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Praying for Our Enemies

(Context: This was written in the spring of 2003 while I was a sophomore at Wheaton College. It was written for the Wheaton College newspaper, but they never published it)

Pray for your Enemies

With all of the talk around campus about the war with Iraq it is important to be reminded of a biblical passage or two in which there is very little discrepancy or debate as to their meaning and our response. “Pray for your Enemies.” It is a simple text; a simple task; you pray.
You needn’t look far to see who our enemies are, pacifist and war supporters would agree that if America has dubbed any individuals it’s enemy at least two would be Osama Bin Ladin and Saddam Hussein. So how does the scripture apply to these modern day enemies of ours? We pray for them. We pray for their lives, that God’s will would be done in them. We pray for their well being, their families; We pray for their salvation, that they might come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. A radical thought, but let me remind you of another radical story. Saul was a persecutor of the church, an enemy of Christ, and the Lord met him on the Damascus road. Is our God’s arm to short that He is not able to do the same thing with Bin Ladin or Hussein? So pray for them! Pray for them like you do your aunt, or cousin, or high school friend that doesn’t know the Lord.
If you need more biblical support look to I Tim. 2:1-2, the same scripture by which we pray for President Bush and the leaders of this nation, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” We use this verse often to support praying for the leaders of our nation, we’ve done it many times in chapel. Do you know how many times we’ve prayed for our enemies since 9/11? Twice; maybe three times. Yet, “those in authority” include Bin Ladin, Hussein, and any other leader. So, the scriptural command is two fold for praying for Bin Ladin and Hussein: “For our enemies” and “for those in authority.”
If we spent half as much time praying for our enemies as we do debating whether this war is just (and these debates and discussion are not bad things), maybe we would see a radical move of God unlike anything we could have ever anticipated. The discussion on war has been a discussion of “what if” (what if we don’t attack and Saddam does? what if we kill millions? what if Saddam builds nukes?). So, let me present another “what if?” What if by a miracle of God Saddam Hussein becomes a faithful believer in Jesus Christ, and turns from his military wrong doings, and calls to the world to help turn his country around, not only for their physical survival, but so that they might also know Christ as their Savior. Our rational, faithless minds give us trouble even fathoming that.
Now, on a final note I must address those readers who will disregard this message rationally or simply disregard the importance of this command in their daily life. For certainly, there must be an argument that there are some men, evil men, who are not worth praying for. The second option could be much easier; you finish the article, nod in agreement, and do nothing to implement this prayer into your daily life. If you take either of those two routes, you will not be held as ungodly or apostate, yours seems to be the path that the majority of the American Christian world takes on this issue. Besides, there are many ways others and I fall far short of the Lord’s commands as well. In other words, this article is not meant to condemn. But it is meant to convict. We live a Christian life that is comfortable, pleasing and satisfying to us. We obey the law as we feel fit and where it is not to our liking we bend it, twist it, or even break it, but always with justification for our actions. And whether you are a peacenik or a war monger, you stand in a place of extreme blessing. If you get nothing else from this article, tomorrow morning, before you start debating whether this war is just or not, pray for your enemies. “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves, do what it says.”

Some great Answers to the “What Would you Do…” Question

I thought it would be worth mentioning a collection of essays from people who do a FAR better job then myself of answering the question “What would you do if someone attacked your loved ones?”
What Would you Do? by John Howard Yoder
John Howard Yoder collects essay’s from a number of people, as well as personal stories that attempt to address this very question. It’s thoughtful and thought provoking and will give you some insight into the pacifist view. It’s also very easy to read and you’ll be through in no time. If your genuinely interested let me know and I can loan you my copy.

let the discussion begin

Because of the risk of this subject dying off (It seems like it already has), I’m going to skip to some of the more controversial Bible passages that will hopefully create a bit of discussion. Discussion always, always helps me write better. I’m going to still try and do my best to keep extremely focused on just one passage and one thought on that passage at a time. We will do well to keep our comments and dialog to just that passage and idea (obviously we’ll end up referencing other passages in our arguments though). So, here goes Romans 13.

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
This is the first verse of the primary passage I hear cited in reference to why we should support the war. The argument I think is that quite simply God has put our president in place and therefore if our governing authorities call for something we should submit (support) it. To a large degree I find no disagreement with this argument. The struggle with this type of thinking for me comes when I start to think about who “Everyone” entails. That means an Iraqi Christian, if called to join the armed forces under Saddam, should join, and support the cause of the governing authority above him. That means the Nazi German soldier’s where simply following this same Scriptural reasoning when they begin killing the Jews. That means if the authorities in this country have deemed abortion as an acceptable practice, Christians should stop protesting Abortion Clinics and instead should be supporting them.

