Taking a new turn, this ninth commandment that Hermas receives addresses prayer.
Put away doubting from you, and do not hesitate to ask of the Lord, saying to yourself, ‘How can I ask of the Lord and receive from Him seeing I have sinned so much against Him?’ Do not thus reason with yourself, but with all your heart turn to the Lord and ask of Him without doubting, and you will know the multitude of His tender mercies; that He will never leave you, but fulfill the request of your soul.
This much is pretty familiar to me as a 21st century Christian. And, I like to think this is a very biblical attitude of God’s mercies. But what puzzles me is where it goes from here. I’ll truncate the next few sentences so they’ll read more easily:
Cleanse your hearts from all the vanities of the world, and ask of the Lord and you will receive all. But if you doubt in your heart, you will receive none of your requests.
This sounds like the “name it and claim it” sort of prayer that certain Christian-like preachers are selling these days, or the “health & wealth gospel” promising blessings to those who believe hard enough. The Bible does use this sort of language at times, and Hermas almost quotes Jesus at this point. But what’s this about not having enough faith? Isn’t this some manipulative junk to force people into pretending to have insanely blind faith, and make others feel like horrible second-class Christians? Maybe. But as I’ve had to remind myself before, doubt in Hermas is not just any passing doubt that someone experiences in the normal course of life, but a serious loss of faith or trust in God. In this light, what the angel tells Hermas next makes more sense:
For those who doubt regarding God are double-souled and obtain not one of their requests. … Cleanse your heart, therefore, from all doubt and put on faith, because it is strong, and trust God that you will obtain from Him all that you ask.
So not only is this book upholding its high view of faith, but it’s coupling that with a high view of prayer. I must admit I find myself sceptical of this sort of teaching, even though I’ve implied the same thing in my own preaching! Prayer is a mysterious thing, and for some reason God has deigned to work pretty awesome marvels through the prayers of his people.
The angel who’s giving Hermas these commands, though, still continues. Not only should prayer be made with expectant faith, but it should also be persistent and constant. For as we all know, God’s timing is not always as we hope or expect, so we have to wait on him until he comes through. This is so very easy to distort into that “name it and claim it” travesty of a doctrine, that I can’t help but suspect that many Christians today won’t much like this particular Mandate. But if we can read it understanding faith as being “from God” as Hermas’ angel even states, and remember also that prayer offered according to God’s will is what God will honor, then this makes perfect sense. If we’re in touch with God’s will and purposes, then not only will our prayer be answered, but we had better persevere in that prayer until the fruition comes! After all, if God promises something, we’d better believe he’ll deliver. It’s much the same thing.
You seen then that faith is from above and has great power, but doubt is an earthly spirit and has no power. Serve, then, that which has power, namely faith, and keep away from doubt, and you will live to God.