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5. Archimedes’s On Floating Bodies

In my rereading of selections from Great Books of the Western World guided by The Great Ideas Program, I’ve reached the fifth reading in the third volume of The Great Ideas Program, Foundations of Science and Mathematics by Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1960), Archimedes’s On Floating Bodies. I considered his On the Equilibrium of Planes in an earlier post. See it for some information about Archimedes.

In their guide to On Floating Bodies, Adler and Wolff describe it as “a masterpiece of simplicity.” They continue:

All he asks us to grant him is a single postulate stating the characteristics of water and other fluids. The rest is a matter of geometric reasoning. This is all we need for the study of floating bodies, with Archimedes as our teacher.
The odd and wonderful thing about this is that you do not even need water or objects to put in it. It may be fun to verify some of the theoretical demonstrations in the washbowl or bathtub. But Archimedes gives the scientific essentials about floating bodies without experimentation. As you follow him along, you, too, may want to cry out “Eureka.”
( Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff, Foundations of Science and Mathematics, volume 3 of The Great Ideas Program, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1960, pages 61-62)

“Eureka” refers to a story told about Archimedes. Hiero, the king of Syracuse (a Greek city on the island of Sicily), had ordered a new crown. The crown was to be made of pure gold, but the king suspected that the jeweller had mixed in some less costly silver. He asked Archimedes to determine whether the crown was made of pure gold or was a mix of gold and silver. The solution came to Archimedes while he was in the bathtub, and he was so excited that he jumped out of the tub and ran naked through the streets shouting “Eureka [I have found it]!”) Archimedes’s solution was based on equal weights of gold and silver having different volumes and thus that if a crown made of gold and silver were lowered into water it would displace more volume than a crown made of pure gold would.

The postulate which Archimedes asks us to grant him is:

Let it be supposed that a fluid is of such character that, its parts lying evenly and being continuous, that part which is thrust the less is driven along by that which is struck the more; and that each of its parts is thrust by the fluid which is above in a perpendicular direction if the fluid be sunk in anything and compressed by anything else. (Archimedes, On Floating Bodies, Great Books of the Western World [Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952], volume 11, page 538)

The postulate is followed by seven propositions. The first four are preliminary and are summarized thus by Adler and Wolff:

The cross-section of a sphere, through the center, is always a circle (Prop. 1), If a body equal in specific gravity with a certain fluid is submerged in that fluid, it will neither sink to the bottom nor stick out of the fluid, but will rest just below the surface (Prop. 3). A body lighter than the fluid in which it is submerged will partially submerge and partly project out of the fluid (Prop. 4). (Adler and Wolff, page 66).

The other propositions are:

Proposition 5. Any solid lighter than a fluid will, if placed in the fluid, be so far immersed that the weight of the solid will be equal to the weight of the fluid displaced.
Proposition 6. If a solid lighter than a fluid be forcibly immersed in it, the solid will be driven upwards by a force equal to the difference between its weight and the weight of the fluid displaced.
Proposition 7. A solid heavier than a fluid will, if placed in it, descend to the bottom of the fluid, and the solid will, when weighed in the fluid, be lighter than its true weight by the weight of the fluid displaced.
(Archimedes, pages 540-41)

Archimedes bases his proof for each of the propositions on a mathematical diagram, which he explains. I also found Adler and Wolff’s explanations of them (Adler and Wolff, pages 66-67) helpful.

Besides commenting on the propositions in On Floating Bodies, Adler and Wolff summarize Archimedes’s accomplishments in mathematics, recount two of the “fabulous” stories told about Archimedes, and discuss the following questions:
– How might the “crown problem” been solved?
– How would you measure the amount of weight a body loses by being immersed in water?
– What is the empirical evidence in which On Floating Bodies is based?

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4. New Testament’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew

In my rereading of selections from Great Books of the Western World guided by The Great Ideas Program, I’ve reached The Bible’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew. It constitutes the fourth reading in the fourth volume of The Great Ideas Program, Religion and Theology by Mortimer J. Adler and Seymour Cain (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1961).

