Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Presence of God and faith

We are to "live by faith not by sight" writes Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians (Chapter 5:7). He could well have added "not by imagination either". In other words we are not to imagine that Christ is present and the addressee of our prayer, we are to take it as fact and act accordingly. This is what David Adam underlines in his excellent book on one of the earliest prayers of the Celtic Church in Britain, known as St. Patrick's Breastplate called "The Cry of the Deer". Here's what he writes:

"The Presence of God is an eternal fact. He never leaves us alone or forsakes us. It is when we lose sight of him that we falter and sink beneath the waves. We need to regain a clear vision of the Presence, to perceive the reality of His relationship with us and act upon it."

He then relates an incident that took place in a chapel he attended one Sunday:

"Not long ago, I was in a little grey chapel in a valley. The preacher was rather tedious and the hymns dull. I could have endured both, but when he started his prayers by saying, 'Now I just want you to imagine god is present,' I could have wept. I now knew why it was such heavy going: he did not know of the Presence, he could only imagine it. God is beyond our greatest imagination; either He is present, and that influences everything we do, or He is absent, and then we are poor indeed."

Note two things here:
First, the truth in the statement that "God is beyond our greatest imagination." What Adams is rightly reminding us of here is that if we try and 'imagine' Him we will always be in great danger of creating an idol of our own making.
Second, faith tells us that God IS present so we don't need to imagine He is. Imagination in this context is opposed to faith. Imagination 'creates' God's presence, while faith affirms it.

Adams continues:
"Faith is the discovery that He is at hand: 'in Him we live and move and have our being.' Faith is the joy of knowing that we dwell in Him and He in us. We cannot imagine this, you cannot even make it happen, but you can experience it as a fact."
"The Cry of the Deer": David Adam page 12

So in terms of the Jesus Prayer we are not to pray to Him "as if He were here" but because He is.

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