Why We must Pray to God for What We Hope

The reason why we must hope in God is chiefly the fact that we belong to Him, as effect belongs to cause. God does nothing in vain, but always acts for a definite purpose. Every active cause has the power of producing its effect in such a way that the effect will not be wanting in whatever can advance it toward its end. This is why, in effects produced by natural causes, nature is not found to be deficient in anything that is necessary, but confers on every effect whatever goes into its composition and is required to carry through the action whereby it may reach its end. Of course, some impediment may arise from a defect in the cause, which then may be unable to furnish all this.

A cause that operates intellectually not only confers on the effect, in the act of producing it, all that is required for the result intended, but also, when the product is finished, controls its use, which is the end of the object. Thus a smith, in addition to forging a knife, has the disposition of its cutting efficiency. Man is made by God somewhat as an article is made by an artificer. Something of this sort is said in Isaiah 64:8: “And now, Lord, You art our Father and we are clay, and You art our Maker.” Accordingly, just as an earthen vessel, if it were endowed with sense, might hope to be put to good use by the potter, so man ought to cherish the hope of being rightly provided for by God. Thus we are told in Jeremiah 18:6: “As clay is in the hand of the potter, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.”

The confidence which man has in God ought to be most certain. As we just intimated, a cause does not refrain from rightly controlling its product unless it labors under some defect. But no defect or ignorance can occur in God, because “all things are naked and open to His eyes,” as is said in Hebrews 4:13. Nor does He lack power, for “the hand of the Lord is not shortened that it cannot save,” as we read in Isaiah 59:1. Nor is He wanting in good will, for “the Lord is good to those who hope in Him, to the soul that seeks Him,” as we are reminded in Lamentations 3:25. Therefore the hope with which a person trusts in God does not confound him that hopes, as is said in Romans 5:5.

We should also bear in mind that, while Providence watches solicitously over all creatures, God exercises special care over rational beings. For the latter are exalted to the dignity of God’s image, and can rise to the knowledge and love of Him, and have dominion over their actions, since they are able to discriminate between good and evil. Hence they should have confidence in God, not only that they may be preserved in existence in keeping with the condition of their nature—for this pertains also to other creatures—but that, by avoiding evil and doing good, they may merit some reward from Him. We are taught a salutary lesson in Psalm 35:7: “Men and beasts You will preserve,” that is God bestows on men and irrational creatures alike whatever pertains to the sustaining of life. And then the Psalmist adds, in the next verse: “But the children of men shall put their trust under the cover of your wings,” indicating that they will be protected by God with special care.

We should observe, further, that when any perfection is conferred, an ability to do or acquire something is also added. For example, when the air is illuminated by the sun, it has the capacity to serve as a medium for sight, and when water is heated by fire it can be used to cook, and it could hope for this if it had a mind. To man is given, over and above the nature of his soul, the perfection of grace, by which he is made a partaker in the divine nature, as we are taught in 2 Peter 1:4. As a result of this, we are said to be regenerated and to become sons of God, according to John 1:12: “He gave them power to be made the sons of God.” Thus raised to be sons, men may reasonably hope for an inheritance, as we learn from Romans 8:17: “If sons, heirs also.” In keeping with this spiritual regeneration, man should have a yet higher hope in God, namely, the hope of receiving an eternal inheritance, according to 1 Peter 1:3 f.: “God… has regenerated us into a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, into an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that cannot fade, reserved in heaven for you.”

Through this “spirit of adoption” that we receive, we cry: “Abba, (Father),” as is said in Romans 8:15. Hence our Lord began His prayer by calling upon the Father, saying, “Father,” to teach us that our prayer must be based on this hope. By uttering the name, “Father,” man’s affection is prepared to pray with a pure disposition, and also to obtain what he hopes for. Moreover, sons ought to be imitators of their parents. Therefore he who professes that God is his Father ought to try to be an imitator of God, by avoiding things that make him unlike God and by earnestly praying for those perfections that make him like to God. Hence we are commanded in Jeremiah 3:19: “You shall call Me Father and shall not cease to walk after Me.” If, then, as Gregory of Nyssa reminds us [De oratione dominica, II], you turn your gaze to worldly affairs, or seek human honor or the filth of passionate craving: how can you, who lead such a corrupt life, call the source of incorruption your Father?

Reference

St. Thomas Aquinas. (1265-1274). Compendium Theologiae: Why We must Pray to God for What We Hope, 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