Adler and Cain introduce the reading by observing that the New Testament Gospels are not only historical documents and literary masterpieces but also an expression of the early Christian Church’s faith that God had directly revealed Himself in the life, teaching, and death of Jesus of Nazareth. They conclude their introduction thus:

The New Testament proclaims that God took on human form, suffered gross indignities, and died an ignominious death. In this humiliation and this death, as well as in the subsequent resurrection, lie the meaning and the glory of the Gospel story for the Christian faith. (Mortimer J. Adler and Seymour Cain, Religion and Theology, volume 4 of The Great Ideas Program, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1961, pages 49-50)

Adler and Cain go on to look at the land, people, religion, and politics of Palestine in Jesus’s time. Next they explain how the New Testament came into being and why they selected Matthew for their Gospel readings. Then they summarize the events recorded in Matthew, noting their significance in Jesus’s life and ministry. Finally they ask and discuss some questions about the Gospel. Here I’ll just pose the questions which they ask and summarize what they say in response to the questions.

Why does Jesus put together the two commandments‒to love God and to love one’s neighbor? (Matthew 22:34-40)
Adler and Cain observe that some people stress one of the commandments over the other, ask a series of questions on the relationship between the two commandments, and suggest seeing I John 4:20-21 for one view of the double commandment.

Is Jesus’ commandment to leave one’s family destructive of human relations and hence contradictory to the law of love? (Matthew 10:34-39)
Adler and Cain observe that there are many possible interpretations of Jesus’s injunction, consider two of them, and suggest rereading the passage and Matthew 12:46-50 and venturing your own interpretation of them.

Was Jesus’ ethical teaching influenced by his expectation of the imminent advent of the Kingdom of God?
Adler and Cain observe that some thinkers, notably Albert Schweitzer, think so but that others think that Jesus’s ethical teaching is addressed to ordinary earthly existence.

What does the term “Son of Man” mean?
Adler and Cain observe that in Jesus’s native Aramaic “Son of Man” meant mankind but that in apocalyptic literature it signified the Messiah. They note that the phrase is common in Matthew and that in each case the reader will have to determine from the context what it means.

4. Nicomachus’s Introduction to Arithmetic

In my rereading of selections from Great Books of the Western World guided by The Great Ideas Program, I’ve reached the fourth reading in the third volume of The Great Ideas Program, Foundations of Science and Mathematics by Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1960), Nicomachus’s Introduction to Arithmetic.

Nicomachus of Gerasa (probably a Greek city in Palestine) flourished around the end of the first century. His Introduction to Arithmetic was the first work to treat arithmetic as a discipline independent from geometry. Setting out the elementary theory and properties of numbers, it was used as a textbook for a thousand years.

Adler and Wolff consider the first sixteen chapters in Book One of Introduction to Mathematics and divide their study of them into these sections:
I ‒ a comparison of the concerns of Nicomachus’s and today’s arithmetic.
II ‒ an explanation of Nicomachus’s classification of numbers.
III – a presentation and discussion of three questions on the reading.
Here I’ll summarize briefly I and II, present the three questions, and indicate how Adler and Wolff answer them.

Comparison of Nicomachus’s and Today’s Arithmetic
Today we expect an arithmetic textbook to show us how to perform arithmetical operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. However Introduction to Arithmetic studies numbers themselves and their properties, relations, and classification. Adler and Wolff attribute this to Nicomachus’s belonging to the school of Pythagorus, a group of mathematicians and philosophers who thought that the principles of mathematics were the principles of all things.

Classification of Numbers
Like Euclid Nicomachus classifies numbers as even, odd, even-times even, even-times odd, odd-times even, and odd-times odd numbers. For Nicomachus even-times even numbers are numbers that have only even factors; even-times odd numbers are even numbers that are the product of 2 and an odd number; odd-times even numbers are numbers that can be divided by 2 several times eventually arriving at an odd number; and odd-times odd numbers are numbers that are the product of two odd numbers. Nicomachus also talks about perfect numbers, which are considered below in the first question.

Questions
– What is a perfect number?
A perfect number is a number which is the sum of its factors. Examples are 6 and 28, 6 because it is the sum of 1, 2, and 3 (its factors) and 28 because it is the sum of 1, 2, 4, 7, 14 (its factors)..
– What is a prime number?
Nicomachus says that a prime number “is found whenever an odd number admits of no other factor save the one with the number itself as denominator, which is unity, for example, 3, 5, 7, …” (Nicomachus, Introduction to Arithmetic, Great Books of the Western World [Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952], volume 11, page 817). However we generally consider 2 to be a prime number too because it has no other factors but 1 and itself.
– Is the Pythagorean concern with numbers foolish and superstitious or is there some point to it?
Adler and Wolff answer, “Modern mathematicians are still concerned with numbers, and with the properties of them as primeness, evenness, perfectness, etc. All these properties are treated in the Theory of Numbers.” However they go on to concede that “perhaps the Pythagoreans went to extremes when they made number a cosmological principle and considered numbers as the elements or principles of things.” (Adler and Wolff, Foundations of Science and Mathematics, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1960, pages 58-59).

