Who To Pray For?

As you might expect, I’ve been paying fairly close attention to the news today. One thing that struck me was Tony Blair’s speech at midday, given from the G8 Summit in Gleneagles.

He started by saying that his “thoughts and prayers” were with the victims and their families, and went on to finish by condemning the terrorists. “My thoughts and prayers are with the victims” seems a fairly common formula – I’ve heard politicians use it after tragedies in the past, and several times over the course of today. And I’ve certainly heard no expressions of concern for the terrorists.

At the time, I thought this was very statesmanlike. However, prompted by an email from a complete stranger, I looked again at the Bible. And I found that during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons 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 brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

I think that’s massively challenging – it certainly challenged me. I hope any Christians reading will feel able to take time to pray for the people who perpetrated these acts – because even they are not beyond the concern or reach of God, and what they have done cannot be too serious for Christ’s death to pay for it, if they ask him.

Of course, the clearest ever demonstration of the principle of “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” was on a hill outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago, when “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals – one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:33-34)

18 thoughts on “Who To Pray For?

  1. I know precisely what you mean, Gerv. After the Sept. 11 attacks, I found myself praying for the people responsible for the attack. I prayed that God would grant them the mercy which men would certainly deny them.

  2. “I’ve certainly heard no expressions of concern for the terrorists.”

    Hmm, yeah, that’s because they’re terrorists, and they choose to leave this world worse than the way they found it. Given that I believe this world is all we’ve got, I personally tend to reserve my concern for those who try to make it a better place.

    I know you believe differently, and I do respect you for that. And it is honorable that you have heartfelt concern for all people. However, I can’t help thinking that it’s a little bit naive to ask humans to try to come up with the same mercy that God could provide. Maybe that’s not what you’re asking; I’m not sure.

    Sounds like a good personal challenge, though, in any case.

  3. Who To Pray For?

    Gervase Markhamhopes that Christians will feel able to take time to pray for the people who perpetrated [the London bombings]- because even they are not beyond the concern or reach of God, and what they have done cannot be too

  4. I agree with you, but it is hard for anyone to do and I think Jesus knows that. Yes it is what we should strive for, just like a sinless life, but everyone knows that we all sin.

    certainly something you don’t hear on the news or the mouths of our politicians. I agree with bush on most of his views, but usually not on the war thing. How radical would it be to be attacked by those who hate you and do nothing but relaliate with love.

    Thank you for the reminder.

  5. While I mostly agree with you, Gerv, I believe we must have a balance of truth and mercy. I believe that we should love and pray for the salvation of the terrorists (mercy), but they should also be brought to justice (truth).

    When Jesus confronted the adulterous woman, He showed her both truth and mercy: “And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee [mercy]: go, and sin no more [truth]” (John 8:11, KVJ).

  6. Sorry, my fat fingers typed “KVJ” instead of “KJV.” You probably would’ve figured that out…

  7. Dan F: Indeed. I’m not arguing that they shouldn’t be brought to justice. In fact, I pray that they will be.

    In response to the Trackback: praying for the terrorists and praying for the victims are not mutually exclusive; one can and should do both.

  8. I agree with you, Gerv (and with you, Dan F.). Several years ago, at some point when Saddam Hussein was particularly in the news (I don’t remember exactly which event this was near), I made a point of asking my pastor and church to pray for Hussein and his murderous underlings. While I hoped he would be brought to justice, I also believed (and continue to believe) that he is not beyond the ability of Jesus’ blood to redeem, and that it is our duty as Christians to remember that ALL of us are sinners in need of redemption and grace.

    angel and orrin’s comments remind me of Corrie Ten Boom’s story of trying to forgive one of the former concentration camp guards who had guarded her. There are things that are beyond the ability of humans — as humans — to forgive. At such times the only way we can possibly obey Jesus’ commands is to ask God’s forgiveness to flow through us, because our ability without him is just insufficient. That’s a hard thing to ask, and to do. But it is possible.

  9. I think the point he (and other politicians) try to make is: find comfort in what you believe in.

    It’s not really intended as an order, or even a request. Nor is it really meant to take literally. It’s similar to how many western cultures say ‘bless you’ when somebody sneezes, but rarely does anyone actually think it when saying it. It’s a response. Way back when… it wasn’t so automatic.

