Last night I was talking with a friend, and this question came up, and I thought it made great blog material so I’ve posted it here. The conversation presented below is about reverence before God in prayer, and the essential vulnerability of God to us. The point is not that God’s vulnerability leads us to trample Him, but when properly recognized leads us into the very weakness of the cross because of the sheer incomprehensibility of it. The weakness of God is a mystery that draws us in, it is the overwhelming song that lingers at the heart of what God’s love for us means, and whose crescendo collapses all our idols in the moment when we finally and fully recognize the cross for what it is.
This conversation has been edited slightly for spelling errors, and several lines have been combined into paragraphs for ease of legibility, but aside from that, there have been only moderate changes to punctuation, and wording.
Della: To what extent do you think it’s true to say “God doesn’t need us to protect him?” like..as far as how we pray and interact with him?
Eli: protect him from who/what?
Della: from us and how we talk about him, about him/to him it’s in the intro to a book of prayers I’m reading. Hauerwas [is] explaining why he prays the way he does
Eli: ahh, I think he doesn’t need our protection at all, we can unleash everything we have on him, because it’ll exhaust us, he’s inexhaustible, he’s already spoken everything he had to say in the cross, and interprets himself to us in the cross, he makes himself weak that we might be overwhelmed with majesty. When I pray, if I am angered, I unleash it all, because only love can bear it. If I can speak truthfully with God, it will help me
speak truthfully in the open among others. That’s what i think.
Della: i agree.
Now for some particularly important questions regarding the matter in question:
Della: where do you think reverence comes in?
Eli: If we unleash our fury on him, we’ll be overwhelmed by the power of his weakness. Reverence comes in the moment where we can no longer do it as one yelling at the air or an all powerful throne, but reverence is created in the moment we see the crucified Christ as the one we’re yelling at and unleashing our fury on. We recognize we’re staring at the one who bears the world, and casting upon him our burdens, and reverence comes to us, makes room for itself by exhausting our incomprehension and fury with love. That inspires repentance, and breaks the sinner. He’s the stumbling block, the one who causes our offense, not at him, but at ourselves. We recognize that we’ve been driving in the nails, forcing more sin upon him, and then our hearts are broken, that’s when we find reverence. When we see the true nature of the content of our rejection.
Della: all prayer is reverent when we’re praying in christ?
Eli: in a sense yes, even our deepest frustrations and blasphemies are
transfigured by the overpowering love and i’m assuming that one is doing it not as a
careless asshole who just wants to yell but as an ignorant and inquiring and frustrated child there’s an infinite world of difference between the blasphemies of a lover and the blasphemies of a destroyer.
Della: yes there is.
Eli: i can only speak from experience here, but i know that i have been in moments of severe anger at God. Yelled at the tops of my lungs, screamed for mercy, cursed him in anger and derision but when i started wearing a crucifix i remembered Who i was yelling at, and i couldn’t yell any more. All i could do was suffer with him and want to be beside him on that cross. I didn’t feign reverence, it became me, it embodied my prayers by exhausting my incomprehension and drawing me into love. I had no option but to recognize his bearing patiently all my own anger, making possible an example that i might enjoin myself to and do the same. I saw that I cast stones not at an immovable and apathetic enthroned man. I saw in my frustrations not me attacking some omnipotent and enthroned power, but me taking a spear to the very flesh of a man gasping for his last breaths, drenched in blood and burdened with sorrows. I saw me spitting upon not some glorious picturesque image of god, but on a weak and dying man and that changed everything.
It’s ok to protest against God, it’s ok to be furious, angered and dissenting, not because we seek to have cathartic expression levied against the very heart of God, but because if we do not become indignant with the world from time to time, our humanity is in question, our love for the world is in question. We must love the world, but not the powers that have set it in rebellion against God. Love the world that God has declared is already present among us, and recognize that this world is already that world.
When you pray, do not be afraid to speak truth, but know that truth is always required of us, if we cannot be open with God, we cannot expect to be open with ourselves.
I hope you’ve found this to be enlightening, and if you disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. I’d only ask that any who read this recognize that ultimately what I am saying is that reverence is a process whereby we stop seeing God as the glorious cloud of ether in or outside the universe and recognize our protests are levied against this man Jesus, Our Crucified, weak and gasping God.