During the COVID pandemic, an Ontario pastor who was upset about government-sanctioned restrictions publicly declared from the pulpit, “I am praying God’s wrath and judgment upon Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his government. Read your Bibles! Read the Psalms! It is biblical to pray God’s wrath upon your enemies!”
Now I love the preacher as a brother in Christ, but to be honest I don’t like anything about this sentiment.
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Is it biblical to pray wrath upon your enemies?
Yes, it is. Look at the imprecatory Psalms, as the preacher was suggestin (e.g Ps 58; 59; 79; 83; etc).
It is biblical. That is indeed in there. And it might seem straightforward.
Until the Bible also says things like, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you,” (Lk 6.27-28).
So what Jesus says here is the opposite of what this pastor was telling us to do.
And hey – the Bible is a complicated book, to say the least.
Spanning centuries of writing, over a wide geographical area, by many different authors, in many different ages and cultures – Christians believe by the faith that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.
I certainly and thoroughly believe this myself.
Within that faith, we wrestle with the Scriptures, seeking to discern their meaning, being mindful of their context, searching for God’s will, and receiving the revelation of His character, nature, and ways.
It is of course a life-long journey, where we very much grow but never truly “arrive” at full understanding until we see Him face to face (1Cor 13.9-12).
Until that day, we trust in faith that God will show us what we need to know through the Scriptures, and that the Bible has what we need in order to understand all that we must in this life.
But what do we do with the really tough parts?
If we are people who “follow the Bible,” then by that definition, Christians should be OK with slavery (e.g Ex 21; Lev 25.44-46; 1Ki 9.20-21; etc.), genocide (e.g. Dt 20.16-18; Josh 6.20-21; 1Sam 15.2-3; etc), lots of behaviours leading to executions (e.g Ex 19-21), treating women as property (Ex 21; Dt 22; etc.), and have a huge capacity for violence (e.g. Dt 7.1-2; Jos 8; Jg 21; etc.), as examples.
And yet in that same Bible we also have the example of Jesus Christ, our Lord and perfect example, who (seemingly on the contrary) teaches us to love our enemies (Mt 5.43-48), sacrifice for the sake of others (Jn 15.12-13), lay aside our violent ways (Mt 5.39; 26.52; Jn 18.11), and bless those who come against us, not curse them (Lk 6.27-28).
So what do we do with all of this?
Cursing your enemies, violently killing people, oppressing women, owning slaves – all of these things are “biblical,” in the sense that yes, you will find them in the Bible.
But it would be hard to argue that any of these things are “Christ-like,” in that Jesus often modelled and/or taught the opposite of these things.
So what is our response?
It’s actually not that hard:
We choose Jesus.
We do this in part because we are no longer under the Old Covenant, but the New.
Things that are found in the Old may still be applicable in the New, but if we ever see a seeming contradiction, such as in the area of cursing your enemies (Old) vs. blessing your enemies (New), we always, always, always choose the New, since the Old is “obsolete” to the Christ-follower (Heb 8.13).
The Old has been removed and replaced with something far better (Heb 12.18-24).
Anabaptists have always leaned into this biblical tension in this way, sometimes to criticism from other Christians.
But all Christians certainly function in this understanding already, to some extent.
We no longer require circumcision, sacrifice animals, follow Temple rituals, or abide by Israel’s civil policies, even though every single one of those things are “biblical.”
So generally all Christ-followers inherently understand that the Old has been surpassed by the New in Christ.
Therefore if God speaking through Moses tells us one thing and God speaking through Jesus tells us something different, and if we have to make a choice (do we attack and kill our enemies, or love and bless our enemies?), we still revere God’s Word through Moses, and wrestle with it, but we always choose to follow Jesus in those moments.
We do this because Jesus is Lord, He is the introducer of the Kingdom on earth, He is the initiator of the New Covenant, and He Himself is the Word of God lived out perfectly as our example. We belong to Him and we are called to live like Him (1Jn 2.6).
This doesn’t mean we don’t still need to wrestle with the tough parts and sort through what they mean, what they meant for Israel, and why they are in the Bible.
But it’s where I would vehemently disagree with the preacher at the beginning of the story.
Yes, it may be “biblical” to curse your enemies and pray God’s wrath upon them – but it is not Christ-like.
And our perfect example to follow is Christ, and so being Christ-like is our main goal.
By the term “biblical,” we could justify a lot of things that don’t look very much like Jesus. But He came to show us the perfect fullness of what God looks like and desires and how we should be living (Col 2.9; Heb 1.1-4).
All that is “biblical” is not necessarily Christ-like.
And we believe that Christ-followers follow Christ’s example as their very top priority.
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