I came across this on twitter and it caught my eye and made me think.
Failure to pray is not merely breaking some religious rule. It is really a failure to treat God as God.
— Timothy Keller (@timkellernyc) October 26, 2014
What do you think?
As a Reformed pastor and theologian I know Keller is seeking God’s Glory in all things, and rooting out humanity’s pride and arrogance in all things. I agree with this framework, to a point, in that in the Garden Adam and Eve fell because they wanted to be like God.
But this is only half the story.
Isn’t it also correct to say that Adam and Eve fell because they didn’t want to be who they were made to be? They were trying to be other-than themselves, other-than created beings made in the image of God, designed for fellowship and communion with God. It is not just that they weren’t treating “God as God” but they weren’t treating “themselves as themselves” (I know that is an awkward phrase, but you get the point).
Returning back to prayer, I think it better to say not just that if we fail to pray we aren’t treating “God as God” but that in failing to pray we aren’t treating “ourselves as ourselves.” When we don’t pray are not doing what we need to do to be truly human. When we don’t pray we are becoming more and more sub-human (as it were). It is not “weak” humanity that needs to pray, but rather it is “true” humanity that needs to pray.
This doesn’t make prayer all about humanity, but rather that true humanity is always a prayerful dependence on God, a prayerful seeking of God’s ways in the world. True humanity always knows itself to be coming from and returning to God.
I worry that often times Reformed theology creates an “us” versus “God” dynamic (in this case it is prayer) rather than fostering an “us” with “God” perspective.
Why did Jesus Pray?
Let’s do a thought experiment and ask “Why did Jesus pray?”
Did he pray because he wanted to “treat God as God”? Well, that seems funny because he already was/is God and so in that sens there would be no need for prayer.
Did he prayer in order to be a good example to his disciples about how to “treat God as God”? Well, maybe, but again that would seem particularly disingenuous and inauthentic to fake prayers as an example (I suppose this would be something like a dad letting his kids win at a game).
Rather I would say we must not forget about Jesus’ humanity and this in his humanity (or better, as the “true” human) Jesus prayed because this is what he needed and had to do. As the image of the true humanity living in faithful obedience to God, Jesus prayed to God for all that he needed (and even argued and pleaded with God, at least once in the Garden of Gethsemane).
So let us keep our understanding of prayer (and other practices) as balanced as our Christology (divine and human), taking into account both the human and divine directions of these practices (we could easily talk about evangelism, preaching, sanctification, etc).
For other thoughts about Tim Keller on prayer see Scot McKnight’s recent post on Keller’s Rules for Prayer.