[Vision2020] Reply to Keely, Michael & Jackie on Imprecatory Prayer
taro_tanaka at hotmail.com
Mon Dec 18 14:18:10 PST 2006
I'm truly grateful for Jackie, Michael, and Keely's responses to me on the
topic of imprecatory prayer. I didn't expect to win any converts to my
position, but at least we seem to have been able to agree that there is such
a thing as a legitimate time, place, and occasion for imprecatory prayer.
Apart from whether specific instances of Doug Wilson's imprecatory prayers
are biblically justifiable, simply the fact that the possibility of
legitimate imprecatory prayer has been confirmed strikes me as significant.
One thing that can hardly be lost on anyone reading the Bible is the fact
that there is a lot more imprecatory prayer to be found in the Hebrew
scriptures than in the Greek. Conversely, in the Greek scripters there is
greater emphasis on self-sacrificial love and forgiveness toward people who
deserve just the opposite. It is vitally important for us to remember these
are differences of degree of emphasis rather than a radical dichotomy. When
Jesus gave the commandment that we should love our neighbors as our selves,
He was quoting from the law of Moses. Conversely, as we shall confirm once
again below, the Greek scriptures make multiple clear affirmations of the
legitimacy of imprecatory prayer, at least for certain times, places and
occasions. Therefore a radical dichotomy between the old covenant and the
new, in which the essential characters of each are seen as mutually
irreconcilable, is not faithful to scripture. A rather superficial reading
of the Bible -- one paying so much attention to the interpretative "big
picture" that important contravening details get overlooked -- might be
tempted to conclude that to the extent that imprecatory prayer ever had any
legitimate place in biblical religion, it was purely an "Old Testament"
phenomenon, and has no place in the much more advanced era of "New Testament
religion." A typical expression of this idea can be found in liberal
theologian Rudolf Bultmann, who radicalized the Lutheran law-gospel dualism
and imposed an existential unhistorical understanding of the gospel which
led him to say in 1933, "To the Christian faith the Old Testament is no
longer revelation as it has been and still is for the Jews . . . The events
which meant something for Israel, which were God's word, mean nothing more
to us." He still retains a use for the Old Testament, but only as the dark
foil that illumines the gospel.
Bultmann's approach opens up a real can of worms, ultimately doing violence
to the orthodox understanding of God Himself. Although it is true that there
are huge changes and genuine advances brought about in the transition from
the old covenant to the new (e.g., a much greater outpouring of the Holy
Spirit), God's eternal character remains unchanging.
Keely seems to clearly recognize the fact that God's character is eternally
unchanging, and, since (unlike Bultmann) she wants to retain the full
authority of the entire Bible as Scripture, she seems to be of the view that
no approval is given by the divine Author of Scripture to the imprecatory
prayers found in the Book of Psalms -- or at least, she seems to be sure
that God never approved of the prayers that offend her -- "Blessed shall he
be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock," etc. Her
view seems to be that those parts are recorded in Scripture, but that does
not mean God has put his stamp of approval on those utterances, any more
than He put His stamp of approval on David's adultery with Bathsheba or
murder of Uriah. In Keely's view, we are simply to learn from the psalmist's
negative, sinful example when we read much, if not all, of the content of
imprecatory psalms. (At least, that is the general direction I take Keely to
be coming from. I hope Keely will accept my apologies and correct me if I
have seriously misrepresented her stance in this paragraph, but in any case
it represents one way of (mis)understanding the imprecatory psalms that is
fairly common today.)
One problem the above stance runs into is, Paul commands Christians to pray
and sing the psalms (Eph. 5:19), and he doesn't say, "except for the
imprecatory psalms." The command is to continue to use all of them,
including the imprecatory psalms that call for God's destruction -- AND
CONVERSION, please note -- of the wicked (Psalms 74, 83, etc.). This blanket
commandment that we continue to use the psalms presents a real problem for
what I take to be Keely's position. If that position was correct, then Paul
wouldn't be telling us to keep on using those psalms.
Another point typically overlooked by evangelicals hostile to the use of
imprecatory prayer is the fact that the numerous imprecations are found in
the New Testament coming directly from the lips of Jesus and the apostles.
For example, In Matthew 23:13, 15, 16, 23, 24, 27, and 29, Jesus unleashes a
scathing seven-fold curse upon the Pharisees. Do these utterances contradict
the love of God? -- obviously not. Messiah is delivering a covenantal
lawsuit that will put an end to the misbehavior of the Jewish religious
leaders of that era either through repentance unto life or judgment unto
destruction. This is a loving warning of the certain negative sanctions that
await those who have perverted the law of God if they do not repent.
Likewise, the apostle Paul declares anathema (eternal condemnation) upon
anyone "who loves not the Lord Jesus" in 1 Corinthians 16:22. In Galatians
1:8 Paul pronounces a curse upon heretics who seek to pervert the church,
and in chapter 5:12 he prays that they would be emasculated and neutered
lest their heresy reproduce. In 2 Timothy 4:14 Paul uses imprecatory
language when he declares that Alexander the metal worker (who resisted and
caused great damage to Paul's ministry) be repaid according to his deeds.
Note that this is the same Paul who authored the great passage on love in 1
Corinthians 13. Paul was being no more schizophrenic than the Son of God was
when He preached love and also threatened destruction.
