Evil Men, Moralism, Hate, & Prayer

In light of the killing of Osama Bin Laden and thinking about the Christian response to it, evil men in general, and evil itself, I thought some meditations from Eugene Peterson on prayer and the imprecatory Psalms would be helpful:

We have been brought up, most of us, interpreting what is wrong in the world on a grid of moralism. Moralism trains us in making cool, detached judgments. Deep down, the moralist suspects that there are no, or at least not very many, real victims. People get what is coming to them. In the long run people reap what they sow. The rape victim, the unemployed, the emotionally ill, the prisoner, the refugee–if we were privy to all the details we would see that, in fact, ‘they asked for it.’

The Psalms will have none of this. The Psalms assume a moral structure to life, but their main work is not to train us in judgmental moralism but to grapple with evil. Their praying insights have identified an enemy and they respond in outrage. They hate what they see. On behalf of all the dispossessed, the mocked, the dehumanized of the earth they pour into the ears of God their sightings of the enemy, not ‘siphoning off hate, but channeling it in effective ways, in covenantal shapes.’

This hate arised in a context of holiness: meditating on the holy word of God, expecting the holy messiah of God…immersed by prayer in this holiness, we see clearly what we never saw before, the utter and terrible sacrilege of enemies who violate the good of creation, who brutalize women and men who are made, every one them in the image of God. There is an enormous amount of suffering epidemic in the world because of evil people. The rape and pillage are so well concealed in polite language and courteous conventions that some people can go years without seeing it. And we ourselves do not see it. But now we see it. And we hate it. We are rejected from our cushioned private religion into solidarity with ‘the Silent Servants of the Used, Abused and Utterly Screwed up.’

Just as hurt is the usual human experience that brings us to our knees praying for help, provoking the realization that we need God, so hate is frequently the human experience that brings us to our feet praying for justice, catalyzing our concern for the terrible violations against life all around us. Hate is often the first sign that we care. If we are far gone in complacency, it is the only emotion with enough velocity to penetrate our protective smugness and draw red blood. That does not mean that prayer legitimizes hate–it uses it. ‘Surely the wrath of men shall praise thee’ (Psalm 76:10)…

It is easy to be honest before God with our hallelujahs; it is somewhat more difficult to be honest in our hurts; it is nearly impossible to be honest before God in the dark emotions of our hate…We must pray who we actually are, not who we think we should be. In prayer, all is not sweetness and light. The way of prayer is not to cover our unlovely emotions that they will appear respectable, but expose them so that they can be enlisted in the work of the kingdom…Hate, prayed, takes our lives to bedrock where the foundations of justice are being laid.” [Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1989), 99, 100, 101.]

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