We had it all. You know the story of Adam and Eve. God created man and woman “in His image” to reflect God’s character and represent His rule on earth and harness the potential of God’s creation.
Man and woman were truly blessed, but they did not seem to know it. The snake appeared one day and told them the tale of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and despite God’s urging to not eat from the tree, they were tempted to do so. The Tree of Life and trusting God was not good enough. They believed the snake when he said they could eat the apple and become like God. Weren’t they already created “in His image”?
Instead of becoming like God, they disobeyed God and ruined their relationship with their Father. They exercised their free will and chose autonomy over trusting the words of God.
God gave them that free will and it back-fired. The first man and woman were punished.
This succinct summary of the Adam and Eve story relates to prayer because many of us still want autonomy when it comes to prayer. We think we can pray for what we want God to accomplish but can we? We like to think we are free agents. No one wants to be a puppet. But what are we?
Free agent or puppet?
Some people believe that God has absolute control. He can even rule our hearts and action. But others think, like Adam and Eve, we have the ability to choose and sometimes we make bad choices. [The absolute control people feel God knows what we are going to do before we do it]. Since the focus is on prayer, let’s assume that we have free will to use the language we use to address God; language that we are morally responsible for.
To help us understand how a person would think pray is under God’s control, we will look at two analogies W. Bingham Hunter uses. Some may gain some insight from this.
For the praying person who feels God is in total control, Hunter uses the image of a mother cat and her kitten. When a mother cat wants to take her kitten somewhere, she merely grabs the kitten by the back of the neck and moves the kitten. The kitten is passive. I have always had cats as pets and I have tested this repeatedly. Grab a cat by the skin on the back of the neck and the cat doesn’t fight you as you move it. Humans [the kitten] is not in control. They are not powerful compared to the mother cat [representing God]. The words of prayer are even pre-ordained.
Contrast this to another image of a mother monkey jumping from branch to branch. I have seen this in the zoo and on television. The mother monkey does all the work associated with mobility but the baby monkey is taught to cling to the mother in order for this to work. If the baby does not exercise the muscles associated with holding onto the mother, the baby does not get a ride.
What is the basic difference between these two animal examples? The kitten is passive and the baby monkey is an active participant.
I know it may be a stretch to think of yourself as a kitten or baby monkey, but I prefer to think of myself as the monkey. God’s spirit is within me and I am glad it is. It is my Helper in times of trouble and indecision but I have the power to exercise my “muscles of participation” or not.
Quoting T.C. Hammond, Bingham writes “The awakened soul cries unto God as naturally as the infant cries for food. When the cry is lacking, there is danger of death. As the cry brings the answer because the mother heart is turned to the wail of the babe. Dare we say that God also creates in us this yearning after Him and His will, and is under compulsion of His own nature to answer the call which is of His own creation.
When Adam and Eve ate of the apple in the garden, they hurt their level of intimacy with God. For me that is what prayer is. It is my effort to be intimate with my Creator.
My prayer is my interpersonal contact with God, it is not mechanical and it shows the love between me and God. I believe He cares enough to listen.
Bottom line: If I did not think He loved me, why would I try to talk to Him?
The answer is, I probably wouldn’t. But…
And I pray.