Monday, June 2, 2014

Why does Jesus pray to God?

In light of a recent discussion of Christ's vicarious humanity, we might make use of this doctrine in explaining a theological conundrum sometimes raised in the discussion of the incarnation. Why should Christ pray, if he is God himself? To whom does he pray? It would seem that Christ cannot be the same person as God if he prays to God.

In response I quote James B. Torrance:

Then at the time of the Arian-Nicene controversy, one of Arius' main arguments against the deity of Christ was that Jesus Christ could not be God because he was a man who prayed to God in the Gospel story, as at his baptism, on the mountainside, at the Last Supper, in Gethsemane and on the Cross. He cannot be both God and a man praying to God!

The response Torrance gives appeals to Athanasius and makes use of the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ:

Athanasius replied: 'Arius you do not understand the meaning of grace!' The God to whom we pray knows we want to pray, try to pray, but cannot pray, so comes to stand in for us as our brother man in Jesus Christ to pray for us and with us and lead us in our prayers (A Passion for Christ: The Vision that Ignites Ministry, p. 66).

The point is that Christ, in praying, is engaging in empowering example: he prays to God to give us both an example of how to pray, as well as the motivation and strength to be able to enact his example.

Stăniloae gives the same answer:

In a special way it is Christ who communicates this response of Himself as man toward God, because He prays for us and He teaches us how to pray. Through this He also strengthens our word of response toward God (The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, vol. 3: The Person of Jesus Christ and God and Savior, p. 101).

So in moments of difficulty in which we cannot pray, let's open up our bibles and read Christ's prayers! Let's read him giving us a model in Mt 6 or Luke 11, or praying for us himself in John 17. And above all let's seek to thank Christ and the Father and the Holy Spirit in prayer ourselves, knowing that they always hear us!