Monday, October 05, 2020

Pray For Those That Persecute You


I was disappointed that even from religious sites I was not seeing a groundswell of praying for a sick president and his wife.  Praying for our leaders is commanded, though the Catholics have done better at this, including this in their regular prayers. I have heard and read discussion over the years of what exactly we are to pray for leaders, especially if they are evil, but that is another matter. Yet even if you find Trump evil and dangerous to the country, we are told in no uncertain terms that we are to pray for our enemies. I get distressed when the obvious is missed.

But the finger of accusation works in both directions, doesn’t it?  My first thought was how I might change the attitudes of such people or render them powerless. My thought was to defeat them, not pray for them. This is unfortunately common with me.  I start by wanting to defeat an idea, but it bleeds over quickly into defeating the people who have that idea. The call to defeat God’s enemies is usually much more indirect, and Scripture often cautions that defeating evil is God’s problem, not ours.  I don’t think we need be so extreme as the complete pacifists to recognize that “the battle belongs to the Lord” is a common Biblical theme, even in the OT when Israel was called to go out and do some serious smiting.

I never pretend to know all God’s reasons for his commands, but I can sometimes discern at least one or two of them.  When we pray for our enemies, we are brought up against the uncomfortable reality that they are our enemies.  They are not necessarily God’s enemies, or the enemies of the Church, or of all decent people. We have often made that leap without warrant.  They might simply be mistaken, even about important matters, which a merciful God with an educative bent might regard as no more worrisome than, oh, our mistaken ideas, just as an example.

It is a good thing to come up against the wall of regarding someone as an enemy.  It brings clarity.  We try to reserve the word for deathly opponents, thinking we are being kind and generous thereby.  We are bigger than that, we think.  Yet it is the state, not the amount that defines an enemy. That “kindness” can lead to resentment, carried anger, grudges, and revenge.  The rude customer you are serving is for the moment an enemy, however minor and temporary, and we have our marching orders. 

So I took care today to pray for those who wished Donald and Melania Trump death and suffering.  Will I remember this tomorrow or the next day? History says I will fade fast, but perhaps this time it will be different.

19 comments:

PenGun said...

You are going to have to explain this: "Praying for our leaders is commanded". I have no idea what you are talking about.

GraniteDad said...

@PenGun - it’s a Bible thing.

PenGun said...

I was raised in the Church of England. Almost as ceremonially complex as the Catholics. Now 'render unto Caesar what he is due' is a long way from commands to pray for him.

This is why I ask.

Ben Schumacher said...

I Timothy 2:1-2: "I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people -- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." (Though to be honest, this reminds me a little of the blessing for the Tsar from "Fiddler on the Roof": "May the Lord bless and keep the Tsar . . . far away from us!")

PenGun said...

This is in no way a command. Urging the flock to pray for everyone, and their leaders, is appropriate. Commanding them to do so, is not what is happening here.

Texan99 said...

As firmly as I believe that it's my duty to oppose wrongful action when I can, I too struggle with the temptation to wish ill on the perpetrators, rather than confining myself to ways to prevent some of the harm they're trying (in my view) to do. As always C.S. Lewis has valuable advice about avoiding the temptation to wallow in the self-righteous disapproval and actively hope for the pain and suffering of the wrongdoer, enjoy his comeuppance, and so on. Grim remarked once that he saw his way clear to killing someone to prevent his doing what he would himself rather die than do. I've never been called on to use deadly force, but I sometimes find that standard helpful: I wouldn't enjoy putting someone in jail, but I'd do it if it were the only way to prevent his doing something I'd rather be jailed myself than do. Ditto causing someone to lose his job, suffer a moment's embarrassment from a public or private chastisement, etc. But I'll always do well to imagine myself in his shoes while it's happening, without therefore shirking my duty to oppose him.

PenGun said...

The reality of the situation is that there is one thing happening. There is one me, and its everyone, so treating others as yourself, is just sensible. ;)

Donna B. said...

