January 11, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Consistent prayer is the secret to peace and justice in our world

As I write this column, my mind turns to a new year and what we might expect.

When I became a bishop 21 years ago, I would not have expected that the horror of war would become the stuff of everyday news reports. I wouldn’t have thought of war as something our world would have to live with day in and day out.

Conflict and tension in the Mideast had been a specter for years, but the peculiar circumstances which have escalated to perturbing warfare today were not always so evident. Presently, the situation is further complicated because our country has become polarized about how to move toward a reasonable transition out of the war in Iraq—and when to do so.

Terrorism is a reality of our day, and it is a crime against humanity. Our nation has a moral right and even a grave obligation to defend the common good against terrorism and to protect its people.

Bolstering homeland security, denying funding to terrorist organizations and a wide range of non-military measures must be pursued. Military action may be required. It seems clear, nonetheless, that for the good of all concerned it is time to find a resolution to the enduring situation in Iraq.

What can we do as individuals? Our greatest contribution begins with prayer for peace and for those who are responsible as leaders of nations. Needless to say, we must continue with our prayerful and strong moral support of those who serve in the armed forces, and do so for our safety and at great peril to their own lives.

We had great hopes for peace with the advent of a new Christian millennium, and yet we are in the eighth year of grave instability in our world.

One time in an interview with a religious news reporter, I was asked what would happen to people of faith if, despite all the intensity of their prayer, peace eludes us and war continues unabated anyway.

Would that mean prayer is fruitless? Might it mean that God really does not act on intercessory prayer? The questions are important and they point to a more complicated theology than we can handle in a newspaper or this column.

God’s wisdom is infinite, ours is not. And in his wisdom, God has never taken back the gift of free will which he gave us humans when he created us.

Therefore, even critical decisions about war and peace, such as those faced by world leaders today, depend on free human choice.

God does not remove human choice even if a choice might be made for evil in the world, even if the choice seems to come down to the fact that one party in the conflict needs “to save face.”

Does the fact that God doesn’t take back human freedom, even if a bad choice may be made, mean that our intercessory prayer is fruitless?

No, even though we can’t coerce God to take away free human choice, we need to pray. We need to get on our knees and recognize that there is a power greater than human power.

Prayer is an important way we and everyone in the world remember that there is a God who is greater than any terrorist or peacemaking leader.

Prayer reminds us that we are a human family and it is possible to love and be at peace with one another because there is a God who loves us first and he is the author of human life.

In prayer, we remember that even if some people do not believe in God as we do, his love is for all of us, equally, even when we are enemies.

Consistent prayer, day in and day out, in times of crises and in times of peace, leads more and more of us to live the commandment of love which God gave us. Therein lays the secret to peace and justice in our world.

We also pray that the spirit of God might move world leaders to seek peaceful solutions to human crises. We hope that sincere prayer moves world leaders to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit because we know God won’t coerce the acceptance of his free gifts of the Holy Spirit.

God works miracles, but in the end, he doesn’t destroy the gift of human freedom.

Even if our prayers for the end of war seem to go unanswered, we won’t quit praying. We will keep on praying calmly and with deep faith because prayer is our way of remembering who we are and what life and death is all about.

We pray that freely more of us embrace the mystery of God’s love and thus are moved to respect all people. †

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