The question is an intriguing one, for three reasons: first, David is looked up to as a model to emulate; secondly, because the psalms were written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; and, thirdly, of course, because enmity, rivalry, and injustice are tempting enough for any Christian to desire the immediate downfall of the enemy. So, one asks “Is it wrong to pray for God’s wrath to fall on our enemies?”
Many of us know the answer; but, we still want to reason a way for immediate vengeance. Let me list out some New Testament facts that seem to indicate that seeking divine vengeance for our enemies seem justified in some instances.
1. Jesus said that it’s better for a millstone to be tied on the neck of the man who offends a little one (Matthew 18:6).
2. Paul struck the sorcerer with blindness who tried to oppose the Gospel (Acts 13:8-10).
3. Paul desired God to reward Alexander according to his deeds for doing harm to him (2Tim.4:14).
4. The Book of Revelation talks about the souls of the martyrs crying out for vengeance (Rev.6:9,10).
So, it seems that in some cases, divine intervention is sought to remove offences or to ensure justice. But, we cannot transform exceptions into rules. Yet, certainly, we also need to understand what the exceptional cases are in which such prayers are valid and what the general prayer-content of New Testament Christian must be with regard to any enemies – personal, communal, or anti-Christ. Let’s make these distinctions clear and also look introductorily into the New Testament rules for dealing with enemies at these three levels.
1. Personal enemies are those who are enemies for personal reasons. The reasons might be many. But, if the reason is just, Jesus taught us to get reconciled first, before bringing an offering on the altar (Matt.5:23,24). We must resolve the case with the offended party before he drags us to the court (Matt 5:25,26). However, if someone becomes an enemy out of envy and jealousy, we are commanded to pray for them, bless them, and do good to them (Matt.5:44). Now, “good” must be defined as benevolent action showed with the balance of wisdom.
2. Communal enemies are those who are enemies because they are enemies of the group we are in. It is enmity by label and brand. There are various types of such. National enmity, racial enmity, religious enmity, clan or tribe enmity, linguistic enmity, denominational enmity, corporation enmity, and so on. For instance, the Naxalites would consider anyone wearing the khaki uniform (police uniform) as their enemy. The New Testament principle still suggests benevolence with wisdom. A story from Abraham Lincoln’s life provides a good example of this. During the civil war when the South and North were boiling with rage for vengeance and victory, Abraham Lincoln paid a visit to the enemy camp where wounded soldiers were lying and shook hands with each speaking kindly to them. A lady confronted him and remarked, “You must be destroying your enemies instead of shaking hands with them.” Abe Lincoln replied, “I do destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.” Jesus prayed for His enemies and wanted them to be forgiven and saved. He commanded us to pray for our enemies and to do good to them. But, wisdom also teaches to be ready to protect people from destruction intended by the violent. That is where national security, human rights protection, and legally provided defense rights fall in place.
3. The third level of enmity is motivated by hatred for the Name of Christ. There are those who treat the Christian as an enemy just because of his/her commitment to Christ. Now, this must be differentiated from communal or denominational enmity. A communal enemy may not hate Christ but may hate the Christian community for some historical or communal reasons. But, when the enmity is due to the Name of Christ, it is anti-Christ (to be distinguished from anti-Christian just to avoid confusion with communal enmity). The beatitude teaches us to rejoice and be glad when people persecute us and speak bad things about us for the Name of Christ for our reward is great in heaven (Matt.5:11,12).
In all these then, it is clear that the New Testament mandate teaches benevolence coupled with wisdom. But, let’s look at a few case studies to understand the issue a bit more clearly.
When a village of Samaria rejected Jesus, James and John got so infuriated that they wished to command fire from heaven fall and burn that place. But, Jesus replied that their fury was not from a godly spirit. He then made this important statement that He had come not to destroy but to save (Luke 9:54-57). This is the guiding principle of our Christian attitude towards our enemies. However, when the rejection is clearly final, Jesus did also say that the disciples must shake the dust of the city off (Luke 9:5) and leave the place for God to deal with on the Day of Judgment (note: He still allowed space of time till the Day of Judgment). At the same time, when the deputy was willing to listen to the Gospel but was being misguided by the magician, Paul struck the magician with blindness, for a season – for the sake of the Gospel (Acts 13:6-12). Such apostolic authority to discern the spirit and deal with authority in such situations are evident in the New Testament when, for instance, Peter deals with falsehood in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, deals with the commercial motive of Simon the Sorcerer, and Paul writes a stern letter to the Corinthian Church. We’re ready now to glean some principles to guide us in situation of enmity:
1. Remember the New Testament rule of salvation: Jesus came to save and not to destroy; so, anyone who wishes the destruction of anybody in this time of grace wishes against the mission of Christ. We are in fact called to pray in such a way that will lead to the salvation of all men (1Timothy 2:1-8). The Old Testament was about condemnation and death (2Corinthians 3); but the New Testament ministry is the ministry of reconciliation, peace, salvation, and life. We are called to follow the example of Jesus in loving, forgiving, and doing good to those who unjustly hate us. But, if we have done something against someone, we must seek reconciliation and restoration.
2. Our motive of love being clear, we must remember that there are times when we must responsibly deal with people in accordance with our office and role in the world. For instance, a soldier at war with an enemy nation should have a benevolent spirit; but, that doesn’t mean that he stops fulfilling his role to defend his country. Yet, he must also be kind to his enemies when they have surrendered and in need of kindness. Similarly, the elders of the Church must be wise in the area of discipline and exercise of spiritual authority; yet, in the spirit of love and wisdom.
So, can we pray for God’s wrath to fall on our enemies in the New Testament? Absolutely not. Because we live in the age of grace and not the age of condemnation. Of course, grace was also available in the Old Testament, or else David himself should have been stoned to death for committing adultery and murder. But, it was still an age of condemnation that operated according to the Law of Moses. However, Jesus brought grace and truth to light (John 1:17). We must be messengers of peace, grace, and truth in the world. So, we do not pray for destruction of people; but, we pray for God to save people from their sins, thus putting a loving end to enmity. At the same time we, as sons of God must be peacemakers (Matt 5:9), ready to apologize when we offend and seek for reconciliation and peace with people at both personal and communal levels.