3. Old Testament’s Book of Genesis and Book of Exodus

In my rereading of selections from Great Books of the Western World guided by The Great Ideas Program, I’ve reached the Bible’s Book of Genesis and Book of Exodus. They constitute the third reading in the fourth volume of The Great Ideas Program, Religion and Theology by Mortimer J. Adler and Seymour Cain (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1961).

Adler and Cain introduce the reading by describing Abraham and Moses, identifying the former as “a patriarchal ancestor” and the latter as “the founder of a people and a religion.” They conclude their introduction thus:

The Bible deals with the whole of human life as imbued with religion: mating and begetting, war and work, historical events and communal acts. In the Bible, domestic, ethical, and political activity‒as well as religious worship‒express and embody the service and imitation of God. These early books of the Bible help us to realize the full scope of the religious life. ( Mortimer J. Adler and Seymour Cain, Religion and Theology, volume 4 of The Great Ideas Program, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1961, page 32)

Adler and Cain go on to explain what the Old Testament is and why they chose the passages that they did for the reading, to seek the “special Old Testament version of the relation between God and man” (Adler and Cain, Religion and Theology, page 34). Next they comment on the passages which they’ve chosen from Genesis about Abraham‒12:1-9; 13:14-18; 15; 17; 18:17-33; and 22:1-19. Then they comment on the passages which they’ve chosen from Exodus about Moses‒3-4 and about the Israelites‒6:1-8; 14-15; 19-20; and 24. Finally they ask and discuss some questions about the passages. Here I’ll just pose the questions which they ask and summarize what they say in response to the questions.

What, exactly, is a covenant, in the Biblical sense?
Adler and Cain had considered the Covenant on Mount Sinai in their earlier comments. Here they look at a few other covenants in the Bible, most between a higher party and a lower party. They describe the one at Mount Sinai as “a binding relationship with a people, bestowed by the higher power [God]. The higher power rules and guides; the lower one serves and obeys.” (Adler and Cain, page 42)

What is the religious meaning of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac?
Adler and Cain identify the two main interpretations of the episode, one seeing it as an advance from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice and the other stressing Abraham’s utter obedience and trust.

Is Old Testament religion essentially personal or communal?
Adler and Cain note that, although the experiences of Abraham and Moses were personal, they were done in the context of Abraham’s seed and the people. They ask a number of questions on the personal and communal elements of religion.

What does the name I AM THAT I AM mean?
Adler and Cain identify and discuss the two main interpretations of God’s giving it as His name, one holding that He is announcing Himself as eternal being (I AM) and the other that He is announcing His continual presence with Israel.

How can the God of one people be the God of the whole world?
Adler and Cain reword the question “[Is] the idea of a special revelation of the Eternal Being to a particular people at a particular place and time…not offensive to reason‒especially when the claim is made that this revelation discloses God’s nature, will, and purpose for all men at all times and places?” and discuss it at length.

Jonesy

Last Thursday the following message appeared in Facebook:

—–

Image may contain: dog

One of my in-laws’ dogs passed away unexpectedly but peacefully this morning. Jonesy was such a sweet dog. I will miss his adorable face and his gentle hugs. My heartfelt condolences to his loving family: Robert A. Hunter, Leonora Hunter, Robert Hunter, and Shekinah Clare Hunter.
Andy Frederick [the husband of my older daughter, Allison]

—–

Jonesy was one of two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels who became part of our family ten years ago. Shortly after Allison’s Papillon, Chuckles, died, a good friend of ours, Clar Goulding, told us that his daughter, Krista, was going to be moving and wanted to find a good home for her two four-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Jonesy and Mickey. Krista let us take Jonesy and Mickey on a short trip to see what we thought of each other and, when the trip went well, let us have them. We designated Mickey for Robert and Jonesy for Shekinah and they became a much-loved part of our family.

Andy observed that Jonesy had passed away “unexpectedly but peacefully.” He was lying on the living room floor near where Leonora and I were playing a game of computer Scrabble when we noticed that he was unusually still and, on checking, found that he was dead. Leonora phoned Shekinah in St. John’s, where she was attending college and working, and Shekinah decided to come home on Saturday, a day earlier than she’d planned to come for a short visit, so that we could bury him then. We buried him in our back yard near where Chuckles (and my Lhasa Apso, Choco, who’d died a few years before Chuckles) was buried.

