Tertullian on Prayer

In the past prayer was able to bring down punishment, rout armies, withhold the blessing of rain. Now, however, the prayer of the just turns aside the whole anger of God, keeps vigil for its enemies, pleads for persecutors. Is it any wonder that it can call down water from heaven when it could obtain fire from heaven as well? Prayer is the one thing that can conquer God. But Christ has willed that it should work no evil, and has given it all power over good. – Tertullian

De Oratione ch. 29 2.

I think that Tertullian makes one mistake here, he assumes God’s anger is analogical to human anger on some level, and too readily breaks the OT from the NT. I think prayer does not turn aside the anger of God, but truly manifests the attack of God on sin in the right ways. Prayer is always compassion for the weak, communion with the heart of Jesus for the poor and the outcast. Our prayer should indeed keep vigil for our enemies.

We should pray for the peace and prosperity of Iran, for the peace and prosperity of wall street, and for the peace and prosperity of our masters, economic, political and otherwise. We delude ourselves thinking we are free when we are one of the most indentured societies ever conceived, it’s just that now, our indenture is behind the scenes of the rhetoric of freedom. We should pray for the prosperity of the banks that have foreclosed our homes and businesses. We should pray for the ones we owe money to, and for the prosperity of our enemies, Christian love can only require this, and no other.

Prayer is still able to rout armies and withhold rain, but these acts are senseless compared to the prayer that God would empower us to suffer rightly, to live justly and to love our neighbor as ourselves that we too might be forgiven.

Prayer is the one thing that conquers us, and breaks us of ourselves.

Christ indeed has willed that it would have all the power of being shaped by love, that it might change the world and bring heaven to earth.

I’d rewrite as follows:

In the past we’ve used prayer as punishment, both our own and those of our friends and enemies. Now, prayer calls us to know the heart of a crucified God. This prayer keeps vigils for enemies, pleads for persecutors and intercedes for the wicked in love. Is it any wonder then, that we often fail to pray as we ought. It can call down the mercies of heaven, and overthrow the powers of the world in an instant. Prayer is the one thing that conquers us, and breaks us of our broken desires. Prayer is the only thing that can lay hold of our willingness to overcome the world, and help us put aside our obstinacy and self indulgence. Christ has given prayer to us that we should work no evil, but forgive that we might also be forgiven. He has invested it to us with all the power for good, let us act accordingly.

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