August 15, 2007

Calling Down the Wrath:
Imprecatory Prayer and the Modern Christian

Associated Baptist Press ran a story today about Wiley Drake, former SBC second vice-president (and current candidate for SBC President). Drake is calling for imprecatory prayer, calling down God's wrath on two staffers for Americans United. Americans United has asked the IRS to investigate the tax-exempt status of Drake's church, First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, California, after Drake used church letterhead and a church-sponsored radio program to endorse Mike Huckabee for President.

Of course, the first question most people will ask is "What the heck is imprecatory prayer?" And when they find out, they'll most likely ask "Is that really the Christian thing to do?" So let's look at both those questions, so we can find out whether we should be embarrassed by Drake, or proud of him. Imprecatory Prayer: What Is It?
According to dictionary.com:

im·pre·cate
Pronunciation[im-pri-keyt]
–verb (used with object), -cat·ed, -cat·ing.
to invoke or call down (evil or curses), as upon a person.

So imprecatory prayer is when Christians pray to God for someone -- not for their well-being, or for their repentance, but for their destruction, or at the very least their pain. We're praying that bad things will happen to them.

The Bible is full of examples of this. Psalm 109 is one glaring example of imprecatory prayer. In this Psalm, David, a "man after God's own heart," prays thusly:

9 May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow!
10 May his children wander about and beg,
seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!
11 May the creditor seize all that he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
12 Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
nor any to pity his fatherless children!

Pretty harsh words! Not just against his enemies, but his enemies' families as well.

"But, Warren," you say, "That's the OLD Testament. God's a lot nicer now." My first response is that you need to read more of the Old Testament. My second response is to show you Revelation 6:

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

This isn't a cry to God for the salvation of those on the earth -- it's a cry for justice. It's a cry for vengeance. It's a New Testament imprecatory prayer.

But note the targets of these prayers. In Psalm 109, David is praying about people who "...in return for my love they accuse me, but I give myself to prayer. So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love." These are people who David has been kind to, and who are returning evil for his good -- they're taking advantage of him. These are people who David could have had jailed, exiled, or killed. He could have taken all of their possessions, and sold their families into slavery. He was, after all, King. But instead, David is taking his case to God, and allowing God to have vengeance rather than himself.

The saints in Revelation 6 are referring to those enemies of God who martyred them. They are praying against people who have set themselves against the will of God -- willfully and intentionally trying to thwart God's plan, and silence His people.

So imprecatory prayer is to be directed against those who have declared themselves at total, willful enmity with God. Not against people who simply oppose us -- people who oppose God.

But what is it's purpose? What's the motivation behind imprecatory prayer? The example we have in the Psalms is David facing insurmountable odds and praying for protection and justice. He couldn't defend himself, or he would have -- David was not weak, nor was he a coward.

Is Imprecatory Prayer for Christians Today?

This is actually an easy question. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that "all Scripture ... profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness ..." So obviously the idea of imprecatory prayer has some value for us. It reminds us that vengeance is His, not ours. It reminds us that we can trust in Him to defend us when we cannot defend ourselves.

But we also need to learn from David's example. In the first five verses, David declares his innocence. The accusations made against him are false, made by people who are enemies of God and His purposes. He declares his innocence, and asks God to defend him. The saints in Revelation are likewise blameless.

So there are some guidelines that we must use when considering imprecatory prayer. We must first be innocent. The accusations against us must be false. Second, we must be defenseless. We cannot be able to legitimately defend ourselves from our foes without direct intervention from God. Third, the people we are praying against must be opposing God and His will, not just us.

Imprecatory prayer is not popular. After all, by the popular definition of Christianity, we don't oppose people. We don't speak against people, we don't condemn. We just love, and accept. That's what the world expects. Judging from the tone of the ABP article, that's what they expect. And we are supposed to love one another.

But we're also called to preach the truth of God, and sometimes that means reminding people of His judgment. And it's clear from Scripture that that sometimes involves prayers of imprecation -- asking for God to bring His judgment to those who oppose Him. The saints in Revelation aren't condemned for it, and we shouldn't be either.

Whether Wiley Drake's imprecatory prayer meets the Biblical criteria or not, I will not judge. But I think it's valuable for us to remember that there are Biblical standards for imprecation, and as Christians we must know them before we start praying the wrath of God down on people.

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 08:34 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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Posted by: dzqcargodw at May 16, 2008 11:12 PM (HZjfA)

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