Friday, October 9, 2009

Lord, I Pray, Smite My Enemies

Psalm 35:1-9 (NIV)

1 Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me.
2
Take up shield and buckler; arise and come to my aid.
3 Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me.
Say to my soul, "I am your salvation."
4
May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame;
may those who plot my ruin be turned back in dismay.
5
May they be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the LORD driving them away;
6 may their path be dark and slippery, with the angel of the LORD pursuing them.
7
Since they hid their net for me without cause and without cause dug a pit for me,
8
may ruin overtake them by surprise—
may the net they hid entangle them, may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.
9
Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD and delight in his salvation.

[Osteographia, or The Anatomy of the Bones by William Cheselden, 1688-1752]

Within Christianity where is the line between praying for someone's downfall and actually committing it? When we pray imprecatory prayers (to invoke evil upon; cure) are we asking God to invoke harm on our behalf thereby placing responsibility to commit evil upon the Divine? Although I am familiar with people praying for their enemies downfall (and conversion, be it spiritual or sexual orientation) I never knew there was an actual term for it. In the Bible imprecatory prayers (like the one above) can be read as prayer for divine protection and victory in battle. The righteous pray that justice will be on their side and is more of a battle cry prayer to rally the troops before launching at the enemy. In the ancient world, the gods were seen as having total control over every aspect of life from the weather and health of newborns to politics and war. Petitioning the gods for protection was common to them and the idea that the divine is supportive of our current wars still continues to this day.

Imprecatory prayers sound contrary to the core message of love in Christianity. There are some who defend imprecatory prayers as a prayer calling God to deliver justice upon the wicked, but this can portray God as our pocket-sized guardian. When we pray for people we think deserve punishment we are still basing that judgment call on our perception of evil. God then becomes a deity we can pull out of our pocket to handle those who WE think deserves punishment. Furthermore, instead of dealing with the situation itself we ask the Divine to act on our behalf. What happens when people like pastor Wiley Drake pray for Obama's death and God doesn't come through? Did God not answer pastor Drake's prayer because it was immoral or does that mean that "someone" should enact God's will? This is where imprecatory prayers can get outright dangerous! Someone, somewhere will cross the line between prayer and action. So what then do we do?

Why the need to pray for anyone's demise? If, as Christians, we are to love and even pray for our enemies why continue to justify praying for someone to be struck down by God? If we are to believe that God is a God of justice than there is no need for us to ask him to take down those WE think are unjust. Yet injustice continues in the world, should we not try to repair the harm caused by it? I believe that if we tread carefully we can do somethings about injustice but this is different from taking matters into our own hands. We have governments and laws to keep us from becoming vigilantes, yet we do not have laws (that I'm aware of) asking us to help the victims, the needy, the hungry, the unloved, the sick. This is the domain where I believe mankind can redeem itself from its own handiwork of evil. This is the Kingdom of God.

This video contains C.S. Lewis' thoughts on imprecatory prayers found in the Psalms and a Christian response defending that the curses are actually from God and not David.


If we strive not to wish or pray for harm to befall others in the first place we might avoid having to clean up the mess afterward. Let us pray for the well being of others regardless of their beliefs, social status, sexual orientation, and even their past.

2 comments:

shallowfrozenwater said...

i've thought of that pastor that you mention here several times this week. where is the love that we are supposed to be living out as we represent Christ in this world?
i also think of football teams that enter a game with the same mentality as having Psalm 35 on their lips. but that's just the cynic in me talking.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry but I think I will pray to God's angel of wrath Rogziel anyway. Caring compassion doesn't always fix a problem.

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