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Permission To Struggle With God In Prayer

Today, I attended for the first time a Leaders’ Forum at Waverley Abbey House, home of CWR. These days (free, gratis and otherwise at no cost) had been recommended by a new ministerial friend here. The theme was The Leader’s Vital Breath – Prayer. I thought I would share one insight that came in this afternoon’s session led by Philip Greenslade.

Giving us an extended treatment of Psalm 73, he contrasted Islamic treatment of the Abraham story with the Jewish and Christian approaches. Referring to the incident where Abraham bargains with God for the salvation of the righteous in Sodom, he noted that the Qu’ran deletes the bargaining and Abraham is basically told to shut up. In other words, it’s pure Islam: ‘submission’ (which is what the word ‘Islam’ means). On the contrary, both the Jewish and Christian approaches allow for honest struggle with God in prayer (hence Psalm 73). Quoting Abraham Heschel, who said that for the Jewish prophets, ‘Thy will be done’ involved effectively praying ‘Thy will be changed’, he said that any proper understanding of ‘Thy will be done’ has to include Gethsemane.

Does not all true prayer involve struggle, he asked? If prayer is only submission (and some Christian traditions are guilty of this, too), then is it true prayer? Good question.

I think we are learning this lesson of being able to be honest with God in prayer more and more in today’s church, but it was good to have such a thought-provoking underlining of it.