When Christians are confronted with sociopathic evil that is inevitably commingled with political agendas, self-serving ego trips, and true spiritual confusion, how are they to sort through the tangled web of issues and pray with integrity before God?
This is the situation as the nation contemplates the unspeakable wickedness of the bombing at the Boston Marathon. The initial responses to this event have been full of stories we can all admire. A man with both legs destroyed by the bombs was nevertheless able to summon the strength to be a witness and send investigators down the right path to find the perpetrators. The scene of devastation became a stage for heroism and gallantry that every human being could admire and emulate. As tips poured in, investigators worked night and day to find the men responsible. One is dead, and the other is in custody. The fears that locked down a city and held a nation hostage to each new announcement are beginning to subside – for the moment.
But what comes next? What do we want to come next?
This is the tough part. Those who are responsible to bring criminals and terrorists to justice will do their jobs, but the very fact that this comment must include both words – criminals and terrorists – grows out of one of the challenges of achieving justice in this case. There is already a considerable debate, and plenty of rancor on both sides, whether to call this event a crime or an act of terror. The little known of the background of the two men hardly clarifies things at this point, so it will be a while before the terminology is sorted out. It is highly likely that the process of collecting and analyzing the necessary information will be thoroughly colored by the political agendas of officials at all levels and by the same vicious political rhetoric that stirs every issue in the country these days. Everyone will agree that justice must be done, but there will be no agreement whatsoever as to what constitutes justice in this case.
The fact that the two young men were Muslim does not help things. That word by itself raises hackles on all sides of the current social trauma over profiling and the meaning of terrorism.
The fact that comments from family and friends do not paint a coherent picture of the two men makes it difficult even to know where to start thinking about the right thing to do in response to this issue. One of the marathon runners has already publicly stated that she does not believe she can ever run another one, even though she herself was not injured. Marathon organizers for events scheduled in the near future feel compelled to address the very natural security concerns of participants. And people everywhere look over their shoulders at any large group of people, wondering if the two Boston bombers were acting in isolation, or if they were simply the first wave.
How is a Christian to pray about this horrifying and thoroughly confusing event? There is a perfect model for us, and we can trust this model, because it was given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
We must always turn to God before we start jumping to conclusions about any confusing or terrifying situation. Turning our thoughts to him first puts all our earthly concerns in proper perspective.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
We run to God. We want to cry out what we want. When we are hurting, we want relief from the pain and suffering, and when some other person is responsible for hurting us, we want that person punished. We run to God thinking of ourselves, but Jesus shows us that there is plenty of time to talk about our pain and our suffering after we give God the glory due to him. Before we tell him what we wish the outcome to be, we first enter into his plan for the outcome. We stop and look at the situation from God’s viewpoint. We ask for God’s holy purposes to redeem the situation.
When we think of God’s purposes, we remember that God loves all people, that Christ died for all people. Whatever wicked people may do, God still loves them and wants to forgive and heal them, just as he has forgiven and healed each Christian. This thought will change our understanding of justice in this situation.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Now it is time for us to tell God our needs. We are needy creatures. In this terrible time of mourning for the dead and wounded, grieving with families and friends, fearing for the future, we can tell God everything that is on our minds. We are more at peace about it all, because we have reminded ourselves that God is still sovereign and still loving and merciful. We can go to him in our broken neediness, and he will hear us out.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
This is a very difficult phrase to pray with integrity. Can we really forgive two men who knowingly wrought such murder and mayhem on people who never did them any wrong? Jesus says that we can do this, and Jesus showed us how, as he himself was being nailed to the cross. We forgive. Our forgiveness does not excuse wicked men, but it does pull the poison of vengeful thoughts out of our hearts. True justice can never be accomplished as long as those who have been wronged are unable to forgive the wrong-doer.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
This prayer is the capstone of our ability to forgive. We forgive, and we let go of our need to exact revenge. We say we want justice, but Satan is always in the wings agitating and instigating our need for vindication, payback, and compensation for the damage we have sustained. Jesus says that we must ask God to protect us from Satan’s assaults in order that we allow real justice to be rendered while letting go of our need to pay back wickedness with even greater vindictiveness. We ask God to protect us from Satan’s constant whining that no amount of payback will ever be enough.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
With this statement we come back to the Lord’s agenda. We state our faith in God’s plan and purpose in all things. We remind ourselves that evil may appear to triumph for a time, but God never permits evil to defeat his purposes. God can and God does redeem the times. We can trust him. We serve him as citizens of his kingdom, we confidently trust that he is omnipotent, that evil cannot win, and that God will reign in glory forever. This statement closes the envelope we opened by saying “Hallowed be your name.”
How shall a Christian pray in response to something as horrible as the Boston bombing? Jesus has shown us the way.
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