    The point he was trying to make is to take comfort spiritually how ever you feel appropriate. If praying for the victims makes you feel better: go for it. Praying for the souls of the sinners who committed the act: go for it.

    Same thing happened after 9/11. I don’t think it’s meant as literal as people read it. It’s simply encouraging one to use spirituality to help the healing process.

    There is without question proof that spirtuality takes a role in psychological healing after a trama. If it’s devine or simply the fact that prayer is meditation and reduces stress by channeling tension… that’s something you can debate.

    Even many non-religious have turned towards meditation (which is really a fancy word for pray). It’s proven to reduce stress by channeling tension and frustration.

    Regardless of your spritual beliefs, prayer or meditation (how ever you perfer to call it) has physical and psychological benefits. Very important in times like this.

    I don’t think he was meaning to be as literal as you imply… I think he was just referencing that spirituality can be helpful at times like this.

  10. I don’t think Gerv is really debating whether Blair was being literal or figurative. I think Blair’s comments, plus the email he got, got him thinking about this issue. So whether or not Blair was being literal– we have an interesting item to think about.

  11. Gerv,

    It’s great to see that your blog is having such a discussion of God’s justice and mercy, and what our own should be like. After all the thought I’ve given it since yesterday morning I’ve found myself remembering the words of your late fellow Oxonian, C.S. Lewis. This quote is probably not exact, but close enough to convey the meaning accurately:

      God’s justice is milder than man’s mercy, and His mercy is more severe than man’s justice.

  12. Oops. Forgot to say how to disobfuscate my e-mail address. Perhaps it’s obvious, though:

    • Replace @ with a.
    • Replace _at_ with what it obviously stands for.
    • Spell yahoo correctly.
  13. Gerv,

    I got this today and thought about your post, it is from the Bruderhof group:

    �Dozens dead, hundreds injured� scream the headlines all over the world. But it seems to me that amid all the tumult, we are missing the most important thing. If 9/11 really changed us (as so many people claim) then why are we once again seeking protection in heightened security and military might? If we have really seen enough bloodshed and violence, then why aren�t we turning to God for help? Biblical history shows us that whenever we think we have the answers and try to take world events into our hands, God withdraws from us. It was only when the children of Israel realized that their own strength had come to an end, and cried out to God, that he intervened and helped them. If God led the children of Israel out of Egypt, how much more will he help us today? Anyone who is familiar with the Gospels knows that this message shines from every page: �Fear not; I am with you to the end of the age.� If we claim to be followers of Jesus, shouldn�t it shine through our lives as well?

  14. I’m not a Christian myself. I don’t believe in the supernatural, of any variety.

    However, I don’t disagree with most of the things that Christianity teaches – at least in its purest form. And I found this post very moving and challenging to me as a person, even a non-Christian person.

    The world is a better place when we focus on love, rather than bitterness and hatred. Even for people who demonstrate bitterness and hatred towards us.

  15. Robert Accettura said: Even many non-religious have turned towards meditation (which is really a fancy word for pray).

    Prayer and meditation are extremely different. Meditation is, when it comes down to it, centered on the self. There is only one person involved. Prayer is talking to God – it’s all about communication. The two are only the same if you have a starting assumption that God doesn’t exist, spirituality is all psychological, and you are just performing the act for the effect it’ll have on you.

    Stuart Ballard said: However, I don’t disagree with most of the things that Christianity teaches – at least in its purest form.

    Presumably apart from the minor matters of God having made the universe, Jesus being the Son of God and saviour of the world, your personal sin and rebellion against God, and your need to turn to him for forgiveness? ;-)

  16. Gerv: Touché, that was very poorly phrased of me. I do know better, and I apologise for being implicitly dismissive of the core tenets of your faith.

    I’m not sure exactly how to phrase what I’m trying to say. Maybe it’s obvious and I’m beating a dead horse by trying to clarify, in which case you can all stop reading now ;)

    What I was getting at is that I agree with most of the *practical consequences* of what Christianity teaches. Love your neighbour as yourself. Judge not lest ye be judged. Do good to those who hate you. Let he who has never sinned cast the first stone. Five of the ten commandments are irrelevant without a God in the picture, but the remaining five are certainly worth following. And so on.

    Anyway, my point was that the core of your message is still powerful, even to someone who doesn’t hold a place for God in his worldview.