Friday, February 6, 2009

Office Hours: Praying for the King

I was reading on Boundless a conversation between a student Mark and a professor who is known to stand up for Christ. Its a good article and worth reading if you have the time. If you've never read any of professor Theophilus' articles, they are based off of actual conversations but have the wording changed slightly for entertainment purposes.

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"I thought," Mark was saying, "that once the election was over, the mania and the pressure would die down too. That my friends would calm down. Was I ever wrong."

I sipped my espresso and looked around. It seemed pretty calm at the Edge of Night. "How so?"

"My friends seem to think they elected a messiah, not a President."

"That sort of thing has happened in several countries during the last century."

"Yeah," he answered broodingly, "that's what worries me."

"Mania I get, but you also mentioned pressure. What kind?"

"Pressure to believe."

"You've often faced pressure before," I said.

"Sure, Prof. But that was pressure not to believe. Pressure to give up my faith. Pressure not to follow Christ. But this is pressure to believe. The creepy thing is that all the New Testament language has been taken over for purposes of politics."

"You said that," I answered, "didn't you?"

"Did I?"

"I thought that's what you meant when you said your friends thought that they'd elected a messiah."

"Not just that. Other things too. Take hope. You know, as in the three spiritual virtues — 'faith, hope, and love.' In the New Testament, hope means hope for salvation, hope for heaven, hope for Christ's return and the establishment of His kingdom on earth. Right? But for my friends —"

"Go on."

"For my friends it means salvation by human means. They actually use the term. Salvation. Maybe I'm only a college student, but I've studied enough history to know what happened the last few times people schemed for paradise on earth."

"It isn't the Chinese cultural revolution yet, Mark," I said. "While it's true that little by little the culture of life has been eroded, and that little by little a culture of death has been built up, hope includes trusting in God's help against the evils of this life too. At least no one is building reeducation camps. Yet. And no one is trying to revive the Red Guards."

"You don't know some of the other students I know. I wouldn't put it past some of them. I hear how they shout and scream people down."

"You forget where I work," I said. "I'm part of a university faculty. And speaking of faculty, where do you think that those students got those ideas? I'll bet I know people much more dangerous than anyone you have in mind."

"You probably do at that," Mark conceded.

I took another sip of espresso. "What I don't understand," I said, "is why you're so rattled now. It isn't as though you don't know how to stand your ground. You've had plenty of practice. You came through the last few months pretty well."

"I can answer that. It's the last few weeks that got to me."

"Are you thinking of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade?"

"No. That didn't change anything. It was just an anniversary. I prayed at the state capitol and all. But Prof, I mean. Here the man has barely been in office long enough to warm his seat. Already he's signed an executive order reversing the policy that said federal money couldn't be used to promote abortions in foreign countries. Next week he's planning to sign another one, eliminating all restrictions on killing human embryos in the name of research. And already he's pushing for passage of the — I always forget the initials —"

"FOCA?"

"Yeah, the so-called Freedom of Choice Act. The one that would eliminate all restrictions on abortion at any stage."

"But you knew that he'd do all those terrible things, Mark. He promised that he would, over and over, during the campaign."

"Yeah, I knew."

"Then is it the shock of seeing him do what he said that has you rattled?"

"No. I mean, yes, sure. Partly. You wouldn't expect me to be unfazed by the acceleration of the killing, would you? If you take the number of abortions there have already been in this country since they were legalized, it's like five or six Holocausts all lined up in a row. More people are aborted every few days than have died during the whole Iraq war. For the man we elected, that's not enough. He wants to grease the slides."

"You say yes, that's why you're rattled, but you also say no. I get the yes. Tell me the no."

"Well — like you said — I did expect all those things. I was prepared. But it's the pressure. That's what's killing me, Prof. Pressure."

"And that's what I still don't get. You've never had difficulty before, standing up to your non-believing friends."

"And I'm not having difficulty now. Did I say it was my non-believing friends who were pressuring me?"

"I thought —" I reconsidered. "Well, no, I guess you didn't say that. You just said 'friends.'"

"My non-believing friends do pressure me, but that doesn't bother me too much. From them I expect it. What bothers me is the pressure I get among my Christian friends."

"Where? In your campus fellowship group?"

"No. In my church. Even from some of the teachers."

I was silent for a little while. Then I asked, "Are they actually pro-abortion?"

"They claim to be pro-life."

"How could they be pro-life and —?"

"Easy, Prof. They find it so easy that it shakes me."

"What do they say?"

"They say, 'There are many life issues, and opposing abortion is just one of them. We should feed the hungry and heal the sick.' They say, 'The nation lacks consensus that abortion is wrong, and we shouldn't push our Christian rules onto other people.' They say, 'Destroying embryos for research may be wrong, but it's done for the greater good.'"

"But those lines aren't any different than the ones we hear from non-believing people. Surely you've heard them before. You know how to answer them."

"Sure I do. Try me."

I smiled. "All right. First tell me what you say about the 'many life issues.'

