Why not pray for the perpetrator?

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

Saddam Hussein has become a thorn in much of the world's side. The world debate centers on what to do with him, when, and with what motive. There are no easy answers. And yet, there is one answer that has proved effective throughout much of recorded history: Pray for the perpetrator.

It's easy to pray for those we love, but we often find ourselves unwilling to pray for those who have wronged us. This is, however, often exactly when we need to pray.

The story of Job has this important lesson. Here was a man who had lost everything. Three of his friends kept rubbing salt into the wounds by telling him he must have done something wrong for all the evil to have been heaped on him. Job justified his own actions.

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When Job had nothing else to lose but a life that wasn't much worth living, a young man named Elihu came along and showed him how it was God, rather than Job himself, who should be justified.

His reasoning was something like this: God gave him life, so his life and the lives of everyone must glorify God. Job understood this concept for himself, but it was important for him to see that it was universal. Once Job was willing to pray for the friends who had questioned his integrity, all that had been taken from him was restored.

I've found this to be sound advice when I'm confronted with someone who has been unjust toward another. In one such case at a time when our city was suffering from the racial tension following the Rodney King trial, I received a telephone call from a friend. Tensions were running at a fever pitch as the trial neared its end. My friend sputtered out a few words on a borrowed cellphone. He had been shot. Would I help?

I did what I best knew to do at a moment like that: I prayed. First, I prayed to see that because God is Life, the life of God's children cannot be held in abeyance or be terminated. Once I felt at peace about that, it came to me very strongly to pray for the perpetrator.

At that time, I didn't know the motivation for the shooting, so I prayed about everything that came to mind: racial tension in the city, derangement, hatred, revenge.

I reasoned along the lines of Elihu. Starting with God, I could see that because divine Mind is solely good and the creator of all, there is no actual cause behind a senseless act. I held the man who shot my friend in high regard as God's child, able to express the love and intelligence befitting His creation. And I held to this until I was absolutely at peace. When we realize the impossibility of a victimizer in God's creation, we eliminate the possibility of a victim. That truth is powerful, and can heal.

Later I learned that my friend was taken to a hospital by the people who loaned him the cellphone. Once there, my friend was immediately interrogated by a detective because they didn't believe he would live. Weren't they surprised the next day when he was out of intensive care and shortly thereafter back home!?

Equally important to this story is what happened to the perpetrator. He was suffering both from mental confusion and from anger about racial injustices. He'd had a plan to shoot many more than just my friend. However, in a moment of clarity, he boarded a bus and rode home. Once there, he telephoned the police and told them what he had just done. They found him and took him into custody without further incident. At his trial, a detective on the case told my friend that he'd never seen anything like it, and that the citizens of our city should be enormously grateful.

This illustrates the importance and possibilities of praying for the perpetrator. It can certainly bring about a change of heart as it did for this man. Praying for the victimizer brings us to the point of understanding that there is no victimizer and no victim. After all, how could a God of grace, a God of wisdom, a God of life itself, a God of love, ever create one so contrary to His own nature? He can't, and understanding this can profoundly alter the malicious aims of a would-be perpetrator.

Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.

Matthew 5:44

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