Here’s this week’s column for my church newsletters. Today I woke up to the President’s remarks at the “National Prayer Breakfast.” (transcript) I find Bonhoeffer’s challenge even more important. How can I, how shall I, pray?
On January 15th, the last Sunday before the inauguration, I confessed with some of you that I have a hard time knowing how to pray for someone like the president-elect.
This is not a judgment on him. (I have plenty of that; I believe there are serious matters of character and integrity and fitness to serve, as well as political differences based in our faith’s teachings and political differences based on my own politics, but those aren’t what I’m writing about.)
This is not a judgment on him, but a recognition of a problem I need to work through. I’m a disciple of Jesus, so I want to align my will with God’s will and my love with God’s love. I am convinced that God’s love includes everyone, including Donald Trump. I have a problem when there’s anybody I can’t hold in prayer — or, it’s a symptom of the depth of the damage he and I and the world bear.
Anyway, I mentioned this at church last week, before the inauguration, and some folks have been holding me in prayer on this, and I’m so thankful. Between their prayers, and other gifts of grace, I found my way to a little quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I had used on my Facebook page for a couple years:
“God does not repay evil for evil, and thus the righteous should not do so either. No judgment, no abuse, but blessing … Blessing means laying one’s hand on something and saying, Despite everything, you belong to God.”
It’s pretty good, isn’t it? It gets better. The quote was part of a letter that Bonhoeffer wrote to Eberhard and Renate Bethge in June of 1944, from a Nazi prison, less than year before he was executed, at age 39. He was commenting on 1 Peter 3.9:
“Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called– that you might inherit a blessing.” (NRSV)
I liked the quote, so did a little further research, for the context. Here’s how Bonhoeffer’s letter continues:
“This is what we do with the world that inflicts such suffering on us. We do not abandon it [the world]; we do not repudiate, despise or condemn it. Instead we call it back to God, we give it hope, we lay our hand on it and say: may God’s blessing come upon you, may God renew you; be blessed, world created by God, you who belong to your Creator and Redeemer. We have received God’s blessing in happiness and in suffering. Yet those who have been blessed can do nothing but pass on this blessing; indeed, they must be a blessing wherever they are.”
Blessing means saying, Despite everything, you belong to God.
This is what we do.
This is what we do with the world that inflicts such suffering on us.
We do not abandon the world.
Instead we call it back.
Those words of Bonhoeffer will help me. Perhaps they will be helpful for you, as well.
I’m still not sure how to lead the church’s prayers. The president’s very name triggers PTSD-type struggles in the souls of some people, including some among us in our congregations. Christ’s people must recognize and honor this very real suffering, and treat it with great respect and care. Christ’s people must, MUST remain a safe community for all who seek refuge.
That is something that’s easy to pray for.
In Christ’s love,