I find difficulty with that train of thinking and I’m sure others do as well. I’m not trying to belittle anyone, or build a straw man case for those who use Romans 13 to support the war, I’m just sharing what I have difficulty with, and I’m wondering how one reconciles those things in their mind.

Thinking again…

After too long of a hiatus I’m starting to write again, I had to catch up on where we were, and I was struck by this comment left on the last post:

“Maybe one of your future posts can discuss why you focus on Jesus’ words as opposed to God’s? They’re the same person, right? So they can’t think two different things.”

I’m certainly in agreement that the words of Christ and the words of God are not contrary, and I certainly hope you don’t feel I’m addressing one and not the other (how can I if they are the same?). I do feel strongly though, that as Christians, Christ words are essential for gaining proper insight into the Old Testament passages.

I really hope to dispel this idea that Christians against the war ignore the Old Testament, while those for it focus only on it (guess I’m not doing good, starting with the New Testament though).
So, let’s think about the implications the Matthew 5 passage has on our understanding of the Old Testament verse it references, as well as other OT passages.
I agree, I don’t think Christ was negating the OT law. Christ didn’t say that if someone takes your eye that’s all well and good. Nor did he even imply that a “life for life” was some how wrong, or not just. What Christ DID say is that Your place, as his follower, is to not resist that evil person. We’ll get into what he said after this which I think is the crux of this passage, probably in another post. The point I want to make is this: In no way am I trying to ignore the Old Testament; What I am doing is looking at the OT in the lense of the New Testament, and I think that is hugely important in ALL that we do.

do not resist…

(note: I’m skipping passages I’d like to come back to later, and trying to hit the ones that most affected me, and ones most people usually reference and want to talk about first).

38″You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'[g] 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. -Matthew 5:38-42

The idea of not resisting an evil person has got to be the most counter cultural concept I had heard in a long time. We’d certainly heard the “turn the other cheek” passage, but usually it’d been flaunted as a weak and cowardly thing to do to avoid further punishment. Growing up I can only think of one example of this being carried out in real life: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. I later learned about Gandhi, Mandela, and others, but initially I had heard of nothing but the occasional reference to the Civil Rights movement. It’s no wonder I and many others didn’t take this passage seriously at all.

But, upon reading it one summer I was struck by the fact that a literal interpretation of it seems incredibly inline with what Christ message is. Self-sacrificial love seems like the only compelling force to this type of action. I later was enlightened by Walter Wink’s insight into this passage and I think it coincides with what I said. Christ calls us not to resist the person, but rather to show them love, and at the sametime maintain our humanity in the person’s eyes. Evil has no power over that kind of love.

(please let’s not discuss other things that Wink says in that article here. I’d rather just focus on the passage mentioned.).

Starting with Jesus

I’m not exactly sure where to start, so I hope this works. As a Christian, my faith, my belief system, is centered around Jesus. Without question, the Old Testament and the rest of the New Testament are valuable and also God’s Word, but without Christ and his teachings, our faith is meaningless. My journey began the summer before my freshman year of college. I was reading through the gospels and also happened to be reading C.S. Lewis’ ‘Why I’m not a Pacifist’ essay in The Weight of Glory at the same time. I’ll be honest with you, Lewis’ essay was compelling, and had I not gotten a large amount of grant money to pay for my tuition, I probably would have joined the ROTC program. I had just cracked open Matthew at the same time and I ran across the Beatitudes.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
Well, that didn’t seem to conflict too much, I mean we would say our military in a time of war are there to do exactly that, to bring peace. But do this with me for a moment a little visual lesson. We are going to read through the beatitudes and I want you to picture in your mind what that person looks like:

3″Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

I don’t know about you, but the song, “One of these things is not like the others,” starts to run through my head when I picture a soldier decked out in military gear and a gun in his/her arms. I start to wonder if maybe a Gandhi like figure doesn’t make a little more sense.

(Please remember, I’m going one thing at a time. This isn’t my whole case for why I’m a pacifist or anything like that. If you want to comment please limit it to addressing this passage only. Thanks for understanding).

Beginning thoughts on war.

In some discussion with friends of differing views on the topic of war, I’ve come to the conclusion that I should start a small series of post related to that very topic.

My first thought and clarification is this: I am not a political pacifist. I guess you could call me a Biblical pacifist if you needed to define it. What I mean by that is simply that I did not come to my pacifist views by any political ideology or teachings. I did not grow up in a family that was anti-war or anything of that nature. My journey basically began a few years ago when I read: “love your enemies” in the sermon on the mount and start to think hard about what that might mean for me.

So, when you comment on my post, feel free to educate me about political ideas and issues. But any convincing or persuasion will need to be done from a Biblical standpoint. Hope that’s okay with you.