“If there be a Father, verily he will hear, and let the child know that he hears!”

If there be a God, and I am his creature, there may be, there should be, there must be some communication open between him and me. If any one allow a God, but one scarce good enough to care about his creatures, I will yield him that it were foolish to pray to such a God; but the notion that, with all the good impulses in us, we are the offspring of a cold-hearted devil, is so horrible in its inconsistency, that I would ask that man what hideous and cold-hearted disregard to the truth makes him capable of the supposition! To such a one God’s terrors, or, if not his terrors, then God’s sorrows yet will speak; the divine something in him will love, and the love be left moaning.

If I find my position, my consciousness, that of one from home, nay, that of one in some sort of prison; if I find that I can neither rule the world in which I live nor my own thoughts or desires; that I cannot quiet my passions, order my likings, determine my ends, will my growth, forget when I would, or recall what I forget; that I cannot love where I would, or hate where I would; that I am no king over myself; that I cannot supply my own needs, do not even always know which of my seeming needs are to be supplied, and which treated as impostors; if, in a word, my own being is everyway too much for me; if I can neither understand it, be satisfied with it, nor better it–may it not well give me pause–the pause that ends in prayer? When my own scale seems too large for my management; when I reflect that I cannot account for my existence, have had no poorest hand in it, neither, should I not like it, can do anything towards causing it to cease; when I think that I can do nothing to make up to those I love, any more than to those I hate, for evils I have done them and sorrows I have caused them; that in my worst moments I disbelieve in my best, in my best loathe my worst; that there is in me no wholeness, no unity; that life is not a good to me, for I scorn myself–when I think all or any such things, can it be strange if I think also that surely there ought to be somewhere a being to account for me, one to account for himself, and make the round of my existence just; one whose very being accounts and is necessary to account for mine; whose presence in my being is imperative, not merely to supplement it, but to make to myself my existence a good? For if not rounded in itself, but dependent on that which it knows not and cannot know, it cannot be to itself a good known as a good–a thing of reason and well-being: it will be a life longing for a logos to be the interpretative soul of its cosmos–a logos it cannot have. To know God present, to have the consciousness of God where he is the essential life, must be absolutely necessary to that life! He that is made in the image of God must know him or be desolate: the child must have the Father! Witness the dissatisfaction, yea desolation of my soul–wretched, alone, unfinished, without him! It cannot act from itself, save in God; acting from what seems itself without God, is no action at all, it is a mere yielding to impulse. All within is disorder and spasm. There is a cry behind me, and a voice before; instincts of betterment tell me I must rise above my present self–perhaps even above all my possible self: I see not how to obey, how to carry them out! I am shut up in a world of consciousness, an unknown I in an unknown world: surely this world of my unwilled, unchosen, compelled existence, cannot be shut out from him, cannot be unknown to him, cannot be impenetrable, impermeable, unpresent to him from whom I am! nay, is it not his thinking in which I think? is it not by his consciousness that I am conscious? Whatever passes in me must be as naturally known to him as to me, and more thoroughly, even to infinite degrees. My thought must lie open to him: if he makes me think, how can I elude him in thinking? ‘If I should spread my wings toward the dawn, and sojourn at the last of the sea, even there thy hand would lead me, and thy right hand would hold me!’ If he has determined the being, how shall any mode of that being be hidden from him? If I speak to him, if I utter words ever so low; if I but think words to him; nay, if I only think to him, surely he, my original, in whose life and will and no otherwise I now think concerning him, hears, and knows, and acknowledges! Then shall I not think to him? Shall I not tell him my troubles–how he, even he, has troubled me by making me?–how unfit I am to be that which I am?–that my being is not to me a good thing yet?–that I need a law that shall account to me for it in righteousness–reveal to me how I am to make it a good–how I am to be a good, and not an evil? Shall I not tell him that I need him to comfort me? his breath to move upon the face of the waters of the Chaos he has made? Shall I not cry to him to be in me rest and strength? to quiet this uneasy motion called life, and make me live indeed? to deliver me from my sins, and make me clean and glad? Such a cry is of the child to the Father: if there be a Father, verily he will hear, and let the child know that he hears! Every need of God, lifting up the heart, is a seeking of God, is a begging for himself, is profoundest prayer, and the root and inspirer of all other prayer.

