Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:23-25)
I love Hebrews, even though its list of faith heroes in chapter 11 is not at all good on including women. But these few verses have begun to bother me. What does it mean to say that Jesus intercedes with God for us? Does it mean that a compassionate Jesus pleads with an intransigent God who would otherwise not grant our requests? It reminds me of a very profound question I saw somewhere on the internet (probably Facebook, there’s some gold there among the dross of public piety): ‘Does Jesus save us from God?’ The question was, of course, about how we view the Atonement, but it could equally be applied to the strange claim that Jesus intercedes with God for us.
Since beginning to dwell on these verses, especially verse 25, I’ve begun to see it a different way. God’s reluctance to grant what we pray for, is perhaps all in our own imagination. We pray, sometimes with desperation, but we don’t always feel confident that God is hearing or will act. Our image of God can be distorted, can suggest a God whose arm has to be twisted. Poor interpretation of the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge, can reinforce this impression. Surely the point of the parable is that if even a Judge Jefferies type can eventually be worn down, how much more quickly and willingly will God, who is not an unjust judge but a just one, receive our prayers.
What this verse in Hebrews has come to mean to me, then, is that when we pray, with however little faith, we are plunging ourselves into the stream of Jesus’ constant prayer for us. That prayer is not so much to a reluctant Father, but is rather against the evil in the world, and indeed the evil in ‘high places’. Jesus is not mediating our prayers to God; Jesus’ prayer for us represents the immeasurable longing of the whole Trinity for our good, and the good of the creation. The Father prays, the Son prays, the Spirit prays. So when we pray, we are accessing a ‘prayer force’ way beyond our little, timebound, narrow-visioned requests. We are swept up into the great desire of God for a transformed universe.
Viewed in this light, our prayers are just a tiny drop, not only in the turbulent sea of the world’s prayers, but in the great ocean of God’s prayers. Does it mean God prays to God? And if it does, why not? After all, it is in the nature of persons to exhort themselves to achieve things. But it also means, perhaps, that God’s prayer is a word of defiance against destruction, against greed and violence, against the ‘accuser of the brethren’ (and especially the sistren…). If such a God is on our side, who indeed can be against us?