Prayer, Time, and the Mercy of God

In Toni Morrison’s Beloved,  (former?) slaves Sethe and Baby Suggs find they cannot keep praying or  speaking the word because their times have been irreparably broken. Their future has been taken from them by their former oppressors. Now, as Sethe says, the future is nothing but “keeping the past at bay.” And the past must be kept at bay because “nothing ever dies.” The undead past haunts, spitefully.

This is just to the theological point: for the present to open toward an eschatological (and thereby a worldly) future, for hope (in contrast to anticipation) to be possible, the past—in all its glory and all its horror—must be somehow put to rest for good.

Bonhoeffer says somewhere that the telos of pastoral care is to free people to pray. But to pray in good faith, we must in fact believe that our past and our future somehow are permeable to the eternal mercy of God. And surely this is why the gospel proclaims that Christ died once for all and has been raised to life for us. How else would we be free from what has happened? How else would we be free for what is to happen yet?

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Author: Chris EW Green

Associate Professor of Theology Pentecostal Theological Seminary

2 thoughts on “Prayer, Time, and the Mercy of God”

  1. Both this post and the previous one make me to ponder on what do we really mean or understand by eschatology. It we can’t not bring the Kingdom down, so to speak, neither haste the end (finishing the GC?), if those things are outside our agency, how then, can we have an eschatological hope that contributes to what God is creating or moving towards? Maybe, that’s exactly your point (I’m not sure), that there’s an eschatological hope that belongs only to the Spirit, and that I can’t shape it to serve my own goals. And then, how that eschatology should shape my prayer life? Anyway, I need to meditate a little bit more on this…

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    1. Deborah, excellent questions, which I hope I can answer well. First, I think the Kingdom is something we hope for and just so cannot bring about through our own efforts. Nothing we do, or fail to do, will keep the Kingdom from coming. God’s will will be done.

      However, we can and should work, as love moves us, to open one another up to that *hope* of the Kingdom. We can’t transform this world into the Kingdom but we can make the world a better place by coming awake to “the hope of glory” which is given in the encounter with the living God—and helping our neighbors find that same encounter, that same awakening.

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