Balancing prayer with the newspaper and the Bible
I've been pretty quiet lately. For those who like my blog, I apologize for the lack of posting but I've been concentrating on making some things to sell. During my short hiatus, however, the news has supplied plenty of thinking material and opportunities for prayer.
Karl Barth, the great German theologian, is attributed with saying, "read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other." There is no solid proof that he said this but someone wise has changed this quote to say "pray with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other." This is a good quote to remember lately, don't you think?
Usama bin Laden
The first thing that comes to mind because it is the most recent is the death of America's enemy Usama Bin Laden. I, like every other American, felt a wonderful sense of pride in our armed forces and in our resolve after I learned that it happened. I'm still glad it happened, but I've come down a bit from the initial reaction.
How should we as Christians respond to the death of an enemy? Here is a great blog post on the issue: Alise Write. Alise, I don't know you, but you say it well.
Killing bin Laden was good for our country but we shouldn't go overboard in rejoicing over the fact that our enemy is dead. The things that he did were evil and he was a lost soul. As much as we want to deny the fact - because it doesn't fit in with our "favored Christian nation" rhetoric - God loves bin Laden and every other terrorist on the planet just as much as he loves we law-abiding citizens. The Bible says so, does it not? Of course we need to defend ourselves against such people and we're glad that the vein through which evil did its work through bin Laden has been cauterized, but we still should mourn the fact that another sinner will face punishment.
Praying with the newspaper in one hand alerts us to issues outside of our own sphere that need prayerful attention. We don't know if others are praying, but if we feel drawn to pray for an issue we should do it. Praying with the scripture in the other helps shape our minds and hearts so that we can pray for our enemies and even bless those who curse us, as Jesus said. This is not an easy thing to do, especially when so many bad things happen because of the evil that people do. We will be blessed if we do this because our actions will not be fueled by hatred or anger; they will be motivated by love and compassion.
The Ravaged South
The plight of the people in the South who were recently ravaged by a scourge of tornadoes calls for this type of balanced prayer. Without the newspaper - or the newscast blaring in the background - we would be unaware of their plight. Their plight has been overshadowed by bin Laden's killing, which I think is rather cheap, but they are still in need both physically and spiritually. I say "spiritually" because it is at these times of great disaster that the question comes: "God, why did you do this?"
One person on the news who went through the tragedy seemed to believe that God was simply showing his great power to we puny people. That reeks of the "we are worthless" theology that I wrote against a while ago. Do we really believe that our loving God would wreak havoc on his creation that he so dearly loves? This thought seemed comforting to the person who said it, but to me it seems a cheap fix to guard against the questions and the anger that one must feel after this type of event. Wouldn't you be hopping mad at God if your neighborhood were destroyed and possibly some of your loved ones had died, especially if you felt like he caused it? But is it a reasonable anger? Did God really do that? Pat Robertson said that the earthquake in Haiti was nothing more than God punishing the Haitians. Do you believe that is true? Following Robertson's thinking, should we believe that God was punishing the people of Alabama or anywhere else in the South?
Of course there is the issue that God, if not causing these events, then allowed these terrible tragedies to occur. Look at Job. God allowed Satan to do everything he could to make Job lose faith. Job lost his family, his possessions and his health yet he still trusted God. He even trusted God after the Almighty basically told him to mind his own business when Job questioned God. "I had my reasons," God seemed to say. Note that the Bible does not condemn Job's questioning as sin. Remember that "Doubting Thomas" remained one of the disciples even though he initially doubted Christ's resurrection.
My late husband Gordon had to make a decision to trust God after his two-year-old nephew was tragically killed in an automobile accident. Years later Gordon told me that he tried to walk away from God because he was so angry. "It was the most miserable time of my life," I remember him saying. Finally, one day God whispered to his spirit: "You can either go through this with me or without me." It was a moment of decision and Gordon chose to go through it with the Lord. He remembered what a great relief it was to finally give up his anger at God.
Tornadoes, destruction of homes and communities, the death of loved ones - none of these are easy to deal with. The only answer I can give is to trust God anyway because the Bible says that God is good and loving. I have also had to believe this in my own life, and this has been my experience, as well.
As for Job, the one thing I take heart in is that God heaped blessings on him after the tragedy -some might say "trial" - was over. We can only hope that it will be this way for our friends in the South. So we pray for that and trust the Lord for this outcome.
Prayer changes us
Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays. ~Søren Kierkegaard
Praying with the newspaper in one hand will certainly give us much to do, but we must remember too that having the Bible in the other hand is the only way to balance the nagging doubts that come when we pray this way. We must understand the Scriptures and allow God to use them to shape our thinking. By doing so we will be endowed with godly compassion - a compassion that allows us to pray for the bin Ladens of the world and the people who have been caught up in tragedy without condemning them as sinful and in need of divine retribution. These are issues that we should consider deeply, and avoid following the thinking of Christians who revel in a harshness they attribute to God's judgment.