Thursday, March 1, 2012

Prayer moderates the utopians among us--and the cynics too

A final blog on prayer and politics.

One of the reasons Christians tend to fight with each other over politics is that we are often secret utopians. We say we trust in Christ, but we really trust in ourselves, or some human solution, to make the world a better place. We keep hoping for and believing in the “silver bullet”—the candidate, the policy, the platform, the Supreme Court configuration—that will fix things. And when we find that someone else’s silver bullet differs from ours, we don’t trust him anymore—even if he is a fellow believer. Or we keep clinging to the mistaken notion that America is God’s chosen nation, positioned to make things right in the world: if we can just get America “right” we will put the world to rights. And when we find someone with a different vision for what it means to get America “right” we demonize him.
Prayer reminds us that utopianism, together with the stridency that often accompanies it, is mistaken. For when we cry “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we are appealing to God to do what we cannot do. We are acknowledging the selfishness, blindness, and weakness that drag at us, and will continue to drag at us, until we ourselves are made whole by the coming Lord. We are choosing, in short, to be realists about human solutions. And this realism makes us patient with each other.

To say that prayer makes us realists is not to say that it makes us cynics. To the contrary, it fills us with hope and that hope keeps us engaged. For prayer reminds us not only of what we cannot do, but also of what Christ most certainly will do. And that guaranteed future motivates us to represent him as best we can while we wait for him, even when our efforts are imperfect and seem ineffectual, even when those efforts are not completely in sync with those of other believers.

Someone has said that today’s cynic is yesterday’s idealist. And this makes sense. For when we begin with the premise that we have in ourselves the full solution to even one small problem, we are bound to be disappointed. And that disappointment will make us either angry or despondent. But the praying Christian begins with a different premise. He looks past himself to the wise God who died and rose to put all things right, and that focus keeps him both humble and hopeful.