About this subject we read an editorial in The Christian Century of Feb. 18, 1942.
The editor of that magazine is often perplexed about the proper attitude of the Church and of the individual Christian with respect to war. War is such an ungodly business, so evidently opposed to all the precepts of the Christian faith, that he finds it extremely difficult to find a position for the Christian in relation to war, that will afford peace of mind and conscience. But “the crucial point at which all our differences and perplexities which war creates for the Christian come to a focus is in the act of prayer.
How shall we pray to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? What shall we say to him, ask him for, ask him to do? We cannot abide in his presence and look up into his face without remembering that he is our God in no exclusive sense, but the God of all men, of all nations—of our enemies in the war as well as of ourselves.”
In this respect there is a notable difference between the attitude of the church and its leaders at the time of World War I, and now. At that time everybody was inflamed by the spirit of war, and the leaders of the Church seemed to have no difficulty whatsoever to determine their proper attitude towards it. Nor did they seem perplexed as to what to “pray for as they ought.” But, so writes the editor of the above mentioned paper, “this thought has come to us since the other World War with a poignancy that rebukes the church’s conscience for the low level upon which, with a few notable exceptions, it projected its devotional expressions during that conflict. Thousands of pastors of our churches enter their pulpits and come to the altar determined not to repeat the unwitting sacrilege of which the pastors of that period confess that they were guilty. But they are perplexed and distressed by the difficulty of laying hold upon and giving expression to any really vital yearnings which are conceivably consonant with the righteous will of our universal God. The one overmastering yearning is for victory—for our nation. But remember that there are Christians in Japan and Germany who pray to the same Father, shall they pray for victory while these Christians of enemy lands ask God for the precise opposite?”
Thus writes the editor of The Christian Century.
A difficult problem, indeed! That is, difficult the problem is as presented by the writer.
And in his perplexity he looks about him for a way out, a solution. For he is in search of peace of mind and heart. He suggests that we imagine a meeting, a prayer meeting of four Christian men, representatives of four different nations: a Japanese, a German, a Briton and an American. And he further suggests that we now ask the question: “what shall they say to God? What shall they with one heart ask Him to do? Their prayer must be a common prayer. One will not pray for one thing while another asks for its opposite. Can they reconcile the yearnings of their hearts in a united petition which evades no issue, which boldly (confronts the realities, which is specific and penetrating and vital and searchingly honest, and do this with the minimum of verbal ambiguity?”
And The Christian Century has sent requests to a number of distinguished clergymen to compose a prayer such as, according to their conception, these four men, representatives from different nations, united in a prayer meeting, would send to the throne of grace.
And these prayers will be published in The Christian Century in the near future.
I am afraid that the editor of The Christian Century will not be delivered from his troubles and perplexities and find the desired peace of mind and conscience.
My fear is based on the fact, in part at least, that the “recognized leaders” that were requested to compose such a prayer, are by no means capable of representing the Christian Church. To mention only one name, Harry Emerson Fosdick is one of them.
But my chief reason is that the editor neither presents the problem correctly, nor does he point to the right source for a solution of his problem.
Indeed, if we consider this war from our viewpoint, from an earthly point of view, and then consider our earthly and human and national longings and yearnings, in order to bring them to the throne of grace, we will create for ourselves a difficult, in fact, an insoluble problem.
Let us say, that with a clear conscience we can say that our country represents a strictly righteous cause in the present conflict. Let us say, moreover, that we are quite sure that it is God’s will that the righteous shall always have the victory in this world. Well, in that case, I would suggest that we would be quite ready to ask God for an American victory, and to tell the Japanese and the German Christian that they are all wrong and that they, too, must pray for the victory of the American arms.
Our cause is not exclusively American: it is the allied cause. And the question would immediately arise, whether our allies in this war are also worthy of this victory for which we pray. Well, let us pass Great Britain in silence, for the time being. Then there is Russia. Shall we also look God in the face and earnestly plead the righteousness of the Russian Cause?
I am afraid, that if you bring those four “Christians” from four different nations in the upper room for their prayer meeting (and it is a good thing that the editor did not ask a Russian to be present), they would soon be fighting rather than praying.
And, too, the editor does not turn to the right source for help and for a solution of his problem.
He turns to men, to mere men, for an answer to the question: “what shall we pray for?”
Why not turn to the Word of God for an answer?
Why not, for instance, directly turn to our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may learn from Him what we should ask in our prayers?
He would surely reply: Pray: “Hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Perhaps the editor of The Christian Century would object that such a prayer is too vague and general and ambiguous, and that it bears no relation to this very concrete war?
In that case he is surely mistaken.
I would suggest that he puts this to the test by applying these three petitions to the present situation, and by then elaborating upon them.
Let him consider what this would mean:
Hallowed by thy name, in and through this war!
Thy kingdom come, in the way of this war!
Thy will be done, so that we may always be obedient to thy precepts in this war, and so that thou mayest execute thy will and realize thy eternal good pleasure!
The result would be a truly Christian prayer. No Christian, from whatever land or nation he be, could refuse to unite with us in this prayer. Nor would anyone else than a Christian care to be present at such a prayer meeting.
And it certainly would be very much to the point!