praying for your enemies…

… Once when a priest told me to pray for my enemies I retorted, “But Father, I do pray for them. I pray for the Lord to smite them”. He didn’t laugh. Not even a chuckle.

Yes, what was meant as a joke did leave me feeling bad. For a minute. It left me to wonder a great deal longer. I know we are commanded to love our enemies and pray for them but what exactly does praying for an enemy really mean?

And it is such a stretch of the imagination and against Christian love to pray for our enemies to be defeated. Being defeated isn’t an eternal condemnation. It’s not the same as wishing someone to Hell, from which there is no escape. What if someone we know is committing evil? Do we not have a duty to pray for their attempts at wickedness to fail? Certainly we don’t pray that our enemies be successful and prosper. I do not want enemies of The Church to succeed and I pray that those enemies who persecute Christians be crushed. I mean, goodness. The Psalms are the perfect example. I’m too lazy right now to look them up, but you know. Jaw breaking, teeth smashing smiting – it’s all in there.

So do I have a biblical cause for praying for the defeat of my enemies? Would you believe me if I said my motives were altruistic instead? Good can come from a crushed and defeated man. Just as there are no foxhole atheists, an evil man who has lost everything – job, family, riches – will be forced to turn to Christ once he’s been stripped of everything.

Sometimes man is that stupid and stubborn. It isn’t until something horrible happens that we realize how much Christ is needed. So if we want bad people to change praying for them to suffer and have their lives generally suck is just helping the conversion process along. Right? Does any of that make sense or am I just looking for an excuse to ornery?

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  • Claire

    Pray for their conversion…that’s what Jesus means by loving your enemies.  After all, love is wishing for the other person’s good (and it may or may not include warm, affectionate feelings).  And really, what would be more fun than to watch a stubbornly recalcitrant pro-choice enemy of the Church finally succumbing to the work of the Holy Spirit?  

  • michelangelo3

    I don’t think we need pray that our enemies’ lives suck so they’ll convert. In most cases, their lives suck at least as much as ours without our even trying, thank you very much. We just need to pray they convert. Even if, sad to say, they enjoy it.

  • The Digital Hairshirt

    I think we pray for them to turn from the sin that compels them to act as bad as they are doing. HOW God will bring that about is His choice. I was horribly hurt by a priest who was like a brother to me, when he cut me off completely – even changing his phone number – because I knew his sin and would not “accept” it. I can tell you I am still tempted by thoughts of ruin coming his way, whether it be blackmail or an STD . . . BUT, what do I really hope for except him to be reconciled from sin. So I will leave the means by which it comes about to the Lord. Frankly, if people knew the magnitude of God’s justice, they would wish that their penance would be what we mortals could demand in our prayers.

  • Patricia

     I believe it was G.K. Chesterton who once said : “The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.”

  • Sandra

    Definitely pray for our enemies!

  • robertgwirth

    Jesus threw the money-changers out of the Temple.

    • S. Murphy

      Not with a .50-cal, y’know?

  • Ad Orientem

    Back when I was a kid, probably 25 years or so before I moved East, I remember taking religious ed with Mnsgr Fries (memory eternal) and Fr. Walsh.  One day Mnsgr picked me for his moral theology question of the day…

    Mnsgr: What  would be an appropriate Christian response if someone stole from you?
    Me: “It depends.”
    Mnsgr: “On what?”
    Me: “Is the Inquisition still around?”

    Fortunately he did laugh.

  • kenneth

       I have no problem praying to the gods for justice or that someone reaps what they sow, although it’s a waste of perfectly good effort because metaphysically, people DO get what they bring upon themselves, sooner or later. It’s sort of like praying that the speed of light or gravity will remain constant…

       Praying that people will be broken by bad circumstances so that they will have to crawl before your god as their only hope….that is considered really dark magick where I come from.  It’s what we call “the left hand path” and it’s associated with Satanism and traditions which celebrate power as its own justification and revenge magick and the invocation of gods and demons to bend others to their will. It is sociopathy as religion, and saying you want to do it for people’s own good and on behalf of your god in no way makes it less self serving. It in fact makes it vastly more dangerous because it amounts to a self-coronation of one self AS God, or as His self-deputized enforcer. 

       That dark instinct also belies a profound lack of faith in the wisdom and power of your own god and an utter lack of joy within it.  I can’t see how anyone who truly internalized and believed the New Testament could have such little faith in the ability of God to look after his own business or of the potential power of the message to persuade people without first breaking their wills.

