When a Blessing Is a Curse
Last week, Wiley S. Drake, an California pastor and a former national leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, asked his followers to pray for the deaths of two leaders of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS).
He did so because the group urged the IRS to investigate his church's nonprofit status. Drake had endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for president, doing so on church letterhead and during a church-affiliated internet radio show; the AUSCS was naturally concerned.
Drake said he was "simply doing what God told me to do." He believes AUSCS officials are "enemies of God" and that "God says to pray imprecatory prayer against people who attack God's church."
Leaving little to the imagination, Drake offered some samples that, I presume, were to be answered before God killed the officials: "Let his days be few, and let another take his office," his suggested prayer reads. "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow."
This incident made the news partly because such prayers today strike us as absurd. It's weird news you can't use but find fascinating. But when we Christians hear about a character like Drake, we flinch because we know that such prayers litter the Bibleeverything from King David's "Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!" (Ps. 139:19) to Paul's "If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed" (1 Cor. 16:22).
Such bursts of righteous indignation could be quietly shoved into the exegetical closet, except that the "meek and mild" Jesus had a reputation for not only killing fig trees with a curse, but also for cursing friends ("Get behind me Satan!" he tells Peter in Mark 8:33) and enemies: "You serpents, you brood of vipers," he yells at the Pharisees, "how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?" (Mt. 23:33).
These are not quite imprecatory prayers, because Jesus is not praying to the Father for judgment. Then again, Jesus doesn't need to pray to the Father for such, since he's been given the authority to judge (John 5:22). However we describe these words, they are in the same league as imprecatory prayer: bold assertions that horrific divine judgment should or will bear down on others.
As silly and archaic as the Rev. Drake sounds, he's in good company.
So why are we so uncomfortable with himand with Jesus, David, and Paul? Well, for one, we no longer have much confidence in the truth of the gospel. We've all been infected by the relativistic air we breathe in this polluted century, at least when it comes to religion. We're happy to curse people and wish them ill if they smoke or drive without a motorcycle helmet or leave a large carbon footprint by driving an SUV. Then we don't hesitate to call upon principalities and powers to rain down judgment with a vengeance. When it comes to social and political issues, we can be as self-confident as, well, the Pharisees. But religionthat's a matter of mere opinion. Though the Bible issues warnings time and again regarding unbelief, we pretty much find it impossible to look a non-Christian in the eye and tell her she is going to face judgment.
But let's not be too harsh on ourselves. This reluctance is partly due to the many Christians who have played the judgment card a little too often and a little too flippantly. Do that, and pretty soon your culture won't take you seriously. Ours doesn't take us seriously anymore.
We also remember Jesus' sayings about loving our enemies and blessing those who curse us. We love those verses because they suggest we should be nice to people. And who doesn't want to be nice? Nice people are treated nicely, after all! None of that persecution business to hassle with.
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
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