Chapter XII: Does God Answer Prayer?
We were nearing the end of the Court. Neither Omra nor myself had spoken since parting from our friends. How could we speak? The whole place seemed to be wrapped in the embrace of a “Hush” under which it felt like a sacrilege to attempt an utterance, even in the execution of a duty. I looked at my companion under the growing impulse of an awesome fear, but he only raised his hand with a gesture of silence, while he reduced his deliberate pace into a mere suspicion of movement. Then a breath of coral perfume trembled across the stillness, like the echo of a strain of music from the so-far-away as to vibrate in the depths of cognition with the sweet rapture of a fairy dream. Under the influence of its hypnotic constraint we stood, listening to the scarcely perceptible flowing crescendo that rose with the perfect movement of a cloudless dawning until the vocal and instrumental elements could be distinguished as some still invisible procession neared, and the words of the great anthem rolled in volumes through the Court with the proclamation that “The path of the just is as a shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”
When the recession was accomplished, and my arrested powers released, my mind went back to the music which had once held me spellbound in that early Chorale. What a revelation was then made to me of the powers, influences and restorative possibilities of music, in comparison with the elementary ideas of it, with which the earth is acquainted. But now I had discovered that, in the Chorale, I had done no more than beheld the phenomena of music: it had been reserved until I had entered “the general assembly and church of the first-born” on the threshold of heaven for me to discover and know what harmonies are laid up for the homecoming of the children of God in the sacred sanctuary of the soul of music, where all and every separate element of creation are brought together, purified, tuned, fitted, interwoven and interblended in accordance with the Great Composer’s theme, then strung to concert-pitch to sound one chord of revelation, in which the Trinity of Heaven—Father, Love, and Home, will be unified in God.
As we left the Court, Omra turned in an oblique direction across the plain towards the gulf which enabled us to reach a delightful wilderness of flowering shrubs through which we wandered leisurely, catching an occasional glimpse of the precipice which lay on our left.
“What did you think of the prophetic benediction by which our departure was accompanied?” Omra asked me presently.
“I am almost afraid to venture an opinion,” I replied hesitatingly. “Revelation rolls over revelation with such an overpowering bewilderment that it requires more effort than I seem to possess to form any real conception of anything. I am something like a man surfing in a sea that defies you to keep your feet—I must leave my opinions until I am more at liberty to quietly review my experiences.”
“And when you are thus able to review what now appears to be a chaos of turmoil,” he answered in a calm but resolute confidence, “you will see that this seeming confusion has been governed to its minutest detail by a marked and most beautiful precision.”
“I am, in a way, prepared for that, but is it not strange that the confidence I feel that it will be so, only helps to increase my perplexity?”
“No. It would rather be strange to me to find it otherwise,” he responded with quiet encouragement. “You are somewhat in the position of a sensitively-strung pupil confronting his first lesson on an organ—the array of technicalities he has to master, the impossibility of his reaching such efficiency that eyes and fingers and feet may act in automatic conjunction to bring out every note of Handel’s ‘Hallelujah’ which lies open before him, appals and makes him tremble at the thought. But if the lad has once been permitted to hear the music the spirit that dwells in the organ sings to the soul she loves, the mastery of the technicalities will be forgotten—impossibilities will no longer exist – difficulties will take to themselves wings and fly away—his eyes, his fingers and his feet will no longer doubt their capabilities, and he will woo the invisible angel until the organ will reciprocate his soul’s devotion, and sing to him songs sweeter than Mendelssohn ever heard or Handel in his rapture-dreams composed. So shall it be with you. But just now, you are in the transitional stage. Old things are passing away—all things are becoming new. Hitherto you have been dreaming—now you are waking up to what real life is to be, and you are not only perplexed, but absolutely astounded to discover that in your new life the fundamental essentials of your past are not only unnecessary, but actually non-existent here. As a theory you have been conversant with the formula that ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’, but the formula was nothing more than a theological phrase for the benefit of experts, and meaningless to the ordinary man in the world. When the rising sun of eternity banishes the vapour of mortality, the soul is startled to discover that with the discarding of the flesh and blood the whole philosophical equipment of the wise has been cast aside with the non-essential debris; that the spirit works by means of a higher faculty than the brain—a reflecting mirror by which all truth is heliographically transmitted from the central sun and needs no intermediaries to interpret or translate it.
