Probably not many Christians will pray a prayer like this, but a Southern California pastor might as well do. He encourages his flock to pray for the death of those who opposed his endorsement of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee by using his church’s stationery and Internet program. Pastor Wiley Drake of the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, California called for “imprecatory prayer” against three officials of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “The prayer does call for serious, serious punishment on people. But I didn’t call for that, God did,” said Drake, a pastor of the Southern Baptist Convention, of which Huckabee is also a minister.
What kind of a prayer is an “imprecatory prayer”? It is a prayer invoking God’s curse, wrath, or calamity on someone. Is it right for a Christian to pray this kind of prayer? After all, as Pastor Drake says, the Old Testament Psalms is full of imprecatory prayers against enemies: “Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace” (Psalm 83:17); “Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow; let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg”(Psalm 109:9-10). But then, doesn’t Christ contradict these imprecations when he commands us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”? (Matthew 5:44).
This is one of the reasons why many people, including some who call themselves Christians, say the Bible is full of contradictions, a serious charge against us who affirm Scripture’s authority, inspiration by the Holy Spirit, inerrancy, and infallibility (2 Timothy 3:16). Many people believe that the Old Testament God is an arbitrary, wrathful God who ordered “genocide” against Amorites and Amalekites during Israel’s conquest of Canaan; but that the New Testament God is a loving, compassionate God who commands us to love our enemies, “turn the other cheek,” and to forgive others “seventy times seven.”
So, the first question before us is this: Which is which—pray for the wrath of God to fall on our enemies, or love our enemies and pray for the salvation of those who hate us? The Scriptures say we are to do both, but for different reasons:
Firstly, Christians are to pray for God’s justice to be done. Vengeance is the Lord’s (Deuteronomy 32:35; Psalm 94:1; Romans 12:19), not ours. God will surely punish His enemies, if not in this age, in the age to come (Psalm 11:5-6; Romans 1:18; 9:22). Not only are we to pray that God will restrain rulers and men who hinder the preaching of the gospel and persecute our brethren (Acts 26:29; 1 Timothy 2:1-2), but we may also pray for God’s righteous vengeance against His enemies, the enemies of His church, as Christian martyrs in heaven are doing right now (Rev. 6:9-10). For God’s providential care for His people includes protecting them from their enemies (Genesis 50:20; Isaiah 27:2,3; Hebrew 10:12-13). Even rulers and authorities, both the righteous and the wicked, are ordained by God for the protection of the church (Exodus 4:21).
Secondly—having said the above—we are not to pray for God’s wrath against our personal enemies (including our political enemies, as Pastor Drake encouraged his flock to do), but to pray for God’s salvation for them. The apostle Paul exhorts us, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:14, 21). And he put his words into practice in the salvation of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:16-34).
Thirdly, as we pray for God’s justice and for the salvation of our enemies, we are to rejoice and persevere in whatever circumstances we are in, even in persecution (Matthew 5:11-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Martyrs throughout Christian history did so. Suffering is, after all, the Christian’s calling in this age (John 16:33; 1 Peter 4:12).
A second question in relation to Pastor Drake’s prayer is this: What is the role of the church and the Christian in this world? Scriptures say that the church is to be concerned with spiritual things, namely: preaching the gospel to all the nations, administering the sacraments, and teaching believers all that Christ has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). Christ’s undershepherds have no business getting themselves and their churches mired in the mud of politics. How many pastors have gotten themselves in trouble when they wandered from the pulpit into politics? Leave politics to politicians. As well, the church must always be vigilant in keeping civil authorities from meddling in the affairs of the church. (See also my post “One Nation Under God?” and “The Spirituality of the Church” by D. G. Hart’s and John R. Muether.)
The Christian, on the other hand, is to be “salt and light” to the world, by personally showing God’s love and compassion to others, and by raising his voice for God’s truth, justice, and righteousness wherever God has appointed him to be.
It is when the corporate body of Christ, led by its pastors such as Wiley Drake, and the individual Christian forget that their highest end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 1; Romans 15:5-6), and not “to take America back for God,” that “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24).