        This is the very thing that makes me question Christianity itself as a spiritual enterprise. The health of a tree is reflected by the fruit it bears. People of every religion and no religion at all have their wounds and flaws and everything, but I have a real hard time reconciling the message of Christianity with the absolutely blood-chilling darkness it seems to produce in the hearts of so very many of its followers. 

        They speak of a god who is the very embodiment of forgiveness and patience and joy and grace and mercy, and yet they armor their own souls against “contamination” by any of these things. Like a Spartan or Sardaukar soldier, they regard Christlike attributes as the flaws of weak and foolish and effeminate men. Power and fear are the only proper currencies for any real god and his followers, in their view. 

      We all get fed up with people and have bad days or weeks or years, and I’m going to hope for your sake that’s all this is. 

    • I’ve been accused of Calvinist heresy but never witchcraft. Eh, first time for everything I suppose. 

      • kenneth

        Imprecatory prayer is black magic, whether you’re praying to Set or your ancestors or Yahweh. 

  • This can be a complicated issue but perhaps doesn’t need to be. What it comes down to, IMO, is, how much we trust God to do what is right. If we trust God to do what is right, then we don’t have to pray for the downfall of our enemies, we can just pray for the hope and health of our enemies and let God decide how to bring that about. Then again, I believe that we can also pray for evil men to be thwarted in their evil deeds, because the frustration of evil is a good thing, and beneficial for all. 

  • Lydiamcgrew

    I wrote a post a few years ago that is currently not visible due to a software glitch. I had picked up a great idea from James Dobson. At least he was credited with it. He said that he would pray for Barack Obama that he would have uneasy nights. In other words, that his conscience would bother him for his positions on issues like abortion, etc. I think that’s great. Pray for your enemies that they would have uneasy nights. In the post I connected it with Whittaker Chambers’ statement in _Witness_ that everybody involved with Communism hears screams at some point–in other words, their conscience reminding them of what they are bringing about. One of my friends had been shocked when I suggested that. He thought it was “mean-spirited” to wish that Obama would have uneasy nights. But I think just as you imply that it is wishing for the person to have his conscience pricked and not to be easy and comfortable with his sin.

  • honeybee

    To paraphrase Pogo: I have met the enemy and it is my self.

  • Kristen in Dallas

    I used to think smite meant something to do with lightning bolts through the whatnots, but I looked it up – inspired by this post. And it looks more like the roots trace back to something more like  “to affect sharply” (to be smitten with someone is to be sharply affected by them). So if you pray God will smite your enemies, I guess that’s essentially praying that he will affect them sharply. Not intrinsically wrong, other than it gets in the business of telling God how best to affect someone (I suppose some people need gentleness?). I do the same thing though, knowing I’m a bit stubborn and hard of hearing on the God front, I generally pray that He will tell me what He wants me in a strong (rather than less obvious) way. Now that I think about it… “God please smite me”, might be an ideal prayer for that.  🙂

    • I think Kristen was the only one that got my meaning. Yes, smite is not the same as wishing someone to Hell or asking God to go all pillar of salt on them. 

  • tj.nelson

    For me, this is really very simple – one ought to pray for ones ‘enemies’ the way Christ taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done”.  It is better to pray for God’s will to be done in their regard.  In effect, when we ask God’s will to be done, we know his will consists of mercy and justice, therfore justice will be done.  It is good to keep in mind how he makes the sun to shine on the bad and the good; so as we ask for forgiveness for our own sins, we try to forgive them as well – at least we can will to do so. 

    In one of the prayers to Our Lady of Perpetual Help for the conversion of a sinner, there is a line asking, if it be God’s will, that some sickness or setback might be inflicted – if it would be effective in turning the sinner from his sin – but the paryer isn’t asking for him to be smited or punished.  That would probably be an imperfect prayer at best, corrupted by our self-interest and vengeance.

    Of course some of the psalms call for vengeance, but for the sinner who prays them, I think they must be understood as vanquishing the soul’s enemies – the world, the flesh, and the devil.  As the prayer of Christ and the Church, I think such psalms refer to the defeat of evil and the tiumph of the Kingdom of God.  A good example might be this:  “Arise O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before your Holy Face.”

    I might be wrong of course.  

    • No, I think you are perfectly right. Thank you for this thoughtful reply. 

  • Jeromeleo

    Pray for your enemies salvation and leave the details up to God. We must hope that all people be saved, supernatural charity demands that. I pray that my enemies may be saved, may make it to heaven, and the rest as to how, well, I don’t give God directions.