“Can you trace the analogy I would establish between yourself and the boy in front of the organ? But in that case I had to introduce an ‘If’, and in doing so made the figure cease to serve my purpose; therefore, I must change it in order to convey the lesson I desire you to learn. I said, ‘If the lad has once been permitted to hear the music,’ but that quality of uncertainty no longer applies to you. Like the wise men of another parable, you have seen the light—you have followed the star, and coming to worship and adore, you have brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to lay at the Saviour’s feet, and the offering has been accepted and acknowledged. For the rest you need have no further concern. That misgiving does not arise from your unpreparedness to cross the bridge and enter in, but rather from the overwhelming sense of the magnitude of the inheritance into which you are entering. As soon as you are able to realize your joint-heirship with Christ in the kingdom, and feel that in Him ‘all things are yours’, you will have confidence to cross the bridge and enter upon your own.”
While Omra had thus been speaking we were wandering among an unspeakably entrancing floral display with that perfect appositeness which characterizes every detail of this higher life. This sense of completeness meets you at every turn—nothing lacking or out of place – nothing to be desired that is not immediately available – nothing available that you wish to dispense with or would change its location or rearrange. In this, as in every aspect of existence where the Creator’s design has not been disturbed, one can always re-echo the Psalmist’s avowal: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” Not for the first time in my experience did I find it so as I listened to the soothing assurances of Omra, and when he ceased speaking, I stood still, with a feeling of gratitude I knew not how to express, and taking both his hands in a grip which I hope expressed more than my words, I said:
“And let me say that I hope one of those realizations will be the power to express how much I am indebted to you for all your patient forbearance in my weakness.”
“Say no more of that, my brother,” and in tone and returned pressure he was far more eloquent than in his words. “It is always pleasant to find one’s services are appreciated, but let us say no more about it. In what I have done and said I have been what I am—I am what God has made me; and if aught that I have done has been in any wise helpful, it is a testimony that God has not laboured upon me in vain. To him be all honour and glory.”
“I shall not attempt to argue the point, much as I almost wish I might,” I answered his self-repudiation in the matter, “but merely for the sake of information I would like to ask if this is not a case where it might be said that you are a ‘worker together with God.’”
“Not in the slightest degree!” came the prompt and definite reply. “When occasion serves, in the review of my past, I shall be able to convince you that when I threw off the physical I was not wearing the aureole of a saint. My free will had been considerably exercised in the wrong direction, I can assure you.”
“But do you forget that the earth life is only the infancy stage of existence?” I asked alertly.
“. . . in comparison with its everlastingness,” he added as completing the sentence I had left unfinished—and he turned his eyes on me with a self-congratulatory gleam as he made the correction. “I have anticipated and watchfully waited for you to make that slip. I knew it must come, and did not wish it to occur when we were in the middle of another subject. It naturally raises the question as to how far parables, analogies, and allegories should be limited or pressed in their illustrative employment, because from a failure to be discreet in this direction very many of the errors and misunderstandings of our friends on earth arise.
“In comparison with the endless duration of life we are quite justified in using the figure employed by James (iv, I4) and asking: ‘What is your life? It is even as a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanishes away.’ Or we may use a more extended illustration, and say it is the infancy stage of being, when we link with duration the comparative amount of knowledge we can possibly acquire. In this aspect of life the mortal man is so circumscribed in his actual knowledge that the greatest of all the mysteries around him is himself. Nothing more vividly displays the impotence of the human intellect than this incontrovertible fact, for while it is impossible for a man to know himself, how can the predicate be logical that claims to comprehend that which is beyond him? It is from somewhere along the line of the recognition of this great truth that God regards the infancy stage of the race—it is here where He first reveals Himself in the character of Father. ‘He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust,’ and in his inviolable wisdom and justice He adapts His requirements from man to the feebleness of the situation and says: ‘Love one another! Do this and thou shalt live.’
“The mortal stage of existence viewed from such a standpoint, in comparison with the expansion and duration that is to follow, is very appropriately symbolized by the figure. a ‘vapour’ or a shadow.
“But in that Paternal command—‘Love one another’—there lies the germ of another aspect of existence regarding which we have to institute a very different comparison. Here the scale of comparison and contrast is not the finite with the infinite, as in the previous case—not mortal with immortal—infancy with manhood—or ignorance with wisdom. In this wider aspect, we have a family living under a wise and loving Father whose wisdom, justice, and consideration may be carried forward from the previous illustration. The Parental rule of life is the very natural one—‘Love one another,’ to which is added an encouraging promise with the shadow of a sinister negative result for disobedience ‘Do this and thou shalt live.’ Now, in watching the daily round of the nursery life the judicious observer must be prepared to see the manifestation of every shade of infant idiosyncrasy, the immediate results of which, in many cases, are poignant, crushing, terrible—but with the kindly attention of the nurse, and a Fatherly kiss, the tempest is soon over and the incident forgotten by the sufferer. Not so the Father, whose rule of life has been disobeyed, and who has the future career of the sinner to consider and his own authority to uphold.—The sufferer may not be made aware—the occupants of the nursery may not be witnesses, but the offender has had to reap the harvest of the viciousness he sowed, and, in doing so, has learned that he cannot break a single law of his Father with impunity, and the remembrance of the penalty will not only save him from further disobedience, but will also inspire him with a filial love that will be stronger than the operation of any moral law.
