A friend sent me some roughed out ideas he’s working on for an assigned paper. Among other things, he used Jesus as warrior to describe his actions in destroying the legion of demons in Mark’s account of the demoniac. I was’t surprised, but I urged caution. Prayer warrior is one of those phrases that has entered the lexicon of religious cliche, and making Jesus the warrior in chief is not unexpected, but I don’t like it.
To be sure, Jesus is courageous, but all his acts of power are for healing and restoration, for making whole that which was broken, and for restoring the healed to their rightful place in society – healed, restored, forgiven, renewed. However courageous warriors might be, that is not what they are called to do. Yes, in the case of the demoniac, the demons are destroyed, but Jesus doesn’t fight with them. He simply confronts them, and they must obey, they have no choice. The outcome is never in doubt. The whole scene is inconsistent with a warrior metaphor.
That brings me to the more prosaic prayer warrior appellation that is so often called up by preachers, and assumed by erstwhile believers. “You are such a great prayer warrior,” is a compliment in many circles, and I recall a former parishioner who was very upset that I did not even try to call up a legion of prayer warriors from among our congregation. I know it’s meant well, but it’s a horrible metaphor. It brings to mind a scene from a truly awful television series about the bible in which ninja warrior angels slashed their way through crowds of sword wielding villains to get Lot and his family out of Sodom.
Is that what prayer warriors do? Slash and burn their way through the enemies of God, leaving behind a bloody trail of broken lives? Some do. I recall a parishioner who, in the name of God’s love, was a violent persecutor of anything or anybody that might be tainted with homosexuality. A local preacher is something like a modern day Carrie Nation (look her up if you don’t know who she was) with a list of cultural evils that he is certain are the works of the devil. He is called, he says, to prayerfully whack away at any sign of them, and while he has not yet used a hatchet, his words of condemnation inflict real pain.
“Yes,” some might counter, “but what about The Revelation to John. Doesn’t that involve warriors and battles between God and the devil.?” Actually, no, I don’t think it does. Read it carefully. The devil is never in control of anything. He must go where he goes and do what he does at God’s command. He has no power that is not given to him, on which limits are placed, and whose final destiny is not in doubt. In the climactic battle, it is God’s word alone that seals his fate. For what it’s worth, I don’t think John’s visions have anything to do with what’s yet to come. They have everything to do with declaring that it is God and God alone who restores what we have broken to a wholeness that cannot be broken.
So, to return from Patmos to today’s reality, what should we be doing if we are not prayer warriors. For a start there could be nothing better than trying to follow Jesus as ones, who, with courage in the face of improbable odds, are agents of healing, restoring, forgiving, and renewing in our own lives, and in the lives of those we touch, and to do it with a deep understanding of Christian realism. You go first.
On the other hand, if you insist on being a prayer warrior, then I think you and Don Quixote will make a fine pair. Go forth and tilt.