Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Is Any Among You Sick?"

You would think, from scanning the blogosphere, that Christians were embroiled just at present in a heated debate about the appropriateness of praying for Christopher Hitchens's recovery from his recently diagnosed illness. And yet I can't find a single Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox blogger -- or indeed any self-identified Christian or Jewish commentator in the mainstream press -- who has questioned the rightness of doing so. How, and by whom, did this question first get raised?

Forgive my paranoia, but I can't help suspecting that the question initially occurred (or appealed) to secularists eager to demonstrate one -- or if possible both -- of two things: that Christians are (1) officious and sanctimonious busybodies lacking the simple decency to respect someone's privacy in a time of personal crisis; or (2) vengeful hypocrites unwilling to pray for the well-being of anyone they perceive as an enemy.

As for implied allegation (1), I fail to understand how wishing the good of another human being, particularly if it is done (as Jesus encourages us to do) in private, constitutes any infringement of that other human being's privacy or dignity. Hitchens himself has been the soul of graciousness on this point -- and in doing so has shown himself to be a much bigger man than those on his side of the "God question" who want to protect him from the scourge of intercessory prayer.

As for allegation (2), I think the outpouring of Christian solicitude on Hitchens's behalf is the best possible refutation of it. Oh, I suppose there are some professed Christians somewhere who refuse to pray for people they don't like. (They're the ones I constantly hear in my own church responding to the Prayers of the Faithful with "Lord, partially hear our prayer.") But such an attitude, if it really does exist anywhere other than in the darkest and slimiest corners of various comboxes,  is obviously, demonstrably, and self-evidently not what Christianity is about.

In that regard, we Christians should all be just a bit ashamed if the insinuation that we're not praying for Christopher Hitchens -- or for any human being in any kind of trouble -- is able to gain traction with the public at large. If we're not famous as the people who "love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us," then we're not fully living out the Gospel we profess.

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