“In my reference to this particular phase of life I have purposely confined myself to the use of the nursery term, though I wished you to remember that it embraces not only the natural span of three-score years and ten, but also the period of correction which follows the throwing off of the physical. I have adopted this course because while it serves on the one hand to show that from the lower view, in comparison with the ambling gait of sorrow, the duration seems to be almost an eternity in passing; on the other hand, it emphasizes the view we take of it, and brings into glorious prominence the immutable loving-kindness and tender mercy of the Great Father of us all.
“If I have been half as successful in my explanation as I have desired to be, you will now be able to understand how very careful it is not to press figures of speech beyond the obvious limit for which they have legitimately been used.”
“I can clearly appreciate the necessity for the distinction you point out, and can see at once where the neglect of it may be—and often is—a misleading and fruitful source of error. I am, however, especially grateful to you for the helpful light you have thrown on the Fatherhood of God in the retention of the nursery figure in the latter part of your remarks.”
“That must appeal to you with more than usual forcefulness, because it is the view from which you will now regard it. It will have all the force of a new revelation breaking upon you.”
“That is just how I feel it to be. There is, however, one point in relation to this that I am not clear about. It is in relation to the efficacy of prayer. We will retain the figure you have been using, and suppose a child has been disobedient. When the Father is about to administer correction—or anticipating that He will do so—suppose a nurse intercedes on behalf of the child. Christ promises that ‘if ye shall ask anything in my name I will do it’ (John xiv, 14).”
“Yes,” he answered, with marked deliberation but there is a world of meaning and effect in the “If” with which the promise is prefaced. It is a condition too often so completely ignored as to be omitted altogether in connection with the covenants of God, and yet it is the only key that will open the door that leads to the desired fulfilment of the prayer. In this case it raises the question of the fidelity of the nurse. Let me repeat the same promise to you in its fuller form—“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John xv, 7). To ask in his name is the equivalent of abiding in Him and His words abiding in us. Can you imagine one who stands in this relationship to Him, asking Him to abrogate or suspend His own law to save a contumacious child from correction? Would anyone having personal acquaintance with an earthly judge dare to do so to defeat the ends of justice? The difficulty in your mind is due to another confusion of the figure which in this instance is out of place in the nursery, because no true nurse would feel it necessary to plead with the Father on account of a child, seeing that he would be both better informed and far more willing to forgive than the nurse would be. There is no need for intercession unless a law has been wilfully and deliberately broken, and the act was committed well knowing the punishment it incurred; or, to put it in another light—it is no use after a husbandman has sown oats to pray that he may reap wheat.”
I had hoped that when started on this most important and very disputed subject, he would have gone on to a full exposition of it, a desire I was evidently destined not to have satisfied just now. It was not that I had any robust doubt about the efficacy of prayer in my own mind—I had never seriously faced the question in my earth life with a view of attempting to settle the matter either one way or the other. I had, more as a matter of habit than conviction, knelt down and said my prayers – occasionally when I thought about it, and had the time—but now it assumed a somewhat different aspect, and I wanted to hear Omra’s method of dealing with one who was uncertain on the subject.
“Your reply is pregnant with suggestion,” I replied, “but I was hoping it would lead you on to give an answer to the oft-repeated question: ‘Does God really answer prayer?’”
Omra’s immediate answer was by one of those playfully mischievious smiles I had seen so frequently on the face of Myhanene.
“Of course such a question would only be put on the earth side,” he remarked, “and if it were put to me, I should reply by asking a question in return: ‘If on entering a room you were to press the electric lever, would you obtain a light?’”
“Of course you would, if the installation was complete and the fittings in order,” I answered. “How could it be otherwise?”
“Exactly! You see everything depends on the conditional ‘If’ I have already pointed out. Let me repeat the promise, ‘If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you. ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.’ Could anything be more clearly expressed?”
“But it is so very seldom that a direct answer can be traced,” I urged.
“I know it, still no doubt exists as to Why it is so—there is no light in a disconnected electric bulb—there is no fruit on a branch that is broken from the vine—there is no reply from God to the cry of a soul that does not abide in Him. It need not be so. Find a consecrated soul, and ask him if God answers his prayers? Then let the earth ponder over his reply until it learns the meaning and significance of it.”
It had not required a lengthy argument, but Omra was unanswerable.