There is a concept in Christianity and Hinduism call kenosis (i.e. self-emptying). I think this concept is apt in that in God’s living aspect there is a limitation on God. The characteristics of life itself are finitude and temporality. If God is a living God then this is a limitation that God imposes on God’s self. The crucial concept in TDLC theology is life. Life is constrained being but it is also becoming. What we see from science is that life is constituted by regularity and novelty. Science has good opportunities to characterize the regularities in life because its method requires repeatability. However, science has also discovered its limits with quantum theory where there is an indeterminacy in the very fabric of the cosmos. While the scientific implications of this indeterminacy are not fully fleshed out, it does provide a point where there can be an attempt to coalign religious intuitions with what science is exploring.
The question is, should one wait for more confirmation from science on the possible practical consequences of this indeterminism or do some speculation. My approach is to see if religious intuitions are reasonable within the current context. This necessarily drives a certain amount of speculation. As long as one is willing to abandon certain speculative concepts when new information comes in, then I see no harm. I think what a theologian has to do is look to see if there are “pictures” of reality that are presented by mainstream scientists that can offer support to theological intuitions. I say mainstream because the methods of science do offer a stronger opportunity for verisimilitude. If the theologian can find pictures that correlate with theological intuitions then, although any speculations must be tentative, it can offer a reasonableness to theological assertions. There are two areas in science that I think offer this type of support. One is, of course, quantum indeterminacy and the other is emergence. What particularly interests me in the research of emergence is that it suggests there is an underlying casual source that does not derive itself from bottom up reductionist properties, but in fact may cause those properties themselves. Robert Laughlin, Paul Davies and others have spoken favorably to this. In Davies talk at the Beyond Belief conference he even speculates that mathematics itself is emergent. If this is the case then the fundamental constitution of reality could be reasonably assigned to mind instead of blind forces.
So what does this say about prayer? It says that God as a living aspect is also emergent. This places a whole new perspective on prayer where God does not “jump in” to reality to answer prayers, but that prayers are a very aspect of this emergence. As such no prayer is without efficacy because every prayer contributes to the emergence of reality. Prayers are no longer local phenomena, but something that contributes and changes reality everywhere in the divine communion. What it also says, however, is that the same constraints that apply to reality also apply to prayer. Prayer is not some magic bullet that subverts the created order of the universe but instead becomes an efficacious force in how reality emerges in the individual, the cosmos, and the Divine Life. However, since God has accepted the constraints of life then prayers should not expect some radical violation of the structures of divine emergence. That does not mean, though, that remarkable “miraculous” things can never happen. Even in the science of emergence (organizing systems) there is what Laughlin calls a “collective instability” where very small changes can result in very broad effects. This is seen in physical systems like amplifiers and many other man made systems. What does this say to those who pray? For this I think an apt corollary to Luther’s “be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly” could be “pray boldly and believe all the more boldly in divine wisdom and purpose”. Certainly an acceptance of divine kenosis can inform the way we pray. Frivolous prayers like asking God to keep the rain away so the picnic may proceed, would violate a sensibility of God’s constrain. But even a not so frivolous prayer for God to cure a cancer can still be couched in a respect for the constrained nature of the divine life. Should one pray to God to cure a cancer? Why not, if one does so honoring this sensibility. Cancer is not something intractable within the constraints of life, but one should not expect the cancer to be whisked away at the expense of the God given structure of reality. Perhaps the attitude of prayer is more important than the actual content. With an attitude that humbly affirms that life is based on a life giving mixture of yin and yang where both good and evil may emerge, then I say “pray boldly, and trust in the wisdom and benevolence of God all the more boldly”.