I have a book on my shelf about the United States of America. It’s title is A Country Made By War (Geoffrey Perett). Regardless of the theme of the book, its title is interesting in that it seems to imply the uncomfortable truth that our nation has made gun-points and wars the basis of our relationship to the rest of the world.
Our country has repeatedly placed American troops in harm’s way, leaving military families at home with the agony of worry and conflicts in many cases as to whether or not a particular war is absolutely necessary. Some families have spoken out against the war while others, praying all the time for safety for their loved ones, have chosen to follow an unspoken code of silence and support when troops are in action.
We all pray for God’s protection for our troops. But do we ask God to protect troops from enemies or should we ask God to protect troops from war itself?
Add to that politicians who play the religion card very cynically in trying to rally believers to blindly vote for them because in either party God talk evokes patriotism. We then find ourselves with that circumstance that prompted Lincoln to say that he hoped this country was on God’s side rather than that God was on our side.
Mark Twain had strong feelings about this and a passage from his famous War Prayer is one of those literal images that continues to speak very clearly to those who literally preach that God is on our side – those who preach that America should not only end wars, but, if our “Christian in the White House” regardless of party affiiation says so, should initiate them as well.
What images come to our minds when we hear someone pray for God to bless our armies with victory? What do we really say when we ask God to protect our troops and grant victory?
Outraged by American military intervention in the Phillipines, Mark Twain wrote this and sent it to Harper’s Bazaar. This women’s magazine rejected it for being too radical, and it wasn’t published until after Mark Twain’s death, when World War I made it even more timely. It appeared in Harper’s Monthly, November 1916.
Consider the following excerpt from The War Prayer:
“The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation:
God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!
Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory —
An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal,
“Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”
The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside — which the startled minister did — and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:
“I come from the Throne — bearing a message from Almighty God!”
The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention.
“He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import — that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of — except he pause and think.
“God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two — one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken.
Ponder this — keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.
“You have heard your servant’s prayer — the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it — that part which the pastor — and also you in your hearts — fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so!
You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. the whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory — must follow it, cannot help but follow it.
Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!
“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.
O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells;
help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead;
help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain;
help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire;
help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief;
help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee,
Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!
We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
(After a pause.)
“Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!”
What would Jesus Do?
What did Jesus say?
“But I say unto you, That every idle world that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”
Jesus was not casual about the taking of a life. Christian pro-life advocates have never been casual about the taking of a life.
Why is it so many are willing to support any leader who is willing to wage war before war has become a last resort; who then in the name of exceptionalism displays a casual disregard for human lives of those who die innocently as collateral damage?
Why are so many willing to look the other way on the issue of war and death because they believe that political god-talk matters more than Christ-like actions?