If it be reasonable for me to cry thus, if I cannot but cry, it is reasonable that God should hear, he cannot but hear. A being that could not hear or would not answer prayer, could not be God. …

‘But if God is so good as you represent him, and if he knows all that we need, and better far than we do ourselves, why should it be necessary to ask him for anything?’

I answer, What if he knows prayer to be the thing we need first and most? What if the main object in God’s idea of prayer be the supplying of our great, our endless need–the need of himself? What if the good of all our smaller and lower needs lies in this, that they help to drive us to God? Hunger may drive the runaway child home, and he may or may not be fed at once, but he needs his mother more than his dinner. Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other need; prayer is the beginning of that communion, and some need is the motive of that prayer. Our wants are for the sake of our coming into communion with God, our eternal need. If gratitude and love immediately followed the supply of our needs, if God our Saviour was the one thought of our hearts, then it might be unnecessary that we should ask for anything we need. But seeing we take our supplies as a matter of course, feeling as if they came out of nothing, or from the earth, or our own thoughts, instead of out of a heart of love and a will which alone is force, it is needful that we should be made feel some at least of our wants, that we may seek him who alone supplies all of them, and find his every gift a window to his heart of truth. So begins a communion, a talking with God, a coming-to-one with him, which is the sole end of prayer, yea, of existence itself in its infinite phases. We must ask that we may receive; but that we should receive what we ask in respect of our lower needs, is not God’s end in making us pray, for he could give us everything without that: to bring his child to his knee, God withholds that man may ask.

George MacDonald

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3 Responses to “If there be a Father, verily he will hear, and let the child know that he hears!”

  1. Mike H says:

    Great quote. So much passion and fire in GMac’s prose.

    surely this world of my unwilled, unchosen, compelled existence, cannot be shut out from him, cannot be unknown to him, cannot be impenetrable, impermeable, unpresent to him from who I am!

    A counter-testimony to the terrifying idea that grace may “knock” but can go no further, that you can never really be saved from yourself.

    ”God withholds that man may ask.”

    Yikes. I can see how it follows naturally from his thinking, but not sure I can go there. But no answers really satisfy.

    On the one hand, my wife has told me how her sister used to sort of beat her up as a kid (the way siblings do…in a semi-benevolent sisterly way) so she could then have the pleasure of providing comfort. Can’t “save” if there’s nothing to save from….. “withhold that man may ask.”

    On the other hand, there is a sense in which meeting the needs of a newborn (regardless of exactly what the need is in any one moment) is itself the satisfying of a deep need. The comfort that comes from “asking” and being responded to is essential to the child. It forms a bond that (perhaps) cannot be formed any other way. And parents delight in responding (during standard waking hours anyways). I haven’t experienced it myself, but have heard others speak of the horrors of orphanages in which there is no crying, no “asking”. The children have simply grown silent, knowing that no help will come.


    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      Perhaps “withholds that man may ask” is less “yikes” if prayer is seen as action, rather than just making wishes. There doesn’t seem to me to necessarily be a problem with the concept that God should require man, for man’s good, to make his own way in the world and earn his own bread, because doing so is what makes us independent active beings capable of thinking for ourselves and creating things that are ours and our own work. Prayer could be seen as part of and an adjunct to our work in the world, not separate from it, and that we pray for a thing rather than it be given before we ask makes it ours and part of our work with God, in a way that it otherwise wouldn’t be.


  2. Matthew Hryniewicz says:

    “…if there be a Father, verily he will hear, and let the child know that he hears!”

    I struggle with this often. It makes so much sense and yet it appears that most of the children’s cries go unanswered. Some would like to say that God answers all our prayers, but that failure to hear his replies is a fault of ours not his. But that is clearly insufficient because God has the power to speak to us in ways that we will hear. If he desired to let his children know that he hears, then why sing to the deaf?

    Sometimes I find myself alternating between shaking my fist at the sky and touching my head to the ground.


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