This week, I have been reading a fascinating book of historical fiction entitled, The Robe, by Lloyd C. Douglas.
As you will hear in this PODCAST, in the book Douglas records a conversation between Marcellus, son of a Roman Senator who has fallen out of favor with Emperor Tiberias, and Marcellus’ slave, Demetrius.
The conversation goes like this:
‘Demetrius’—Marcellus swept the sky with an all-inclusive arm—’do you ever believe in the gods?’
‘If it is my master’s wish, I do,’ replied Demetrius, perfunctorily.
‘No, no,’ said Marcellus, testily, ‘be honest. Never mind what I believe. Tell me what you think about the gods. Do you ever pray to them?’
‘When I was a small boy, sir,’ complied Demetrius, ‘my mother taught us to invoke the gods. She was quite religious. There was a pretty statue of Priapus in our flower garden. I can still remember my mother kneeling there, on a fine spring day, with a little trowel in one hand and a basket of plants in the other. She believed that Priapus made things grow…. And my mother prayed to Athene every morning when my brothers and I followed the teacher into our schoolroom.’ He was silent for a while; and then, prodded by an encouraging nod from Marcellus, he continued: ‘My father offered libations to the gods on their feast-days, but I think that was to please my mother.’
‘This is most interesting—and touching, too,’ observed Marcellus. ‘But you haven’t quite answered my question, Demetrius. Do you believe in the gods—now?’
‘Do you mean that you don’t believe they render any service to men? Or do you doubt that the gods exist, at all?’
‘I think it better for the mind, sir, to disbelieve in their existence. The last time I prayed—it was on the day that our home was broken up. As my father was led away in chains, I knelt by my mother and we prayed to Zeus—the Father of gods and men—to protect his life. But Zeus either did not hear us; or, hearing us, had no power to aid us; or, having power to aid us, refused to do so. It is better, I think, to believe that he did not hear us than to believe that he was unable or unwilling to give aid. … That afternoon my mother went away—upon her own invitation—because she could bear no more sorrow…. I have not prayed to the gods since that day, sir. I have cursed and reviled them, on occasions; but with very little hope that they might resent my blasphemies. Cursing the gods is foolish and futile, I think.’
Well, you could reason, of course Zeus did not hear Demetrius’ prayers. There was no Zeus to hear him.
And of course, you could also argue, there was no answer to his prayer because there was no Zeus who promised Demetrius what Jesus promised to us:
“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
Yet, how many of us have had a crisis of faith equal to that of Demetrius precisely because we prayed to our God in a time of crisis, in Jesus’ name, the same Jesus who did indeed make to us this promise:
“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened…”
…and yet, nothing happened.
What exactly did Jesus mean by those words, His prayer promise to us?
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