The general consensus of Jackie, Keely, and Michael in response to my
reference to the imprecatory prayer of the saints in Revelation seemed to be
that imprecatory prayer could be justified in that particular case because
of the fact that people had been killed as martyrs for their faith, but
imprecatory prayer was nevertheless an inappropriate (i.e., sinful) response
in lesser cases. Well, take a look at the examples I just gave above. ALL of
them constitute "lesser" cases. Eternal destruction for not loving Jesus?
Eternal cursing of heretics? This is serious stuff, and for a lot less than
what the martyred saints in Revelation had to go through. Even if you still
happen to think that Doug Wilson has gone overboard with his particular
imprecatory prayers, if you want to be in harmony with what the Bible itself
shows us, I think you have to allow more room for imprecatory prayer than
you seem to have been willing to allow.
Were imprecatory prayers appropriate for people under the Abrahamic, Mosaic
and Davidic covenants? If so, then they are appropriate for us, for, as Paul
says in Galatians, we are all "Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise."
Are imprecatory prayers appropriate for Messiah? Keely has already conceded
that much. If so, then they are appropriate for us, since Christians are all
members of His body. Messiah's Bride, the Church, is joined to Messiah so
that we are "one flesh" with Him. As evidence of this, recall what Jesus
said when he confronted Paul on the road to Damascus: "Saul, Saul, why are
you persecuting Me?" An assault on the church is an assault on her Head.
When anyone persecutes the church, he persecutes the Husband and Messiah of
the church. That's why God has given us imprecatory prayers. In so many
words, God informs us, "Honey, when anyone persecutes you, you just holler,
and I'll take care of things for you."
Now, lest my last sentence be misunderstood, that does not necessarily mean
that a giant Monty Python foot is going to come down from Heaven and squish
the church's enemies like so many bugs when the church prays for
deliverance. The church in the Roman Empire prayed imprecatory prayers for
deliverance from their persecutors, and God did grant the church deliverance
and victory. But that deliverance and victory came through the outpouring of
the innocent blood of Christian martyrs over the span of three centuries.
Father knows best, but if humans had written the script for that segment of
history, it would never in anyone's wildest imagination have turned out the
way it did. God often works in mysterious ways, and his ways of answering
imprecatory prayer are no exception.
Doug Wilson prayed what he prayed and he can speak for himself, but I find
it hard to believe that his understanding of imprecatory prayer is so
shallow that he doesn't understand the sorts of things I have been
explaining in these posts. That's why I think he has been misunderstood by
you folks on Vision 2020. It's either that or else he has been clearly
understood by people who are seriously not right with God and not repenting
when they ought to be repenting.
And now I would like to recommend considering the psychology of the
persecutor and its implications for us. Messiah said to His disciples during
the last supper, " . . . the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will
think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you,
because they have not known the Father, nor me." The persecutor is convinced
in his heart that he is doing good, and that it is the persecuted party who
is wrong. In other words, the persecutor is convinced that he is not
persecuting at all, but rather serving and honoring God. So who is
persecutor, and who is persecuted? Who is truly serving and honoring God,
and who is in grave danger of judgment despite the conviction in his heart
that he is doing what is right? If you were the persecutor, how would you be
able to recognize that fact and repent of your persecution?
It took Saul an act of divine intervention on the road to Damascus in order
to be able to see himself as he really was. Without that, he would never
have been able to recognize that he had been wickedly persecuting people who
were righteous. I believe that act of divine intervention occurred in
response to the imprecatory prayers offered up by the persecuted church.
So, if you are a Christian on either side of this confrontation, shouldn't
YOU be praying imprecatory prayers, after a fashion? Who is right, and who
is wrong? Who is persecuting, and who is persecuted? Wouldn't you like to
see the answers to such questions made as plain as day for the whole world
to see beyond any possibility of misunderstanding, to God's greater
glorification and the advancement of righteousness? Then please pray to God
that He would grant His judgment and declare it loud and clear for His
glorification and our edification! It's not something to be done lightly;
calling for God to come in judgment could, in a worst-case scenario, result
in someone experiencing a lot of pain in some form or another, and, as the
Bible shows, even death is not an inconceivable result. But whenever God
comes in judgment, it is always for the ultimate salvation of the righteous,
and that is something to be welcomed. Also, because God is righteous, His
judgments are never excessively harsh, and that's to be welcomed too.
Getting back to the specific responses I have received, Michael says it
would be a good idea to make my theology illegal. No persecution there, eh?
Heaven forbid that he would persecute anyone while having them declared
illegal on account of the content of their prayers.
Keely says "questions about zoning, tax exemption, bigotry, sexism,
adjudication and counsel of sex offenders, gambling, aberrant theology and
ecclesiastical dealings are the price you pay for arrogant behavior, even if
the questions themselves fail to result in de jure or de facto conviction
[i.e., even if you are an entirely law-abiding member of the community].
This isn't persecution, and sure isn't martyrdom or anything close to it.
The only thing I see being killed at Christ Church is the noxious weed of
privilege, bigotry, patriarchy, and arrogance." Again, Heaven forbid that
Keely would persecute anyone while repeatedly "raising questions" (i.e.,
harassing and slandering) over the legal exercise of constitutionally
protected religious freedoms by fellow Christians acting in accord with
their convictions of conscience.
Is now not a good time for God to come in judgment? Let Him judge and make
clear who is persecuting, and who is persecutor, and let the world know the
result and learn to kiss the Son in reverent awe. I'm praying for that, and
I hope you are too. And I hope, by God's grace, that the result might be
like the transformation of the unrighteous, persecuting Saul to the
righteous Paul on the road to Damascus.
-- Princess Sushitushi
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