God gets petitions. Lots and lots of petitions. For cures and directions; hope and help.
And once in a while comes the request to be a hit man.
God, zap the enemy. It’s an ancient plea, an imprecatory prayer, a plea for someone else’s misfortune.
David prayed it. David called upon his God to kill the enemy; Psalm 25 begins: “Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; Fight against those who fight against me.” Other imprecatory psalms have curses or prayers for death to one’s foes.
Baptist Minister and former second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Wiley Drake offers imprecatory prayer for the death of U.S. President Obama.
On June 2, on Fox News Radio, Drake said of Barack Obama, “If he does not turn to God and does not turn his life around, I am asking God to enforce imprecatory prayers that are throughout the Scripture that would cause him death.”
Pastor Drake has also called for death-dealing prayers against a religious watchdog.
How does this harsh rhetoric square with the Jesus who called for love for the enemy? It’s not a case of Old Testament cursing versus New Testament loving.
Proverbs 24:17 says, “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice.” St. Paul, who wrote some fine New Testament letters, also wrote “If anyone does not love the Lord, a curse be on him.î”(1 Corinthians 16:22) Paul may have been a saint but this is embarrassingly close to the Islamic call for death to the infidel.
Neither is it a dose of hyperbole or the momentary ranting of a wronged believer. The psalms were carefully crafted poems put to music for worship.
Some make the case that wrathful intercession is simply asking God to do what God said he would do: protect the righteous. The danger here is in our assumption that since we’re so righteous, God is always on our side.
As the football team bends the knee for a little pre-game intercession, if the request is for victory, then God would have to orchestrate the agony of defeat for a team of perhaps equally devout, earnest players — and prayers.
Anyone who doesn’t believe what we believe and the way we believe it must be God’s enemy and in line for some serious smiting, if not a death sentence.
Yet surely if God is a just God and capable of smiting bad people, for good reason we trust, then the smiting should be left up to the Supreme Judge without conflicting petitions from us.
Evil needs to be resisted, and rage is sometimes appropriate. But imprecatory prayer is a curse on someone else. Jesus never taught anyone to pray a curse. He taught the exact opposite.
In his anger he warned the Pharisees the path their hypocrisy was taking them down, but never called down vengeful fire on them. Allegedly, Jesus could have commanded the hosts of heaven to smite the thugs who wanted to do him in.
Neither should we.
Bob Ripley is Senior Minister of Metropolitan United Church, in London, Ont.