Texan99 -- I too strive to do what you have described. At least now I do, not always so in the past. It's not easy. I fail, probably more times than I realize. It's not easy to resist wielding that clue bat upside someone's head.

Grim said...

You are going to have to explain this: "Praying for our leaders is commanded". I have no idea what you are talking about.

Jesus commands us to love our enemies; that surely encompasses the government.

Zachriel said...

Clearly, you can pray for someone while opposing them. Indeed, in a democracy, there is a responsibility to hold leaders accountable, because in a democracy, the people are sovereign.

PenGun said...

"Jesus commands us to love our enemies" I don't remember that bit. The 'command' part is not something he might have said, as I understand the religion. And I left it, because I did understand a great deal about the religion. I spent a great deal of time in our chapel, bigger than many churches, because I had to. So bored and a serious reader I read all the stuff in the slots in the back of the pews. I don't remember any 'commands' in that, so this is why I asked.

Perhaps this is an American heresy, was my thought.

Laura said...

Matthew 5:43-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (NIV)

This is part of the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps the most widely used section of the Gospels, so... if this is news to you, then I hate to break it to you, but no, you don't know anything at all about Christianity. If your reading didn't include at least a casual familiarity with the first Gospel and the first book of the New Testament, then... no, you aren't in any way well-read about Christianity. (If the material in the pews of your chapel didn't include a Bible... well, it wasn't a very good chapel, evidently.) And if you think that being commanded to love your enemies is either heretical or American... no, you don't know much about either heresies, or Americans.

Laura said...

Oh, and in terms of Jesus laying commands on his followers (not just suggestions of things we might want to consider, if we get a moment) and speaking with total, divine authority, here's Matthew 7:21-29 (also NIV):

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

GraniteDad said...

@Laura: well said!

PenGun said...

Yeah. There was no command at all. Just exhortations and threats. ;)

Earl Wajenberg said...

I meet weekly (by Zoom nowadays) with a group of friends to play a game. I'm the only Christian in the group. Nevertheless, last week, when we touched briefly on Trump getting COVID, and although they all despise Trump, they all said, in one form of words or another, that they did not wish him dead because they did not want to be the kind of people who wished that.

Texan99 said...

"Exhortations and threats"--much like a doctor's "threat" that if you shoot yourself in the head, you're likely to die.

On the question of routinely praying for government, my church's litany used to include a weekly prayer for the President, the Governor, and the local government (county/city) leaders by name, with a general reference to the legislatures, councils, etc. Recently they shortened it to a general prayer for all our leaders, no names. Did they feel they were stirring up partisan fervor? I don't know. I used to pay attention to that part during the Obama administration, as a reminder to get my head and heart right despite my instinctive resistance. It's not a bad idea, the more so as partisanship gets nastier and nastier.

Unknown said...

I think maybe we have overdone this a bit. The "persecution" that Jesus is referring to is when people do annoying things to you like stealing your cloak or slapping you on the cheek. He's not talking about mortal enemies, like for instance people who want to kill you or rape your daughter or genocide your people. There is no obligation to love such people. So perhaps the word "enemies" should be replaced with something like "opponents" in the Biblical text, as such a word would be more to the point and less likely to produce absurdities in our religious outlook.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think it does go that far, even unto death. A better distinction is intervening to prevent harm or injustice to others. There is also the distinction of what it means to love others and to pray for them. If they do evil they will eventually need to repent and be reconciled, both to man and to God. What would I want for myself, if I found myself developing a condition that destroyed my judgement and kindness? What would I tell my friends to do if this progressed? I would want them to restrain and prevent me, if necessary to have me incarcerated, and if there were no other solution, to have me executed. Or, as CS Lewis said, I might find that if I had done something evil the best thing I could do would be to turn myself in. That would be wanting the best for myself, though it certainly would look terrible to me as I lost moral grounding.