“God,” said Pascal, “instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.”  But not only prayer; whenever we act at all He lends us that dignity.  It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so… 

For He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures.  He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye.

I once heard an analogy (a particularly poor one, in my estimation) about God as an construction worker.  While he would be perfectly able (and happy) to build a house all on his own, he nonetheless is overjoyed to have his son take part in the project.  When there’s a nail that needs to be driven into the plank, he asks his son to hold the hammer and strike it.  The son does so, and is thrilled to see that he was of some use to the old man.  What the son doesn’t know, or at least doesn’t realize at the time, is that the father is really the one swinging the hammer.

This is meant to give us warm thoughts about our own position.  And, if you haven’t caught the gist, we are the child – merrily helping our father do his work.

To be fair, I think there are a few things this analogy gets right: that the father doesn’t need the son to do the work, that the work actually takes a bit longer when the son is involved, and (most remarkably, perhaps) that the father is nonetheless happy to have the son take part.

However (and here’s where I think the analogy considerably weakens), what we cannot miss is that the fact that the “taking part” is little more than an illusion.  The boy is not, in reality, doing any work at all.  It is the father who does the swinging of the hammer, the father that sets the nail.  The boy has as much a right to say he “helped” as the lass who sits on a kitchen stool watching her mother cook the Christmas goose.  At most, he can claim to have encouraged his father, and in turn his father did the work more joyfully.  But the boy did no actual work.

Note that Pascal and Lewis say “the dignity of causality,” not the illusion of it.  And the two, I should think, are as different as a bombardier and the bombardier-beetle.

If God asks us to pray, or to act at all, I should hope he wants us to do so because it actually matters.  But I do not merely hope.  Hoping something is true of course does not make it true.

That the actions and prayers of men actually cause things to happen is a theme from the Old Testament to the New:  Adam and Eve ate the fruit that was forbidden, causing death (human death, at least) to enter into the world; Moses “implored” to God on behalf of the Israelites at the base of Mt. Sinai, and God “relented from the disaster” he was going to inflict on them; and (lest we think this is all “Old Testament” business) Peter and John, by praying and speaking, cast out demons and healed the lame (all in Christ’s name, of course – far be it from me to suggest we build the house on our own).

Were these simply illusions?  If taking part in God’s plan to spread the Gospel to all tongues and all nations is merely an illusion meant to give me warm feelings, I must admit I’d find the idea far less appealing.  Almost enough, I dare say, to stop me in my tracks.  Not completely, since we are commanded to serve despite how “appealing” it seems (and, I should add, whether or not we fully understand why).  But my motivation, at the very least, would become one of Duty rather than one of Joy or Love.

My experience tells me (even Job, I think, would agree) that Joy and Love are always the stronger motivations.  Machiavelli, of course, would throw Fear into the mix, but that brings up an entirely new discussion (one it is far too late in the day to begin).

So, at least, it seems to me.  I could of course be very much wrong about this all.  I welcome your thoughts on the matter – and by all means feel free to disagree.

2 thoughts on “Continued…

  1. Love, joy, duty, fear. I think our motivations can be any or part of the mix, at any given time. Of course, it seems that effectiveness is better whenever the first couple are evident.


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