We all miss Jonesy, but one of us especially misses him–Mickey. Krista had originally gotten only one of Jonesy and Mickey, but the one that she got missed his brother so much that she went back and got the other. Thus Jonesy and Mickey were together for fourteen years and naturally Mickey now misses Jonesy. However earlier this year I gave Leonora a late Christmas gift, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy, Lexie. Lexie came from the same kennel as Jonesy and Mickey, Jeansa Kennels in Freshwater, but was ruby instead of black and tan, female instead of male, and still only a puppy. Very quickly Jonesy and Mickey took to her and she to them. Thus, although Mickey still misses Jonesy, his life continues to be full.

Andy used the words “sweet,” “adorable,” and “gentle” about Jonesy. Also true of him is what is said about Cavalier King Charles Spaniels in this quote from the Wikipedia article on them, “The breed is highly affectionate, playful, extremely patient and eager to please.” Thus the breed is justifiably popular. However despite their popularity, I’d never heard of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels until meeting Jonesy and Mickey. If you’re in a similar position, you can learn something about them in the Wikipedia article, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cavalier_King_Charles_Spaniel.

Thanks, Andy, for your condolences to us on the passing of Jonesy. And thanks again, Krista, for the gift of Jonesy and Mickey.

Why Pray?

“Why do people have to pray? What’s the actual meaning of prayer?” (Kaylin Cloete, commenting on my “Jesus’ Teaching on Prayer” posts of May 16-17, 2014)

Initially I replied (by e-mail), “Wow! I’ve often thought about that too. What makes me sometimes question the need of prayer is that if God is omniscient He knows everything we need and want, if He is omnipotent He can supply them, and if He is all-loving He will supply them if they would be good for us–all without our praying to Him about them.” However after making that reply, I remembered that prayer is more than asking God for things, its including all forms of talking with God, the commonest often being identified by the acronym ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

Therefore when Kaylin asked “Why do people have to pray?” she may have meant “What point is there in talking with God?” rather than just “What point is there in asking God for things?” Thus I decided to try to answer both questions, answering “What point is there in talking with God?” first and then answering “What point is there in asking God for things?” However before doing either, I’ll provide a foundation by looking at the prayers made by our great example, Jesus Christ. Moreover, since this blog’s primary purpose is to explain open theism, I’ll close by showing how open theism encourages prayer.

The Prayers of Jesus

Jesus was probably brought up to give thanks to God before meals and to say the Shema (“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one,” Deuteronomy 6:4) and the Eighteen Benedictions at sunrise and sunset, the times of sacrifice. And no doubt he joined with others in prayers when he attended the synagogue on the Sabbath, which it was his custom to do (Luke 4:16). In addition the Gospels record fifteen specific occasions on which he prayed, which I’ll give descriptions of from the ESV (all Biblical quotations in this post are in the ESV) in the order in which they appear in Luke.

Luke 3:21 – Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened.
Mark 1:35 – And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
Luke 5:16 – But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
Mark 6:46 – And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. (also Matthew 14:23)
Luke 6:12-13 – In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles:
Luke 9:18 – Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
Luke 9:28-29 – Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.
Luke 10:21 – In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (also Matthew 11:25-16)
Luke 11:1 – Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
John 11:41-42 – So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
John 12:27-28 – “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
John 17:1-26 – When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him…..”
Luke 22:39-46 – And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (also Matthew 26:36-46 and Mark 14:32-42)
Luke 23:34 – And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.
Luke 23:46 – Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

Reasons for Praying

The passages listed above show both that Jesus prayed in connection with important events in his life–his baptism (Luke 3:21), his choosing of the twelve (Luke 6:12-13), his Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-19), and his vigil in the Garden of Gethesemane (Luke 22:39-46)–and that he regularly withdrew from others so that he could pray by himself. Thus they suggest that we should pray both in connection with important events in our lives and as a regular part of our lives. However Jesus encouraged his followers to pray not only by example but also in his teaching. In the Sermon on the Mount he instructed the crowd on what they should do “when you pray” (Matthew 6:5, 7), implying that they should and would pray.

But why should we pray? Certainly a key reason is that through His spokesmen God has told us to. For example, Paul told his readers (and us) to “be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12), “pray… at all times” (Ephesians 6:18), “[c]ontinue steadfastly in prayer” (Colossians 4:2), “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and “[make] supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings … for all people” (1 Timothy 2:1).

ACTS expresses four other major reasons for our praying: to adore God for His greatness, to confess our sins to Him, to thank Him for what He has done for us and others, and to ask Him for things for us and others. The book of Psalms contains stirring songs written by David and others for each of those reasons.