"I say I'm all for the hungry, the naked, and the sick, but you can't feed or heal someone after you've killed him. Unless there's a right to life, there can't be any other rights either."

"Tell me what you say about 'pushing our Christian rules onto other people.'"

"That 'Thou shalt not murder' isn't just a Christian rule. It's part of the natural law. Every sane person knows that it's wrong to take innocent human life."

"What about 'lack of a national consensus'?"

"I point out that there isn't a consensus about any law or policy. If there had to be consensus, we couldn't have laws at all. Besides, there isn't a consensus that abortion should be legal, either. And I don't think the Supreme Court worried about consensus back in the 'seventies, when it overturned the laws of the states."

"How about 'killing for the greater good'?"

"My church friends say they believe in the Bible, so I just quote what Paul wrote in Romans 3:8. According to him, it's damnable to say 'Let us do evil that good may come.'"

"I said you could hold your own, and I was right. So what's the problem?"

Mark squirmed. "All this came up last week during a Scripture study. I thought I was going pretty well. But then the leader said, 'Mark, I'm pro-life too. But you aren't giving the whole counsel of God. You're only giving part of it."

"What part did he say you left out?"

"The parts that teach submission to government. First he quoted Titus 3:1, 'be submissive to rulers and authorities,' and Romans 13:2, 'He who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.'"

"Mark, God did ordain human authority. But it isn't unlimited. In Acts 5:29, when the authorities issued an unjust command to stop preaching the gospel, Peter and the apostles answered, 'We must obey God rather than men.'

"That's what I said," he replied.

"I know you're tired of hearing me say this — but then what's the problem?"

"The problem is what he said next. It threw me."

"And he said —?

"He quoted the first few lines of 1 Timothy 2. Paul said 'I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions.'"

"Of course. So?"

"That doesn't sound like civil disobedience, Prof. It doesn't even sound like 'loyal opposition.' My leader said, 'Mark, face it. You must ask God humbly and earnestly to give help to the new administration — that's prayer and supplication. You must pray for its success — that's intercession. And you must be grateful to Him for it — that's thanksgiving.'"

Mark gave a little shiver. "I don't want to pray those things, Professor T. But there it was in black and white. I couldn't answer."

"And that's why you're so rattled."

"Yes. That's why I'm so rattled."

"Calm down and think. I thought I taught you to make distinctions."

"This isn't a time to split —"

"To make appropriate distinctions, Mark. Question one. Does the passage tell you to pray?"

"Yes. It mentions supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings. But that's just my problem —"

"Correct. Question two. Does the passage tell you for whom you should offer these supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings?"

"Yes. It says to offer them for everyone, and it singles out kings and those in high positions. As I was trying to say —"

"Just answer the questions. Here's the last one. Does the passage tell you what supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings you should offer for all those people?"

Mark opened his mouth and began to say "Yes." Then he stopped.

I asked, "It doesn't, does it?"

"No," he said. "The study leader read into it something that wasn't there. What he called the whole counsel of God wasn't God's. It was his. But Prof —"

"What?"

"Then what should I pray for rulers and those in high positions?"

"I don't think your study leader was completely wrong. Surely we should pray that our rulers will succeed at the merciful and just."

"But what should our prayer for them be when they seek the unmerciful and unjust — like today?"

"What do you think?"

"I guess that in those things they won't be successful."

"Well, yes, but is that all that unjust rulers need, Mark? To be stopped?"

He thought for a few minutes. Then he said, "No. They need to be forgiven. Like Stephen prayed that God would forgive the people stoning him. Prof —"

"I'm still here."

"I don't mean to change the subject, but that story has always puzzled me. How could they be forgiven if they didn't repent?"

"They did need to repent," I said.

"But in that case —" He pondered awhile. "Do you think that to pray for their forgiveness was to pray for their conversion?"

"That's exactly what I think."

"But that's not a hopeful prospect," he said. "Stephen's prayer wasn't answered. They killed him."

"Have you forgotten what happened to the most famous of his murderers?"

His eyes filled with light. "Saul."

I nodded. "Who was later converted and became Paul."

Mark and I spoke for just a few minutes longer. My espresso was cold, but I didn't want it anyway. A few days later, he sent me an e-mail message.

Dear Professor Theophilus: I'm not rattled any more, but I thought you might be interested in this prayer that a friend of mine dug up somewhere.

"Father of Lights, the time is dark and our eyes are dim. Our kings, ordained for the protection of the weak, expose them to death, yet cry 'hope.' Our people have lost their way and are deceived. Light in the Darkness, we call upon you that we may be undeceived and follow you once more. We humbly and earnestly implore you, not only that the evils in the land be turned back, but that we have the courage to stand against them. Holy Spirit, hear our intercession for the repentance and conversion of those highly placed who do wrong. Renew a right spirit within them. We beg the same mercy for ourselves, who have stood by and called evil good. Assist our prayers, and enable us in all times and places to give you thanks. In the Name of the Trinity, Amen."

Do you think this might be the kind of thing Paul meant in his letter to Timothy?

I told him I thought that it was.

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