Praying to the Wrong God

parable of the unjust judgeIn the “Parables of Jesus” class I am teaching, a student gave a presentation today on the Parable of the Unjust Judge. Here is the parable from Luke 18:1-8:

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Before studying this parable carefully this week, I had only heard it preached one way: that it is about persistence in prayer. I have used this principle in my own prayer life, and do not regret it. It has been central to both the way I understand prayer and the way I pray.

However, I have also been a little uncomfortable about this interpretation. We should pray often and earnestly; that I believe. But is that what this parable is about? Even further, I have been taught that the point of this parable is to teach us that if we pray long enough, hard enough, and frequently enough, God will surely be moved and answer our petitions.

In the parable, the judge acts like a cranky, corrupt, selfish dude. He does the right thing (give the woman justice) but for the wrong reason (to escape her whining). We know that this does not mirror God’s character. God grants justice for the right reason: he loves justice. Yet I feel like the idea of persistence in prayer in based on the wrong qualities we see in the unjust judge. God is just and loving, we are taught, but we still need to badger him with repetitive prayer requests until he gives us what we want.

I wonder that if we do this we are praying to the wrong god. I am reminded of the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18). When the prophets failed to get a response to their prayers to Baal, Elijah taunted them and said they must try harder. They needed to be louder in case Baal was taking a nap or was relieving himself. Maybe he was on a journey. Maybe Baal was daydreaming. Maybe he was busy. Pray louder. Keep praying until you wake him up and he listens!

I don’t want to pray to that god. The God I pray to hears me when I pray for reasons I do not fully understand. He is not a cranky, corrupt, selfish judge. He is my Father. This does not mean that I get all my requests answered pronto in the affirmative. Prayer is not a tool I use to get my way with God. Prayer is not conversation between peers. But praying without giving up is part of being faithful. Giving up on prayer is giving up on God, and that is the opposite of faith. Always pray and do not give up. When Christ comes again, he will find that the faithful have been praying.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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