However my reading and thinking about prayer showed me that there are even more reasons for our praying than God’s telling us to and ACTS. Seven are them are described in an article by Dan Hayes at Cru Press Green:

1. builds our relationship with Jesus
2. helps us overcome temptation
3. helps us determine God’s will
4. accomplishes God’s work
5. is a weapon in spiritual warfare
6. is a prerequisite to spiritual awareness
7. is valuable to God

Hayes concludes, “There they are. Seven (of many) reasons for us to give much more thought and attention to prayer than is common among Christians. Even in this writing, I found myself pausing often to take prayer action based on these motivations.” (Seven Reasons To Pray). I urge you to read his article and hope that doing so affects you the same way as his writing of it affected him and my reading of it affected me.

Asking God for Things

The passages listed above show that Jesus prayed for both himself, as when he agonized in the Garden of Gethesemane (Luke 22:39-46), and for others, as when he prayed for those responsible for crucifying him when he was on the cross (Luke 23:34). Thus they suggest that we can make requests of God for both ourselves and others.

Certainly we don’t pray to tell God what we need because He already knows that, Jesus’ telling his disciples, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Rather we pray because prayer expresses our trust in God to provide for us in the way that parents provide for their children. On the same occasion in which Jesus gave the Lord’s Prayer to his disciples he told them, “Which of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11) Thus James encourages us to ask God for what we need, telling his readers, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2), implying that they (and we) would receive more from Him if we’d ask.

Jesus told his disciples the following parable to encourage them to pray continually and persistently: “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'” Then Jesus told them, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” (Luke 18:2-8)

However sometimes even when we pray continually and persistently our prayers for things aren’t answered. Why aren’t they? Maybe God wants us to wait for our answer, as the souls of the martyrs whom John saw under God’s throne in heaven were told to do in answer to their prayer for God to avenge them (Revelation 6:9-11). Or maybe God intends something else for us, as Jesus recognized when he closed his prayer that God remove “this cup” from him with, “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Or maybe we haven’t met the conditions for praying effectively, such as forgiving others their trespasses against us (Matthew 6:14-15), praying in faith (Mark 11:24), and praying according to God’s will (1 John 5:14-15).

What should we do when this happens? We should make sure that we’re meeting the conditions for praying effectively. We should accept God’s answer as David did when the child for whom he was praying died, resuming his normal life with the explanation that “while the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again?” (2 Samuel 12:22-23). And we should continue to trust God, knowing that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).

Open Theism Encourages Prayer

Although whether a person holds a traditional or an open view of God would seem to be irrelevant in most types of prayer, it certainly is relevant in supplications or prayers for request for ourselves and others. According to traditional theism, God has already determined (or at least already knows) what is going to happen and can’t change what is planned. Really believing this discourages our making meaningful prayers for ourselves and others. According to open theism, the future is not entirely settled and God’s plans can be changed. Believing this gives us the hope that God will respond to our prayers for ourselves and others and encourages us to pray more passionately and urgently.

The Bible contains several examples of prayers being answered for a change in what God had said would happen. I’ll give just two, one of prayer for oneself and one of prayer for others. In 2 Kings 20:1-7 God told Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah that he would not recover from his sickness, Hezekiah prayed with weeping to God, and God told Hezekiah through Isaiah, “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD, and I will add fifteen years to your life” (20:5-6). In Exodus 32:7-14 God told Moses that He was going to destroy the Israelites for making and worshipping a golden calf, Moses interceded for them, and “the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (32:14). Later, in Psalm 106:23, David referred to this incident when he observed that God “said he would destroy them–had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.” Hezekiah and Moses prayed for God to change what He had said would happen because they thought that the future was open for Him to change. And what changes their prayers brought! God added fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life and He didn’t destroy the Israelites as He had threatened to.

Sometimes I think of how wonderful it would be if I could talk directly with God as Adam did in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:9-19), Moses did when he turned aside to see the burning bush (Exodus 3:4-4:17), and Elijah did when he was in a cave on Mount Sinai (1 Kings 19:9-18). However the truth is that I can talk with God at any time and in any place through prayer. I can share my joys and my sorrows with Him, knowing that He will rejoice with and comfort me. I can confess my failures and sins to Him, knowing that He will forgive and strengthen me. I can ask Him for guidance and help, knowing that He will make things work together for good. And of course I can adore and thank Him for who He is and what He does. What a marvellous gift prayer is!