Praying for Bad Things for People

In my last post I shared how I recently learned that several years ago my mother prayed for God to "take me" (i.e., kill me) if being gay was a sin. Many parents ask for similar or less drastic ills to befall their gay children. Sometimes they actively pray for misery that will drive the child in question back to the Lord and the straight and narrow.

I’ve struggled with this issue myself. Not parentally, of course, but it’s been an issue when I wonder how to pray for my non-Christian and/or gay friends. After all, I believe that Christ is God, and that homosexual sex and relationships are sin. It would be dishonest of me to deny that I believe that everyone would be better off acknowledging Christ as Lord and worshipping Him and trusting in Him, as well as abstaining from gay sex. It would be dishonest of me to deny that I hope that anyone going down a road that leads toward homosexual involvement or a road that leads away from God will get stopped in their tracks and turned around at some point. But should I pray for how God is supposed to do this? Should I ask Him to hurl monkey wrenches into people’s lives?

The solution I’ve come to is to leave the details with God. I ask Him to draw all of us who know Him into a closer and more faithful walk with Him, and ask Him to bring those who don’t know Him into a relationship with Him, and to use whatever means He knows to be best in His sovereign wisdom. I figure He can determine the best way to do that without my help. I know it’s common for people to come to new faith or to deeper faith through suffering (it is certainly my own experience), but I would need pretty direct guidance from God to actively seek suffering for someone in prayer. God can bring good through bad, but do we need to wish and pray bad on people?

I’m not saying this is open-and-shut, that this is the obvious answer. I read about an American who while recently visiting the Chinese underground church told them that we were praying for their persecutions to stop. The Chinese reacted with horror, and begged him to tell us to stop praying that way, and even told him that they were praying for us evangelicals in America that we would be persecuted! No doubt they hope and pray that hardship and persecution might slap our fat, lazy, selfish, effete, complacent, and idolatrous American church into shape. And maybe there’s something to that. After all, Jesus tell us that those mourn, those who weep, and those who are persecuted, are the blessed ones. If we believe Him, why should we not seek those blessings for ourselves and others in prayer?

At the end of the day I have to admit that I don’t really know, but my personal approach has been largely informed by a story that I heard being read from a book whose title I can’t remember. (Of course, if I can’t remember the title, all bets are off on how accurate the details of my memory of the story are.) It’s a story about two monks, each growing a plant. The first monk prayed specific daily prayers for the plant’s welfare—asking for so many inches of rain, so many hours of sunshine, what temperature it should be that day, and so forth. And God faithfully answered all his prayers, and the plant grew somewhat but not so well, because the monk misestimated and misunderstood how much rain and sun were needed. But the second monk simply said, “Lord, you know what this plant needs better than I do. I entrust it to your care.” And God faithfully answered that prayer as well, and as a result that plant grew far better than the first.

This is not to say that I never pray specifically for others. I lift up my friends’ petitions to God, praying for the things that are on their hearts. And I ask for blessings and for good things for them in prayer. But when it comes to prayers for doling out difficulties and hardships and suffering, I feel more comfortable leaving those in God’s hands.

Such prayers seem to me to be relationship destroyers. About the time when my mom says she prayed her prayer, my previously warm, close, affectionate relationship with her withered into an icy detachment. At the time it was mysterious to me, but in retrospect, it makes a lot of sense. I do not think we can harbor desires in our hearts for bad things to befall someone, and still love them the same. Even if we don't tell them what we are praying, something shows through nonetheless. And it isn’t pretty.

2 Responses to Praying for Bad Things for People

  1. [...] So I’m following the links Mike Airhart  put up on Ex-Gay Watch to a discussion about whether or not the term "ex-gay" is offensive (to other ex-gays apparently…) and I find myself scanning the posts on various blogs of gay people who just want to not be homosexual anymore if they only could, and it’s making me sad and then it starts making me angry, nail spitting angry once again, at the Dobsons, the Falwells, the Bauers, the Wildmons, all the pusillanimous bigots of this world who just can’t feel fulfilled in their own lives unless they’re sticking a knife in some homosexual’s heart and twisting it once in the name of Jesus Christ and once more in the name of love…  And I’m following the discussions and the links on their blogs to various other blogs, those of other ex-gays and also those of out and proud ex-ex-gays, and I run across this post at Disputed Mutability: [...]

  2. Matt says:

    I tend to agree. At times, certainly, suffering can lead us to change our course for the better. Suffering can even lead directly to redemption…as the example of Our Lord proves quite conclusively.

    I honestly think that praying for ill fortune to befall people reflects both a lack of compassion and an extraordinarily sinful pride. Imagine…you and me, deigning to give tips on universe-management to the Almighty.

    If God thinks that a particular rough road is the necessary way to help a person overcome his weaknesses, then I accept the divine plan. Sometimes it even proves correct in time for the results to be apparent to us mere mortals. But I could and would never bring myself to ask for it.

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