You may or may not know that I have two boys 6 and 3 and another due in a month, and a foster child (age 6) in my house. What sort of world are we making for the children, we being us, the adults? I am as biased and confused and frustrated as anyone about the goings on in the world today, the number of news stories I struggle to explain to the boys makes me feel small, less-than-intelligent, and worried about the sort of world we are building.
We have all by now heard of the terrible news that another mass killing has taken place in America. The depressing regularity with which these events takes place boggles the minds of those in America and perhaps even more so those of us living near America (geographically or culturally). In the wake of such events many take to social media—changing their profile picture in solidarity, offering commentaries, blaming religion, offering prayers—the responses run the gamut of possibilities.
I hesitate to enter the discussion because so many poorly thought through and ill-informed arguments arise in the moments following such events, and because I am uncertain what I can add to the discussion. Yet I have to speak because religion is being blasted for this act of violence (a simple argument that leaves everything the debater holds dear intact and mostly simply flings more hatred and misunderstanding into the world) and because such events are so disheartening to those of use who follow the Prince of Peace that it feels important to remind Christians that our hopes aren’t based on our current circumstances.
Asaph, that great psalmist, wrote at a time when Israel itself was under threat (perhaps a correlative to the attacks on religion itself in the shadow of these and other terror killings, but that is too much a stretch, or maybe it’s just someone else’s battle); his words offer us one thing: a way to pray at such times.
In such times of trouble, violence, hatred, bigotry, and anxiety it is right and good that we would turn to God, that we would call upon his name, that we would emphatically and repeatedly pray that God would make His will known, and His plan revealed, because we simply cannot see it. What is the purpose behind such senseless violence? That isn’t for us to know or sort out, what Asaph is saying is that at such times we are called to prayer.
The hope in the psalm is that the nations will be dealt a serious blow, and I know some have trouble with this sort of language (asking God to deal a blow) but it is biblical and it is a justified response in the face of cruel violence, especially when we are asking the most perfect being in the universe to bear upon a situation. Also, we don’t know or specify what the blow looks like, the goal isn’t the glow but the hoped for effect of it. The hope is the reaction of the nations would be to recognize God and His ways so that everyone could flourish and live in Peace under the reign of the Most High God. They held this hope in the face of all that was going on around them, despite or even because of all that was happening to bring them down, it is a hope we too can inhabit.
You see, in Psalms like #83 the prayer for God to act is actually a prayer for the enemy, that is the surprising nature of the bible, just when you think it is being especially violent it is teaching us to pray for those who would hurt us, those who would demean us, those who see us as less than human so that they would be elevated to thoughts, desires and ways more worthy of being created in God’s image. Implied is the belief that despite the violence and hatred these people are still people, they need salvation no more and no less than the rest of us, and that they too can find the right path and be saved.
Asaph didn’t know how they could be saved, but we do. When Jesus was on the cross, when he was suffering the thundering silence of God and the rushing of blood through his veins until his body could no longer take it, he said, “Father forgive them.” It is our belief that God offers exactly such forgiveness, such healing to those who need it as those who strung the innocent Christ up on a cross needed it.
Let us hold to that hope, the hope that the God who promised that one day every knee would bow, that swords would be transformed into plowshares, will act most definitively and bring such violence to an end. I tell my kids we are going to pray that the anger, the hatred and the violence will stop, that the evil that drives the enemies of peace will overcome and that everyone would get along, that everyone would know they are a child of God, and that so is everyone else.