Sunday, Oct 06, 2002: “A Ray of Darkness”: Chapters 25 and 28

St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary

“A Ray of Darkness” by Rowan Williams

Chapters 25 and 28

“Intercessory Prayer” and “Reading the Bible”

Sunday, October 06, 2002


This is the fourth in a series of five informal discussions led by Rev. Mike Kreutzer (who unfortunately was ill this morning), which will attempt to analyze and more thoroughly understand the book of sermons and reflections entitled A Ray of Darknesswritten by the Right Rev. Rowan Williams.  Bishop Williams, who is of Welsh origin, has been elected to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury.  He has served as Professor of Theology at both Cambridge and Oxford Universities.

The group discussion began by attempting to analyze how God may (or may not) respond to our pleas.  If one has a problem, he or she may turn to God in prayer.  Some hope the response will take place in the form of a miracle while others are perhaps seeking guidance.  Does God respond in an active manner?  If not, why not?  After many attempts with no response some may conclude that God does not exist or refuses to answer their requests.  It could also be supposed that the person is asking for the wrong things.  It may appear that as we look around us and see people who have special artistic or other types of talents, that there may also be people who feel they have a special connection with God.  Perhaps instead of God intervening on our behalf, we need to believe that he gives us the ability to seek out the right answers for ourselves.  There are many types of prayers:  prayers of petition, prayers of thanksgiving, etc.

Prayer is a very personal undertaking.  We need to be able to understand God’s grace and seek his will, which in effect is the process of accepting God’s unconditional love he has for us.  Then group discussion turned to the phrase in the book where it states that if you qualify all of your prayers with the words “if God wills,” then you might as well not bother to pray at all!  That is not the all-important aspect of prayer.  If you stop praying because of this type of thinking they you are denying yourself the relationship with God and the growth of your Christian faith.

Does God take sides in various worldly conflicts?  And if so, which side does he take?  For example, in Northern Ireland where Catholics are fighting Protestants, who is right and who is wrong?  If one prays for guidance, for example, and asks God to help select between three different options, it may be a limitation for that person in that God may have a fourth or fifth option that is superior to the other three.  If a person receives divine guidance, how does he or she recognize that it came from above? There may be no declaration or audible voice that is heard!  However, many times we can look back and see that God has truly influenced some of the key decisions that we made in the past.  If, for example, you find yourself in trouble, God may give you multiple chances to escape, but leave it up to you to make the decision.  The bottom line, however, is that even if you choose the wrong option, God is always there with you and supporting you.  This indeed is very comforting!

In the Roman Catholic faith, it was noted that many ask Mary to intervene in with God on their behalf.  This provides some people with comfort.  Perhaps this arrangement arose to appeal to the feminine side of the congregation as nearly all of the early church doctrines were formulated by men.  In fact, there were numerous saints named as well who could comfort various groups of people such as St. Elmo, the sailors’ saint or if you buried a statue of St. Joseph a certain way in your back yard it would help you sell your house.

Humans can find it difficult to imagine what God is really like.  He is mysterious and remote, and transcends the ordinary, yet he is also omnipresent.  These ideas may conflict with themselves.  Noted philosopher Rudolf Otto (1869-1937) stated that God is a “tremendous mystery that fills us with awe.”  The concept of the Trinity makes God more accessible to us all.  Over the years, many have been killed from disagreements over religious differences.  At the Council of Nicea held in 325 AD the concept of God and Trinity was further explained.  This included the idea that Jesus was “not made”, i.e. his presence had been there all along.  In a book written by John Dominic Crossan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, DePaul University, Chicago, he outlines the development and in-depth explanation of the Trinity.  (George John has more information for anyone interested.) 

Tests have been conducted on groups of people who have been ill where another group was instructed to pray for them.  There was no perceived difference in their recovery.  However, in another study, when the when the group which was ill was told that others were praying for them, they seemed to recover at a faster rate.  Perhaps there is a correlation between the comfort people obtain in prayer and the ability of their immune systems to be stronger and recover more quickly.

Next discussion moved to chapter twenty-eight.  It was noted that we all can have problems understanding the various passages of the Bible, but we need to keep in mind that those who wrote the Bible also did not fully understand what was happening around them.  It may depend on one’s perspective of the “Word” of God vs. the “Words” of God.  It one believes that every single word of the Bible is true as written, then there are many conflicts with the scientific evidence around us to prove otherwise.  The Roman Catholics believe that that the church came first which in turn created the Bible.  Some of the fundamental Protestant religions believe that every single word of the Bible is true.  Many also seek to find various hidden messages written in the text and “between the lines”.  Different translations of the Bible can also produce different meanings to some of the verses.  An example was cited where James’ relationship could have been interpreted as either his brother or his cousin.

We should each ask ourselves five questions when studying the Bible (four are listed here):

  • What does it mean to the person who wrote it?
  • What does it mean to the group of people it was addressed to?
  • What does it mean to us today?
  • What does it mean as regards to the future?

Obviously, some of the past prophesies have been interpreted differently by different groups of people.  This produced the fundamental difference between Jews and Christians where Christians believe that Jesus was the true Messiah, and Jews do not. Could it be that sometimes more is read into the Biblical prophesies than is really there?  Some view the Bible as a work in progress.  We should look at the big picture and not get hung up on the many numerous details in-between.  The Lord will triumph in the end!  Human nature does not appear to have really changed very much, if at all, between modern and Biblical times.  We still murder, lie, and cheat today even though the mechanisms may be different.  Some believe in the perfection of mankind in that today we are better stewards of the earth than we were in the past.  However, it was noted that there is still slavery in the world today and we still discriminate against various groups of people even though God loves all humankind.

Next week’s discussion will focus on chapters thirty and thirty-one (“Vocation (1)” and “Vocation (2)”).