God’s Power to Grant Our Petitions

When hope is abandoned, the reason is usually to be found in the powerlessness of him from whom help was expected. The confidence characteristic of hope is not wholly grounded on the mere willingness to help professed by him on whom our hope rests: power to help must also be present. We sufficiently express our conviction that the divine will is ready to help us when we proclaim that God is our Father. But to exclude all doubt as to the perfection of His power, we add: “who art in heaven.” The Father is not said to be in heaven as though He were contained by heaven; on the contrary, He encompasses heaven in His power, as is said in Sirach 24:8: “1 alone have compassed the circuit of heaven.” Indeed, God’s power is raised above the whole immensity of heaven, according to Psalm 8:2: “Your magnificence is elevated above the heavens.” And so, to strengthen the confidence of our hope, we hail the power of God which sustains and transcends the heavens. \

This same phrase removes a certain obstacle that may stand in the way of our prayer. Some people act as though human affairs were subjected to a deterministic fatalism imposed by the stars, contrary to what is commanded in Jeremiah 10:2: “Be not afraid of the signs of heaven, which the heathens fear.” If this error had its way, it would rob us of the fruit of prayer. For if our lives were subjected to a necessity decreed by the stars, nothing in our course could be changed. In vain we should plead in our prayer for the granting of some good or for deliverance from evil. To prevent this error from undermining confidence in prayer, we say: “who art in heaven,” thus acknowledging that God moves and regulates the heavens. Accordingly the assistance we hope to obtain from God cannot be obstructed by the power of heavenly bodies.

In order that prayer may be efficacious at the court of God, man must ask for those benefits which he may worthily expect from God. Of old some petitioners were rebuked: “You ask and receive not, because you ask amiss” (James 4:3). Anything suggested by earthly wisdom rather than by heavenly wisdom, is asked for in the wrong spirit. And so Chrysostom assures us that the words, “who art in heaven,” do not imply that God is confined to that locality, but rather indicate that the mind of him who prays is raised up from the earth and comes to rest in that celestial region [In Matthaeum, hom. XIX, 4].

There is another obstacle to prayer or confidence in God that would deter one from praying. This is the notion that human life is far removed from divine providence. The thought is given expression, in the person of the wicked, in Job 22:14: “The clouds are His cover; He does not consider our things, and He walks about the poles of heaven”; also in Ezekiel 8: 12: “The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the earth.”

But the Apostle Paul taught the contrary in his sermon to the Athenians, when he said that God is “not far from every one of us; for in Him we live and move and are” (Acts 17:27 f.). That is, our being is preserved, our life is governed and our activity is directed by Him. This is confirmed by Wisdom 14:3: “Your providence, Father, governs all things from the beginning. Not even the most insignificant of living things are withdrawn from God’s providence, as we are told in Matthew 10:29 f.: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Men are placed under the divine care in a yet more excellent way, so that in comparison with them the Apostle could ask: “Does God take care of oxen?” (1 Cor. 9:9). The meaning is not that God has no concern at all for such animals, but that He does not take care of them in the same way He does of men, whom He punishes or rewards in accordance with their good or evil actions, and whom He foreordains to eternal life. This is why, in the words quoted from Matthew, our Lord says: “The very hairs of your head are all numbered,” thus indicating that everything belonging to man is to be recovered at the resurrection.

Consequently all diffidence should be banished from our lives. For, as our Lord adds, in the same context: “Fear not, therefore; better are you than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:31). This clarifies the passage we called attention to above: “The children of men shall put their trust under the cover of your wings” (Ps. 35:8).

Although God is said to be near to all men by reason of His special care over them, He is exceptionally close to the good who strive to draw near to Him in faith and love, as we are assured in James 4:8: “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” Confirmation of this is found in Psalm 144: 18: “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him: to all who call upon Him in truth.” Indeed, He not only draws near to them: He even dwells in them through grace, as is intimated in Jeremiah 14:9: “You, O Lord, are among us.”

Therefore, to increase the hope of the saints, we are bidden to say: “who art in heaven,” that is, in the saints, as Augustine explains [De sermone Domini in monte, II, 5]. For, as the same doctor adds, the spiritual distance between the just and sinners seems to be as great as the spatial distance between heaven and earth. To symbolize this idea, we turn toward the east when we pray, because it is in that direction that heaven rises. The hope of the saints and their confidence in prayer are increased by the divine nearness, and also by the dignity they have received from God, who through Christ has caused them to be heavens, as is indicated in Isaiah 51:16: “That You might plant the heavens and found the earth.” He who has made them heavens will not withhold heavenly goods from them.

Reference

St. Thomas Aquinas. (1265-1274). Compendium Theologiae: God’s Power to Grant Our Petitions, trans. by Cyril Vollert. St. Louis & London: B. Herder Book Co., 1947

All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

Agere Sequitur Esse