Thursday, September 07, 2006

Imprecatory Prayer

My friend, Peter Leithart, has an interesting discussion of imprecatory prayers ( that prompted some thoughts I’ve been musing on for a while.

I don't want to "get around" imprecatory prayers for sentimental reasons. I also reject C.S. Lewis’s idea that they exist in the Psalms as examples of the way we shouldn’t pray. I also don’t want to mitigate the problematic nature of these prayers merely by “spiritualizing” away the problem.

But it did strike me a while ago that that I pray imprecatory prayers against myself all the time, and I welcome others to pray imprecatory prayers against me as well. In his small catechism, Luther talks about us drowning the old Adam in us daily, that a new man should daily emerge. What is this but a prayer of imprecation against the old Adam in us?

God kills the old man (Col 3.3, Ro 6.2,6, Gal 2.20, 6.14,). This is the only “me” that exists prior to baptism, and this is a real death, it is a death more real than physical death. After all, in physical death the spirit separates from the body; the death of the old man is the extinction of this self.

I pray imprecatory prayers against myself, and welcome others to do so as well: I pray that every remnant of the old man would be cut off from this world. I pray that every remembrance of the old man would be forgotten, I pray that every cent of the old Adam's wealth be taken away and given to the new man, I want the entire legacy of the old man to die with him. Indeed, I bless the name of the one who dashes my Old Adam's little ones against the rock – for the rock is Christ (Mt 21.44) and, like me, they are killed in baptism so that the new man may emerge.

But if I want all of that for myself, then how can I deny it to my enemy, whom I am commanded to love as myself? So I pray that God would kill them as well through baptism, that the new man may emerge.

More so, isn't the prayer, "God forgive them, they know not what they do," in principle, a prayer of imprecation? After all, isn't it a prayer for the destruction of sinful man?

To be sure, God may destroy without converting. But that's his business. We are to take as our example God's actions in sending rain on both the good and the evil (Mt 5.45). So I pray that God drown the old man daily. I pray it zealously for myself, for his church, and for the whole world. The prayer for grace and forgiveness is a prayer of imprecation against the old, evil man.

More generally, God and his people are engaged in a holy war against Satan and his people, and the tools of this holy war are the Word and sacraments, and sacrifice on behalf of the world. Ironically, of course, and it is a delicious irony, God kills the evil one's people by giving them life.


Blogger Matthew N. Petersen said...

"Give unto my enemy the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath." Is transformed with particular poignancy: what is the wine of his wrath if not the blood of the Martyr, but it is Martyr's blood in which we communicate whenever we drink this cup of blessing

September 08, 2006 1:52 PM  
Blogger Michael Metzler said...

Thanks funny. Leithart is currently enabling an entire ministry that prays literal harm against local, perceived "enemies." Yet he does not speak out against this monstrous activity, but only silently links to someone who holds a very different understanding of this kind of prayer. Curious. I have friends who have had kirkers pray that God would harm them if they do not "repent" (of journalistic activities and the like). So this is an important issue for me. Leithart is always nice to them, but he also seems fine with these kind of prayers going on against them at the same time.

Michael Metzler
Moscow, Idaho

September 12, 2006 12:02 PM  

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