No doubt we’ve all seen that moment from this last Sunday’s Oscars when actor Will Smith strode onto the stage and slapped comedian Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife. It’s the most attention the Oscars have gotten for years. Now, whatever you think about Smith’s actions or Rock’s (rather lame and arguably mild) joke, if you’re a disciple of Jesus you don’t just get to physically attack someone for insulting you (or someone you love). But if we’re honest, we’ve all had moments when we’ve been angry with someone and maybe even wanted to lash out, perhaps violently. We can all have violence and hatred in our hearts. Each of us gets angry with other people.
How do we respond when we are insulted or injured or treated unjustly? Do we respond in kind or do we process our emotions through prayer in the presence of God? Maybe that’s why there are what are called “imprecatory” psalms, ones that call upon God to act vengefully upon enemies or that express the human desire to do so. Better to process such deeply powerful emotions in this way rather than by acting on them.
I came across the following prayer that I think both captures the reality of our sinful humanity and how to bring such a reality into the presence of God—particularly in the light of the cross.
“O Lord, We marvel that you would take on flesh and blood in order to be crucified, killed, and buried for us. You humbled yourself and submitted to the hatred of sinful men, accepting the thorns, the whip, the nails, and the spear, to free us from sin and death forever. Although you dreaded the pain and the separation from your Father, you loved him more than life, and for the joy of having us as brothers and sisters you endured the cross of shame.
We praise you for your costly obedience, because you have paid the enormous debt of all our sin, and because we desperately need your righteousness to stand in place of our unrighteousness. Although most of us have not actually killed anyone, we confess that we have all hated, and continue to hate, others in our hearts. Our hearts rise up often to judge others, to disdain and condemn them, to dismiss them from our circle of friends, to murder the reputation of others through gossip and slander.
We are capable of great unkindness toward enemies and loved ones when we feel fearful, threatened, and disrespected. Lord, forgive us for our unruly, self-centered, and murderous hearts. Precious Savior, we cannot change our hearts. Through the power of your Spirit we ask for more grace to see the truth about ourselves. Help us to confess honestly our hatred of you and of one another. We plead for repentance; help us to die to ourselves more deeply.
Make us people who breathe life into others with words of encouragement and edification, instead of hating with our hearts and killing with our lips. Holy Spirit, crucify our sinful desires and make us like Christ. Ravish our hearts with the truth of the gospel. Transform us by your powerful love so that we may truly love others and raise them up. Form us into people who endure costly relational pain for the sake of loving and forgiving our worst enemies.”