Monday, July 27, 2009

Should Victims of Injustice Pray for Vengeance?

Wiley Drake, pastor of Buena Park Southern Baptist Church near Anaheim, California, has made no secret that he is praying for the death of President Barack Obama.

This raises two questions:

* How big a loon is Pastor Drake?

* Is it ever OK to use such "imprecatory prayer"--a theological term for praying that bad things happen to bad people?

The answer to the first question is "pretty darned big." The answer to the second question is less clear. And having been the victims of bad acts by some pretty bad people, Mrs. Schnauzer and I have been pondering that question quite a bit lately. I wonder if other victims of Bush-era "justice"--Don Siegelman, Paul Minor, and others--are doing the same thing.

As for Drake, he seems to have a poor understanding of imprecatory prayer. The notion grew out of the Old Testament Book of Psalms and has to do with seeking justice against enemies. The psalmist seems to be speaking of individuals who have genuinely done him harm.

Drake says his prayers against Obama grew largely from the president's support of abortion rights. But there appears to be no justification in the Bible, or any other legitimate religious/philosophical text, for wishing ill upon those who simply disagree with you on some issue. Obama hardly would fit the definition of Drake's "enemy."

But what about those who truly have enemies--and have been harmed by them? Are they justified in praying that their enemies be vanquished?

A few years ago, mindful of Jesus' teaching that you are to "love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44), I probably would have said no. But I'm starting to rethink that--for two reasons.

One, until about eight or nine years ago, I wasn't aware that I had any enemies. I didn't know what it was like to have someone intentionally harm me and those I care about.

Two, I married someone who has a little different worldview from mine. Mrs. Schnauzer is one of the most good natured people you would ever want to meet. But she has an edge to her--a "screw with me at your peril" mindset. Her family roots are mostly in the Slavic region, and she claims to have a "Serbian temper." I call it her "vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord" attitude.

A few years back, Mrs. Schnauzer was the victim of a mugging. Did she pray for the person who had victimized her? Not exactly. She obtained a gun and took classes on how to use it. In fact, she still knows her way around a firearm, and while a progressive on most issues, she's a bit of a Republican when it comes to guns and their use for protection.

I've never been much of a gun person, but I'm starting to think my wife has a point. After all, we've learned through hard experience that the justice system is just as likely to violate you as protect you.

Long before the Wiley Drake story made the press, Mrs. Schnauzer was a fan of the imprecatory Psalms. Here are a few of her favorites:

* Psalm 55:15 - Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the grave.

Psalm 58:6 - O God, break the teeth in their mouths.

Psalm 69:28 - May they be blotted out of the book of life.

Psalm 109:9 - May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.

Psalm 137:9 - How blessed will be the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

Wow, the psalmist definitely had issues with a few folks! And I can feel his pain. In fact, Psalm 83 has become one of my favorites:

O my God, make them like the whirling dust;
Like chaff before the wind.
Like fire that burns the forest.
And like the flame that sets the mountains on fire.
So pursue them with Thy tempest,
And terrify them with Thy storm . . .
And let them be humiliated and perish.

The imagery of my enemies being tormented by fire and storms is . . . well, pretty nice. And that last part about humiliation and death--sounds good to me.

Have Mrs. Schnauzer and I become awful people? I don't think so. The Psalms make it clear that bad people have been screwing around with regular folks for a very long time. Like the psalmist, we know that it's not much fun to be on the receiving end of such treatment.

Is it wrong to want to fight back, particularly when it has become clear that the justice system isn't likely to protect you? I think not. In our case, we've given the justice system about nine years to set matters straight--and it's only made things worse.

So excuse me if I think imprecatory prayer sounds pretty darned good.

As for Wiley Drake, I suspect he doesn't understand imprecatory prayer because he's probably never had someone intentionally do him harm. With no true enemies, he has to create them out of thin air.

Mrs. Schnauzer and I know what it's like to have bad people try to ruin you. Perhaps that's why we can identify with the psalmist's imprecations.

And it's interesting that imprecations are spread throughout the New Testament, as well. Consider Matthew 26:24:

Woe to the man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.


finebammer said...

well. i guess according to you, imprecasions are in the eye of the beholder.

regardless, kudos to your wife. shoot for the gut, young lady. then the head.

there's nothing sexier than a woman in full control of a working handgun.

the latest in home protection:

one could say home protection's in the eye of the beholder.

Anonymous said...

I wrestle with this nightly as I pray for God to smite my enemies. Thanks for showing me where to find the answers I needed to reconcile my thoughts. I will remain a Peace Advocate who cleans her gun(s).

Anonymous said...

There's this once an egoistic friend whom turned resentful foe. Nightly n daily am invoking the Psalms 143 and placed his name on the verses 11-12 for God to strike him dead before this year ends. May God's Will be done. Halleluyah! Amen. +