odder that He should allow us to cause them by praying than by any other method.
Pascal says that God “instituted prayer in order to allow His creatures the dignity of causality.” It would perhaps be truer to say that He invented both prayer and physical action for that purpose. He gave us small creatures the dignity of being able to contribute to the course of events in two different ways. He made the matter of the universe such that we can (in those limits) do things to it; that is why we can wash our own hands and feed or murder our fellow creatures. Similarly, He made His own plan or plot of history such that it admits a certain amount of free play and can be modified in response to our prayers.
- C.S. Lewis in “Work and Prayer” and republished in God in the Dock, 1970.

C.S. Lewis has a way of saying things that helps me to “get it.” Here he helps me to understand the agency God has given us. We truly are “small creatures” in a very large universe, and yet God has given us the ability to change our neighbourhood, our city, or even our world. We can do physical actions to flour, water, and yeast, making bread that did not exist before we started. With that bread we can feed a family who needs a loaf of bread. We can change the course of history with our actions.

Perhaps equally surprising is that God has given us the agency of prayer. Lewis says there is “free play” in God’s plan of history that can be modified by God in response to our prayers. God’s Kingdom will come and His will, will be done; but there is “free play” in the will of God that can be affected. We have an opportunity to influence the Kingdom and will of God. We can change the course of history with our prayers.

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